CFL is watching UFL with interest

Craig Ellingson, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

83 -- Here we go again. Oct. 8 -- 83 days from now -- the four-team United Football League is slated to play its first games, maybe -- it hopes -- with ex-con Michael Vick under centre for the Orlando franchise, which holds his rights.

And while none of the teams -- San Francisco, New York and Las Vegas will also hit the field -- have home-fields or nicknames yet, CFL brass is probably watching with interest. After all, anytime an upstart football league opened its doors -- be it the old AFL, WFL, USFL, WLAF or XFL -- that meant a talent drain for the eight- (sometimes nine-) team circuit. It's already happened at least once this time around, with running back Tyrell Fenroy signing with the Calgary Stampeders June 19 but bolting for UFL Las Vegas three days later. Small potatoes, you might argue, but haven't most if not all CFL stars been unknown entities at the beginning? I know, I know, the UFL is all talk at this point, and those fledgling leagues all lost gobs of money and folded. Besides, it seems not a year or two goes by when we hear someone wants to throw together a new U.S. league. But the big difference between the UFL and all those that came before it (with, arguably, the exception of the XFL, which did not go head-to-head with either the NFL or CFL in 2001, its only season) is this new entity says it wants to complement the NFL, not compete with it. Training camps open Sept. 1, just four days before final NFL cutdowns. "I always believed there are these additional players and the NFL can't get them all: Kurt Warner, Robert Griffith, guys who had to find their way into the NFL and some had to go to other leagues to get there," ex-Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green, who is tapped to coach the UFL San Francisco club, told USA Today earlier this week. "Fifty years ago, they wouldn't even have had a place for (1960s star) Lance Alworth in the NFL. They would have said he was too small. Most of the college stars didn't make it and you needed this alternative league and that is what the AFL was back then. And that is what the UFL is." Hmmm, sounds an awful lot like the modus operendi of the CFL in a lot of ways. And if it gets off the ground and can make a go of it, the UFL plans to field eight teams in 2010. UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue even said the league might consider expanding outside the U.S., to Mexico or even Canada. Wait and see, indeed.

Extra long trip for Canucks

14 -- Here's an NHL record not to savour: The Vancouver Canucks will embark on a 14-game road trip thanks to the 2010 Winter Olympics. Including the two-plus weeks the NHL will break for the Vancouver Games, Canucks fans will wait six weeks to see a home game. They play the St. Louis Blues at home Jan. 27 and won't hit GM Place ice again until March 13 vs. the Ottawa Senators.

Pirates repeat offenders

17 -- You never know when a team will turn the corner -- just ask the Tampa Bay Rays -- but the Pittsburgh Pirates will almost surely post a few more losing seasons following this year's 17th consecutive one. Oh sure, you could argue the talent is there -- take a bow, all-star Freddy Sanchez -- but the Pirates have been in sell mode for quite a while now, peddling the likes of Xavier Nady and Jason Bay just as they ripen into big-time game-breakers.

Twins classic rebuilders

24 -- But the Pirates can aspire to be much like another team that often sells off/lets go its marquee players (see ya, Johan Santana) but always seems to rebuild quickly and stay in the hunt: The Minnesota Twins. The soon-to-be ex-tennants of the Metrodome have 's 24th highest payroll (US$65.3 million) but are just four games back of the Detroit Tigers (5th-highest payroll, US$115.1 million) in the AL's Central Division.

Snap count

10 -- San Francisco pitcher Tim Lincecum is the toast of NL fireballers these days, but man, teammate Matt Cain is right up there with the 2008 Cy Young Award winner, matching him in a number of stats: 10-2 record, three complete games, a 2.38 ERA for Cain vs. 2.33 for Linceum, 100 hits vs. 99 hits.

$3,000,000 -- How much is a touchdown pass worth these days? To the Kansas City Chiefs, $3-million, who inked quarterback Matt Cassel to a six-year, $63-million deal earlier this week. Cassel chucked 21 TDs last season while subbing for New England Patriots star Tom Brady.

.500 -- Don't forget, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats started 2008 with a 1-1 record, too -- before finishing in the CFL basement at 3-15.

CRAIG.ELLINGSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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