Hello, Kommentariat. Your old pal, Adam, is here to fill in for Christmas Ape this week because his leg is broken and he had to be shot. Or something. Normally Sarah would take over, but she has to add to the growing collection of mini-bars in her house. So it has fallen to me, which is perfect because we have a very special edition of Peter King this week.
This week, not content to ruin just American football, PK has gone international in the spirit of the World Cup, without actually covering the World Cup, which is just the silliest type of football. No, dear readers, instead he’s braved the bitter wastelands of Canada to observe the opening week of the CFL. Naturally, as a person who was this close to being a dual citizen with our beaver hunters to the north, I was a perfect fit. But what of PK? Dare he note some of the funny city names? Can Canadians really be as proud of their football as Americans? Will the public be able to handle his whirlwind summer romance? READ ON!
REGINA, Saskatchewan — So I didn’t see art this weekend in my two Canadian Football League experiences. One game was 29-1 (I love the rouge) in the final minute, Calgary over Montreal and new import Chad “Humble Pie” Johnson. The other, here at rickety Mosaic Stadium, was 31-1 midway through the third quarter, Saskatchewan over Hamilton in a fizzled Grey Cup rematch.
Holy shit, 5800 words? Is he serious? I didn’t even notice. Then again, I am coming down off an intense month of near-death pneumonia combined with World Cup levels of drinking because those futbol commercials told me I’d get laid if Spain won.
That’s okay. Training camps in the CFL are short, and the early games often stink. What I did find here on the prairies north of Montana and North Dakota — when I asked one Roughrider fan what the nearest American city was, she said, “Minot” — was a fierce love of their game, very little NFL envy, and some wonderment that no one in America cares a whit about this hidden game up here.
Ugh, we’re asking Canadians where American cities are. I’m going to start drinking Oberon at 9 am. Of course, I’m not surprised that PK is surprised that people don’t envy the NFL as opposed to their own football league. The smart money says Petey doesn’t believe they can watch both leagues, and that they must choose for life.
Case in point: The quarterback of the Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders, Darian Durant, jogged off the field Sunday on one of the most miserable days for a football game I’ve ever experienced (low fifties, high and biting winds, sheets of sideways rain that occasionally slowed but never stopped all day), and found me.
There’s your forecast of what PK will be like when the Super Bowl rolls around, kids. Looks like his decision not to explore Rio in a Speedo with Brett Favre’s face on it has backfired significantly. Think I’m just going to start mainlining Tanqueray.
“Thanks a lot for coming and covering us,’’ he said. “We play some good ball, and we have lots of players up here who played at a high level in college. Then I watch ‘SportsCenter’ and they cover everything else, even the international soccer over and over, and never us. It’s frustrating sometimes.”
“I could watch TSN, but that’d just be plain silly. No, I dream of the day when Skip Bayless wonders who among us has the heart of a winner…”
The first things I notice:
- Speed of the game. Not just the 20-second play clock, which, in such a passing league, makes the receivers who’ve just run 25 yards downfield have to be mindful to hustle back to the huddle. But because all receivers can be in frenetic motion before the snap, circling the quarterback or sprinting from one side of the field to the other (the CFL field is 12 yards wider than the NFL), the line of scrimmage looks muddled and unfocused.
Because receivers are what set the line here in the states.
- Chad Johnson. Wearing number 85 with “Johnson,” not “Ocho Cinco” on his back
Because even in Canada, Peter King has to notice American things.
- Weirdness of the rouge.
MARVEL AT ITS WEIRDNESS!
So the rouge is a one-point scoring play. If you miss a field goal or punt the ball into the end zone and the defensive team doesn’t advance it out of the end zone, you get a point. Fascinating strategy to me. Imagine the game’s 28-28 with 10 seconds left and you’re at the opponents’ 20-yard line and you trust your punter more than your field-goal kicker.
Which you do if you’re the Green Bay Packers.
A coach can send in the punter and tell him to boom one high into the 20-yard end zone. If the punt team surrounds the returner and prevents him from getting out or kicking the ball out (another quirky rule—the return man can punt the ball back from the end zone in this case), the punting team wins 29-28. And games have ended this way.
GAMES HAVE ENDED WITH POINTS BEING SCORED! A MOOSE STOLE MY FRAPPE, AND MINOT IS MY ONLY ESCAPE! WHAT A COUNTRY!
Now for Chad Johnson. I met him at midfield. We’ve had our moments.
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But I watched the 36-year-old receiver with 766 career catches, none since 2011, a lot during the game
Celine Dion played in my head, and I clutched desperately at the single rose in my hand. Did he notice me? Could he notice me? My letters had gone unanswered…
“A joy,” he said at midfield, describing what it was like to play in football game for the first time in 33 months. “A joy. That feeling, as a kid, you wake up on Christmas, the excitement. I’m just thankful to have a chance to play again…”
“He didn’t know how right he was. He didn’t know the joy I had felt seeing his shirtless body glean in the bitter cold sun. How much of it felt like Christmas to ME. I decided then and there I would surprise him…under the tree. His very own Christmas present.”
Lots of players come north and expect to dominate. Maybe Johnson does too, but he doesn’t know enough yet about the game. At least he seems different now.
My heart yearned for him to dominate me like he had before. But he was different. Maybe I’d like different. Maybe now things would be gentler. Softer. Lovelier.
He’s playing, he said, because he says he knew he still could. “It just feels good,” he said. “And I thank you.”
With that, he kissed me on the right cheek and ran off the field.
BUT COULD THIS LOVE LAST? Goodell’s calls had gone unanswered for days. He could wait. He was always so distant after they made love. But this could be different. This could make me whole again, with a man who was there for me! Just like that rugged man who left my heart broken so long ago on a field in Mississippi. So long ago.
I wondered: How did the Riders get so beloved?
“They’re more than a team that plays in Regina,” said local sportscaster Ryan Flaherty. “They become a part of people’s lives there.”
And we’re back, because only an award-winning sportswriter would be stupid enough to ask how a local team in the bustling metropolis that is the plains of Saskatchewan could become popular.
His story: His family grew up two and a half hours from Regina, in Saskatoon, and had season tickets to the games and went to every home game. Flaherty’s mom, Kathrine, got to love underdog defensive back Richie Hall, a 5-6 player from Texas who scratched and clawed his way to all-CFL status. She came down with breast cancer in 1994. One day during Kathrine’s treatments, Richie Hall knocked on their door. He’d driven, by himself, the 155 miles to their home.
155 miles sounds impressive to drive, but remember this is central Canada. You need to drive 155 miles just to get milk. Bank trips are four day journeys.
He stayed for several hours. “After he left,’’ Ryan said, “she wouldn’t let anyone sit in the chair he sat in. It was a shrine.”
“But mostly because he had crapped himself while sitting there. You try driving two and a half hours straight on a box of Timbits and a French roast running through your colon.”
Hall is now the defensive coordinator of the Roughriders. I asked him Sunday if he recalled the Flahertys. He said he did. I asked him why he’d done what he did.
“Why would you show kindness to a plebeian who couldn’t afford a new, cancer-free body?” Jesus, that’s more loaded than Rob Ryan at an all-you-can-eat gumbo special on Wednesday night.
“I’ve had so many blessings in my life from people helping me along the way,’’ he said. “Isn’t that what we should be doing? Shouldn’t we be there for each other when we’re needed?”
“That’s what I said when I asked for a free, extra shot of espresso from the Starbucks barista. You’ve probably never heard of Starbucks. It’s an American thing.”
Corey Chamblin, the 37-year-old head coach of the Roughriders, is a perfect example of how the players and coaches in the league view the NFL. A defensive back from Tennessee Tech, he had cups of coffee with five NFL teams.
I can only imagine PK’s disappointment when Chamblin couldn’t remember the exact specs on that coffee.
As a coach, Chamblin sees lots of different players come to Canada. “Lots of guys come up thinking they’re going to dominate, and they soon realize the caliber of play is very close to the NFL,’’ he said.
“I mean soon reality sets in that they’re in Saskatchewan and then it becomes nothing but strip clubs and Swiss Chalet. It’s real sad to see.”
“At the end of the day, it comes down to this: ‘Do you love football?’ If you do, and you’re good, you make it.’’
“And you’re good” conditions so many of those crap sayings sports figures love to pull out, I’m surprised they haven’t figured it out yet. “You just gotta have heart, and spirit, and the will to win, and be talented.”
One more thing for Chamblin: I wondered about the mayhem by receivers at the line of scrimmage.
“When I first took a job up here,’’ he said, “I hadn’t seen CFL ball yet, and it was a surprise. It’s organized chaos. All the receivers are trying to do is set up the defensive backs. When they hit the line of scrimmage — this is what I tell my players — it’s U.S. ball. Everything before they do that is window-dressing.’’
Maybe. Looks a lot harder to decipher than that.
I don’t know what I enjoy more, the fact that Chamblin seems to be an idiot (“I mean, yeah they’re setting up the DBs, but really, it’s just fancy window dressing to see what kind of conditioning they have.”) or that PK seems to be intently pouring over videotape of CFL receivers as if Dan Brown hid some kind of message inside them. BUT WHAT COULD IT MEAN!?
I met some fans before the game.
One woman, Shelli Logan, started crying when she detailed why she loved the team so much. “That’s why I will sit here in this rain for the entire game, and I will yell at anyone who leaves early, ‘Part-time fans!’”
I must say I’ve never been to the prairies, as my family lives in Ontario. And based on this woman, I’m rather glad of that fact.
More than a few people said this to me: Saskatchewan is the Green Bay of the CFL—right down to the green colors. Just as Green Bay has tentacles into every state in the union, so too do the Riders in Canada.
Like I said, Wisconsin is a fucking cult. And them having people in every state is less a sign of how beloved they are, and more a sign that The Following uses real life examples.
A couple of years ago, the best back in the league, Jon Cornish of the Stampeders, was getting ridden so hard that he mooned the crowd in section 28, traditionally the area of Mosaic Stadium with the toughest fans.
No wonder ESPN never covers it. American media lost its shit when Randy Moss pretended to moon fans. Chris Berman’s brain would break if he saw him do it for real.
I can’t tell you how many people, on Twitter and in person, apologized for the weather
[Insert Canadian stereotype joke here]
As the Riders sprinted to a huge early lead, playing with the wind in a dominant first quarter, Geroy Simon watched the game from a box upstairs. “People in the States, a lot of them, think this is like semi-pro, or some beer league,’’ he said. “I know… You have to be a good football player to play here.”
Whatever you say, league that worships Doug Flutie.
Last note: It’s just two games, but two differences struck me most among the teams I saw in the CFL: the quality of the offensive line and the quarterback. Montreal and Hamilton couldn’t protect. Calgary and Saskatchewan could.
In many ways, isn’t that universal in football?
Not at all. For you see, in the CFL, a team can garner “Brownie points” (which are used to calculate tournament placement in the Lester Brown Bowl) by sacking the quarterback, and then apologizing and helping him afterwards. Even more are awarded should the QB become injured and a gift basket is sent. OF COURSE IT’S UNIVERSAL YOU SIMPERING JACKASS! Hell, protecting the quarterback is universal with 10 year olds! Only you could watch a game and think, “Man, one team is not protecting well, I wonder if that’s going to affect their chances.”
The best player we’ve never seen.
I know Maurice Jones-Drew is short, but that seems a bit harsh.
Quarterback Anthony Calvillo retired from the Montreal Alouettes in January after a 20-year career in the Canadian Football League. He threw for more yards, 79,816, than any other quarterback in pro football history.
The only thing Canadians care about, though, is if he can thread a slap shot through the five hole from the blue line. I’ve been going to Canada since I was born and even I’ve never heard of this guy. Oh, he was in Montreal. That means they were actively trying to keep people from hearing about him.
Calvillo on his life as a CFL icon:
“It’s been an incredible life, an incredible career. I’m very happy with what I was able to accomplish. The game up here was a good fit for me. I’m a pretty accurate passer, and the game moves so fast, which fits the way I like to play.
Calvillo’s game is like Calvillo’s love: fast and hard!
I can play scenarios over and over, but for me, my timing was not meant to be,” Calvillo says of the NFL. “I am not bitter, not at all. I’m very much at peace with it.”
Did he not get a chance to play in the NFL or did his dog get hit by a bus?
“I had to have some ankle surgery right after the game, and I was still recovering from that. Pittsburgh had just released Kordell Stewart, and the deal was if they re-signed Charlie Batch, I would be out of the loop. A week after I tried out, they signed Charlie, and my window there was shut.”
This guy lost to Charlie “No, I’m not a baker” Batch? [See “You have to be good in this league” above]
“I can play over scenarios over and over, but for me, my timing was not meant to be down south.”
IF YOU’RE SOUTH OF THE WALL, YOU’RE A SOUTHERNER!
“One game sticks out to me—the Grey Cup in 2009. Some people call it the greatest game in Canadian history. We’re down 17-3 at half, and we’re still down 16 with eight minutes left in the game.”
“We’re gonna need a lot of rouges, you hosers!”
Quotes of the Week
“Every NFL team should be after Cris Carter’s son…”
—Montreal GM Jim Popp, on his young and tall receiver, Duron Carter.
But they won’t because the NFL finally let Cris into the Hall of Fame, and we have to keep spiting him somehow.
Goat of the Week
Troy Smith, QB, Montreal. The former Heisman Trophy winner—and occasional San Francisco and Baltimore quarterback—has the unenviable job of succeeding the most productive quarterback in CFL history, Montreal’s Anthony Calvillo. His debut did not go well. Smith went 18 of 41 for 154 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. He was consistently high or wide on a windy day in Alberta. Considering his strong receiving corps, he won’t last long with many more performances like that one.
/Talks about how Montreal couldn’t protect
/Blames quarterback for problems throwing
At some point in his life, Peter King’s brain just stopped bothering to connect the freeway.
Stat of the Week
With the retirement of Anthony Calvillo, the CFL has lost its most productive quarterback ever. Comparing Calvillo’s passing line to the NFL’s yardage leader, Brett Favre, who played 27 fewer games:
Of course, it should also be noted that Brett Favre has about 100 more interceptions and only 50 more touchdowns, but who cares, because the only thing that matters for a quarterback is YARDS, baby!
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
It’s been a long time since I had a travel debacle as big as this weekend’s. Don Banks and I had a boys’ day out at Wrigley Field on Friday, a lovely afternoon in the bleachers.
I’m sorry, a “boys’ day”? “A lovely afternoon”? Am I going to have to bring back the erotica shtick?
I was set to be on an 8:05 p.m. flight from Chicago to Calgary, and it got canceled. United told me to make it to Calgary in time for the 1 p.m. MT start of the Saturday game, I’d have to fly to San Francisco and then get the first flight out from there in the morning. Which meant not sleeping, except on the plane or at SFO. So I did it. Then the flight from San Francisco to Calgary was delayed an hour and a half Saturday, and I ended up getting to the game in the second quarter.
If he ever met Louis CK, Louis’ head would probably disintegrate. And then Peter would be like, “I know! Aren’t plane delays just the worst!”
How about this travel note from Jenny Vrentas, leaving Manitoba Friday morning after covering Winnipeg’s opener?
Customs agent: “Who do you work for?”
Vrentas: “The MMQB … Sports Illustrated.”
Customs agent: “What were you reporting on in Winnipeg?”
Vrentas: “The Blue Bombers!”
Customs agent: (incredulous) “For Sports Illustrated?”
Vrentas: “The MMQB. It was Canada Week, sir.”
She was allowed to leave the country.
Oh thank God. I mean, if they suspected she was working for ESPN, the magazine, they would’ve taken her out back and shot her. “This is for unleashing Jim Rome on us!”
Tweets of the Week
Peter King put one of his own tweets on here, because why not? I’m not going to put it up here though, mostly because I’ll kill myself if I go to his twitter.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think Bill Belichick would love the rule the CFL Competition Committee adopted this year:
“If you win, you get to pick one mom of someone from the losing team. Dinner must be light, but sensual.”
instant replay on pass-interference calls and non-calls.
Oh fuck right off with that. “ONLY BILL BELICHICK’S PLAYERS ARE INTERFERED WITH! WAKE UP SHEEPLE!”
3. I think something I’ve re-thought after seeing two games over the weekend is that Tim Tebow would be a tough fit here. You’ve got to be an accurate passer to succeed in the CFL.
“But in the NFL, it’s really just about hucking it as far as you can and hoping you draw a PI call.”
Aw. I meant that as a joke, but then I realized how popular Tebow and Favre are in the NFL. I’ve hurt myself.
It sounds like Tebow would be a good fit, and he would be a desirable player in Canada because of his name.
Ah yes, the dynastic legacy that is the Tebow name. Of course, in Canada, Newfies pronounce his name Tae-bo. So they probably think they’re getting Billy Blanks or something.
5. I think one of the quirky things I heard here was in Calgary, where the Stamps play “Sweet Caroline” just the way it’s played at Fenway Park, shutting down the “so good, so good, so good” so the fans can take it away. They were good at it too.
I challenge you to find someone bad at that. Mutes are good at the “so good” line, you asshat.
6. I think I was pleased to see Luke Tasker score the lone Hamilton touchdown Sunday. Scary how much he reminds me of his dad—as a player and as a polite person just happy to be playing football.
Since the CFL is filled with polite, white, non – ME FIRST GLORRRRY BOYS, I have to assume Peter King spent his time in a weird, cappuccino-induced fever dream, going, “Is this heaven?”
7. I think the starkest difference between the two leagues, north and south, is the salary cap. NFL in 2014: $130 million. CFL in 2014: $5 million.
I think the starkest difference is the fucking revenue stream, but whatever, NUMBERS R FUN AND CANADA PLAYS FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME!
9. I think I need your help. Tomorrow my column will be your words on our CFL coverage, and whether you want more of it or less. Be specific about what you like or don’t like. As I said, you’ll determine by your visits to our site and your clicks on our stories whether you want us to write more about the CFL. No matter what, I won’t commit to covering it weekly, but if the numbers are good we’ll check in on the CFL during the season.
“Click my stuff and I might do something different! Actually I won’t, but whatever! Clicky-time!”
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I have a real feel of the prairies in Canada.
I got one too by staring at rough side of a sponge for 6 hours.
b. The World Cup seems fun, though not many in Alberta and Saskatchewan seemed tied to their TVs over it.
Well the Canadian team was expected to make a deep run this year.
f. Coffeenerdness II: Then, just 45 minutes out of Regina, we stopped in Moose Jaw at a Tim Horton’s. Busy morning at the Moose Jaw TimHo’s.
No. Stop. No one, no one calls it that. Why are you like this? Why?
h. One more thing about the upcoming week: We’re just finishing up Canada Week. Now we’re onto Beach Reading Week. Starting tomorrow, we’ll have four installments of a Bill Syken novella I think you’ll really like.
And the final chapter of my new book, Love on a Barren Plain
i. Right. Beach Reading Week. Give something new a try, the same way you tried Canada Week.
The same way I tried opening an artery this week. From me and the rest of Canada, we’re sorry we didn’t drown you in your TimHo cup.
I want more like this!
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