TORONTO - When Argonauts linebacker Ejiro Kuale got thrown out of last Saturday’s game against Winnipeg, Canadian Football League officials got it half right.
The league’s director of officiating said Tuesday, that Kuale deserved to be penalized and ejected.
No surprise there.
But, Tom Higgins is throwing the flag on referee Glen Johnson and his crew for their explanation of the infraction to Toronto head coach Jim Barker.
“I actually liked the call. I don’t like maybe how he explained it to the head coach,” Higgins said in a telephone interview. “All he had to do was say: ‘excessive rough play’. That’s his jurisdiction. ‘He’s out.’”
Instead, Johnson opened a can of worms when he told Barker that Kuale displayed an “intent” to injure when he bulldozed through Bombers’ quarterback Buck Pierce. Barker was incredulous afterwards, questioning how any official could judge a player’s intentions.
Kuale denied intending to hurt Pierce. Or anyone. Ever.
Higgins said officials should never attempt to judge intent.
“I would never want to put myself in that position. I’d like Glen to have said to the head coach ‘excessive rough play. Disqualification.’ Intent is not someplace we ever want to go. No one knows intent. You have to do it on the act. And that’s what (Johnson) did.”
In other words, the referee knew what he was doing; he just didn’t explain it very well.
That will come as small comfort to the Argonauts who considered that call — plus two others that weren’t made against the Blue Bombers — as contributing factors to them heading to Edmonton this weekend with a 1-3 record.
“In this situation, the coach himself said there was a late hit,” said Higgins, defending the referee’s call. “What made it different is that we don’t ever want to officiate on intent. But it was the act. The act of (Kuale) launching himself and going high. We felt there was helmet to helmet contact...”
The Argos, of course, are arguing that if Kuale deserved to get tossed out for that head-butt, then Winnipeg’s Joe Lobendahn should’ve drawn censure for knocking their quarterback, Cleo Lemon, toothless on Toronto’s second series.
They were even less impressed with what they believe was a late hit by Odell Willis on backup quarterback Dalton Bell. Also unflagged. It was all enough to make a Double Blue believer think Pierce was getting undue protection in the wake of their own quarterback carnage.
Not so, according to the league.
“The reason that I’m in agreement with the referee is that for years we’ve continued to say we will protect our quarterbacks. Don’t hit him late. You hit him late it’s rough play. It’s excessive when you launch yourself and it’s high.” Higgins said Johnson felt Kuale’s hit met all those criteria. “That’s why he did what he did. Tough decision. He knows it has huge implications.”
Implications like making Barker’s post-game dissertation come just short of a Churchillian rant about fighting them in the air, on the beaches, etc., and describing the decision as a “game-changer”. Toronto had a 17-6 lead at the time in a game they would lose 33-24. So, maybe, he had a point.
Anyway, the only small satisfaction the Argos might get is that the league is looking at the hit that knocked out Lemon. Although, football has a curious distinction when it comes to hitting a quarterback. As long as he’s holding the football to make a pass, he’s treated like a china doll. Tuck it like Lemon did, and all hell is allowed to break loose.
“That is being investigated. The process is still underway,” Higgins said, when asked about Lobendahn being guilty of a helmet-to-helmet hit on Lemon. “The difference between (Kuale’s hit) and the hit on Cleo is that the moment you run (as Lemon did), you’re a ball carrier. So, now, the rules of protection as the passer are gone. In this instance we know he was tackled. It was a tough tackle. The lowering of the head. There was a dipping.”
Lemon got up with his tooth splintered in half. Replays seem to indicate Lobendahn’s collision included one heck of a head noogie. But no flag.
“That (helmet to helmet contact) is to be determined. That’s what we’re investigating. We’re breaking that down. Was it? Or, wasn’t it? As officials ... if you’re not sure you can’t throw the flag. On that play there was no flag because no-one saw (helmet to helmet contact). But we’re always permitted to look at supplementary discipline.”
In the CFL, that usually means a fine. Hardly ever does it come to a suspension, said Higgins, adding, “within 24 hours we’ll have maybe additional discipline coming from Week 4.”
Considering how well Week 4 has worked out so far for Toronto, maybe it’d be best just to let bygones be gone.