Go with the gut

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:36 AM ET

Going into another Grey Cup game, a few burning questions are top of mind: which player is going to make the big play? Will there be an unsung hero? Who'll be the MVP?

And, of course, which head coach is going to screw up this time?

Let's face it, for three years running, the Grey Cup has been a second-guesser's delight, with coaches making decisions that have backfired, big time.

The candidates for bonehead-of-the-week for the 93rd CFL championship today in Vancouver: Montreal's Don Matthews and Danny Maciocia of Edmonton.

The two present quite a contrast, particularly in experience.

The grizzled, 66-year-old Matthews is simply one of the best the league has ever seen, an unprecedented 223 regular season victories under his belt, five championship rings (as a head coach) on his hands.

By comparison, Maciocia is the fresh-faced kid who's barely even shaved, coming off his first season as a head man, after several as an assistant.

But if the last three years have taught us anything, it's that veteran guile doesn't make a coach infallible.

Take last year's Grey Cup, for instance, when highly-regarded B.C. Lions boss Wally Buono made one of the worst pre-game decisions in championship history, anointing Dave Dickenson his starting quarterback, ahead of Casey Printers.

Trailing only Matthews in career victories, Buono then compounded the error by leaving Printers, the league's most outstanding player during the season, on the bench the entire game, while his team struggled offensively in a 27-19 loss to the Toronto Argonauts.

"Casey was suffering a bit from the (shoulder) injury he sustained in the playoffs, and if you look at our games against Toronto this year, he did struggle," Buono explained at the time. "But that's not why we lost."

Actually, we'll never know.

Just like we'll never know if Matthews' dubious move a year earlier cost his team the '03 Grey Cup.

It sure appeared that way, when The Don made the curious decision to start rookie D.J. Johnson ahead of Winnipeg product Wayne Shaw at one cornerback position, and fellow rookie Brandon Williams at the other.

Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray stopped licking his chops long enough to engineer a touchdown the first time he got the ball, en route to 24 first-half points, more than 300 yards passing and a 34-22 Eskimos victory.

The rookies were beaten early and often, but Matthews refused to admit he blew it.

"If I had to do it again, I would do it exactly the same," he said, suggesting Johnson gave up one touchdown but otherwise played well. "The first time they threw a perfect pass ... I don't care if we would have had Superman back there. The rookie corners are not the reason we lost the football game."

They didn't help win it, either.

Last, but not least, on our Dumb-3 list is the bizarre call made by then-Edmonton coach Tom Higgins in the '02 game, also against Matthews and the Alouettes.

GAMBLE

Trailing 18-10 with just under six minutes to go, and facing a 3rd-and-10 on the Montreal 36, Higgins called for a third-down gamble, when a field goal could have pulled his team to within five points.

It failed, and when the Eskimos scored a late touchdown to make it 18-16, they were forced to try a two-point conversion. That failed, too, after which their onside kick attempt was returned for a Montreal touchdown in a 25-16 loss.

"Second-guessing is too overrated," Higgins said of his decision. "Sometimes you have to go with your gut."

Your gut? How about your brain?

Maybe it's the pressure of the Grey Cup that causes these cerebral cramps. Maybe coaches are sometimes guilty of thinking too much.

Or, perhaps they're just being human.

Yes, even Don Matthews.

After all, if a player can mess up, why not a head coach?

So pay close attention to Maciocia today, and how, or if, he uses his two quarterbacks, Ricky Ray and Jason Maas.

And keep an eye on that gambler, Matthews, whenever it's third down.

You just never know how the Grey Cup will be won.

Or lost.


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