Archive for June, 2013

Venerable Canadian Football League Provides a Football Fix

June 26, 2013

by John Furgele

The Canadian Football League begins its regular season tomorrow night with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers opening their new 33,000 seat stadium by hosting the Montreal Alouettes.  For those who scoff at the three down league, watching some CFL could and should provide many with a little football fix before the NFL season really begins after Labor Day. 

 The Grey Cup, the CFL’s Super Bowl has been contested 100 times.  Fittingly, the team that has won the most Grey Cups, the Toronto Argonauts, won the 100th renewal by beating Calgary in Toronto last November.  The Argos, or Boatmen have won Earl Grey’s chalice 16 times.  The cup was donated by the aforementioned Governor General Earl Grey in 1909.  For most, when you see or hear Earl Grey, you think of tea. 

The CFL is a unique brand of football and has no pretenses.  Its goal is to promote its own game, not compete with the NFL.  This isn’t the World Football League stealing Larry Csonka or the United States Football League taking away Hershel Walker or Doug Flutie.  It’s a league where each team can only have 15 “imports,” (American players), so many are home grown Canadian youngsters.  Like the NFL, the league’s television ratings have soared in recent years, with TSN—the ESPN of Canada—holding the broadcast rights.  The NBC Sports Network will carry 14 games this season, including the playoffs and the Grey Cup Game, which is usually held the Sunday before or after U.S. Thanksgiving.  ESPN 3 will also be carrying CFL games. 

The league is different.  For starters, there are 12 players to a side.  And, unlike the NFL, multiple players can be in motion and like the Arena league, they can be heading forward before he ball is snapped.  The defense has to be one yard off the ball, meaning second and inches is almost impossible to stop.  There are only three downs, meaning second down conversions is an important statistic.  The end zones are 20 yards deep, meaning first and goal from the five can still mandate a go route.  On field goal attempts, the defense puts a player in the end zone.  If the kick misses, the player has to run or kick the ball out of the end zone, or he can take a knee and concede a single point to the kicking team, so yes, it’s conceivable that Montreal could beat Toronto 1-0.  Teams have 20 seconds to get the plays off and with three downs, there are plenty of possessions to be had.  Lastly, each team gets only one timeout per half, making sure that the game progresses, something the NFL and NBA should consider.

There are eight teams in this exciting league.  The East division consists of the Argonauts, Montreal Alouettes, Hamilton Tiger Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, while the West division has the British Columbia Lions, Calgary Stampedes, Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders.  In 2014, Ottawa gets its third shot with the expansion Redblacks, meaning that the Blue Bombers will likely go back to the West division. 

The summer sports calendar is limited. There’s MLB, WNBA and Major League Soccer.  NFL training camps are three to four weeks away and college football doesn’t start until August 29.  But, football fans don’t worry, the Canadian Football League is here and it’s certainly worth a try to help curb your football fix.   It is fun and most importantly, it’s pressure free sports viewing.  Why not head north of the border for some football fun.

 

 

 

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Pro Hockey Back in Utica and Other Stuff

June 16, 2013

by John Furgele

The American Hockey League is returning to Utica.  The AHL made the announcement Friday and the Utica Comets, the top farm club of the Vancouver Canucks will play at the venerable Utica Memorial Auditorium.  The AHL has been there before, with the Utica Devils and the Mohawk Valley Prowlers, so it remains to be seen if this recent experiment will succeed. 

On the positive, Utica is a growing city with a population of roughly 63,000.  The city has done a good job of marketing to immigrants from Yemen and Guyana, and thus, the population growth.  Will these new Uticans become hockey fans?  Why not?  It’s about marketing.

Another positive is the surprising success of the Utica College Pioneers, a Division III program that led the nation in attendance, averaging about 3,400 per game at the 4,000 seat Aud.  That’s an amazing number, but the highest ticket price was $6, making a fun filled evening for the family on a cold winter’s night. 

The state of New York is kicking in $5 million to refurbish the Aud, and for some reason, the gut says that the AHL might work this time in a proud city.  Uticans are very loyal people.  They support the wildly popular Boilermaker Road Race every year, so maybe pride will come into play with the Utica Comets. 

Horse Racing’s triple crown is over, but for those who follow the sport, the real season is just beginning.  The Breeder’s Cup is the main event and the Saturday after the Belmont is when the drive really begins.  Last night, reigning Breeder’s Cup Classic winner Fort Larned showed that at age five he is ready for another second half run.  He won the Stephen Foster Handicap by six lengths in a very impressive 1:47.45 for 1 1/8 miles.  The Foster was a win and you’re in race, so Fort Larned just has to stay healthy to defend his title.

In the other big race at Churchill Downs last night, Royal Delta, the top mare from 2012 was beaten soundly by Funny Proposition.  In finishing third, the defending ladies classic winner looked sluggish even as the pace slowed down the stretch.  After cutting quick fractions of 23.30, 46.83 and 1:11.62, the ladies staggered in 38 and change for the final three furlongs and Royal Delta just didn’t have it. 

The most impressive race of the month had to be Colidioscopio’s win in the 1 1/2 mile Brooklyn Handicap the Friday before the Belmont.  The 10 year old was 22 lengths behind at 6 furlongs, but rallied to win in 2:31.65, a slow time in the slop, but the old man was brilliant, and timed his run to perfection.  The Argentinian bred won the Breeder’s Cup Marathon in 2012 at 1 3/4 miles, so we know that the old man likes to run long. 

After numerous injuries and a horrid start, the Toronto Blue Jays sit at 31-36.  They’re still last on the uber competitive AL East, but they may have a run in them.  If they can get Jose Reyes back and get guys like RA Dickey adjusted, they may be heard from before the season is over.  The Red Sox are for real, and the Orioles are not going away, but the Rays are good but an be had and it remains to be seen if the Yankees can hang in there.  They have played well, but it’s tough to win 90 plus games with guys like Overbay, Nix, Wells, etc.  They might get Jeter and ARod back, but how good will those guys be?  Jeter will blend in well, but how much of a circus will be created with ARod’s return. 

For Toronto to make a playoff run, they have to finish at least third to grab the second wild card, and that means either Boston and Baltimore has to come back to them.  Stay tuned, though, because the Jays might be surging.