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  • Reeve Batstone

Off Brand


Photo: courtesy Toronto Argonauts


Winnipeg and Brady Oliviera ran all over the Argos on Friday night, but sometimes there is more to learn from failure than there is from success. It didn't matter to the Argos in the standings, but the game did provide valuable experience and insight into a number of young players, not the least of which was rookie QB Cameron Dukes. He didn't embarrass himself or his team and he showed some considerable chutzpah. The Argos should also not lose any sleep over stopping the run game. If this game was played in November Muamba and McManis (and probably Oakman and Daniel) would be on the field. Oliviera isn't running for 169 yards with them playing.


For me Dukes was the main attraction in this game. He has an unremarkable arm but has good mobility. What seems to set him apart from others is his competitive spirit and whatever Argos coach Dinwiddie sees in him that is not yet known to the rest of us. Dinwiddie has certainly been right about MBT and Kelly so far.


Dukes played with confidence, if not a little swagger, for a rookie. He did not turn the ball over and was trying to win the game not just look good. His signature play was running for a first down and on the way to the turf pitching the ball to his teammate Coxie. Keeping the ball would have been the safe, if not smartest, play to make but he was playing to win. He was clearly animated on the field and on the sideline. In order to win, quarterbacks need to be fiercely competitive, composed and resilient. Above all they have to be mentally tough. Dukes showed something against Winnipeg. I hope he sees more of the field this season so we can see if it was real or a mirage. He was not intimidated. I liked what I saw.


Dukes came from an obscure school in an obscure division (NAIA), a Division which is roughly equivalent to NCAA Div II/III and USports. Divisions that have been the source of many good CFL players but generally not quarterbacks for the Argos. Kelly, Collaros, Fajardo , Congemi and Theismann aside, the QBs they have brought directly from the US have been from high profile Div I schools, but have not worked out well. Cleo Lemon and Eric Crouch would be good examples of this. Previous Argo administrations have been often too infatuated by big NCAA brands. Trevor Harris from Edinboro St. would be an exception. To be fair, predicting the success of a Quarterback jumping from the NCAA, or even NFL, to Canada is extremely difficult. Never mind predicting success from the NCAA to the NFL. The first round of the NFL draft is littered with quarterback busts. Some of these came to Canada before flaming out completely. Meanwhile the likes of Tom Brady (6th round), Joe Theismann (4th round), Kurt Warner (undrafted), Ricky Ray (undrafted), Damon Allen (undrafted) , Anthony Calvillo (undrafted), Jeff Garcia (undrafted), Doug Flutie (11th round), Condredge Holloway (12th round), Warren Moon (undrafted) Johnny Unitas (9th round) and Bart Starr (16th round) all defied the experts and won Super Bowls, Grey Cups and went to the pro bowl or won Schenley awards. Picking a quarterback with the right stuff is more art than science. Kudos to the current Argos regime for not being fooled by the absence of a Division I brand in Dukes' background when assessing his talent and potential. Let's hope he proves out. The Argos Canadian scouting has been sensational the last few years, the US scouting hasn't been bad either.


Around the League

Congrats to the Alouettes and Tiger-Cats who clinched playoff spots by beating two bad football teams playing uninspired football this week. The Lions and Bombers clinched a home playoff game. Remarkably, for the first time in the history of the CFL, it's beginning to look like the playoffs will not feature a team from Alberta.


Nevertheless, the Montreal game featured two of the most unique plays I have seen in a long time. Both undoubtedly featured on Sportscentre south of the border. One was Alouettes Jeshuan Antwi's miniature onside punt and the other an improbable kick, on his back, from the Als punter to force a kick return fumble. A reminder of why the Canadian game is so fun to watch and its similarities to its crazy cousin down under, Australian rules football. The American, Canadian and Australian football rules all came from the same parent, English Rugby, but diverged during the early decades of the last century into the games we see today.


USports

The U of T Blues finally got a win this week, 33-19 against the McMaster Marauders. Their cross town brethren the York Lions were not so fortunate as they got pounded again, this time 87-0 by the Queen's Golden Gaels. Humiliating scores like that can't be fun for either team. As I have said in a previous column, the York University administration has left its student athletes hung out to dry by woefully under resourcing its program. It's nothing short of negligent leadership and the university owes its students a collective apology. This fiasco can't go on forever and I am waiting for them to borrow from SFU's disingenuous script and tell everyone it's not about the money as they have created the conditions for folding the program. Like SFU, York is one of Canada's "red brick' universities that was built to educate the baby boomers after the war. It's now a vibrant school which has a lot going for it. There is no excuse for such poor support, if not abandonment of the program.


Five hours up the Trans-Canada highway, an example of what things once were in Toronto played itself out in Ottawa. The annual Panda game between Ottawa and Carleton was played on Sunday before a sell out crowd of 23,000 at TD Waterhouse Stadium. The game was a classic with Ottawa kicking a 55-yard last second field goal to win 18-16. The annual Blue-Red game between York and Varsity once drew larger crowds than this at the old Varsity stadium. What has changed? In those days the University leadership supported their teams. York and Varsity are tarnishing their own brands among their students. The game needs a new venue. The Varsity field at U of T is too small and has no atmosphere, the bleachers are distanced from the field by a track. The Blue-Red game needs to be moved to BMO, pure and simple. It's an ideal neutral site with a big league feel. It could be transformative, but the schools would have to pull their weight to make it work.


Amar Doman has facilitated the same in BC by sponsoring the use of the BC Place stadium for the annual Shrum Bowl between UBC and SFU. This will be reinstated when the SFU President finally ends their charade and ignores the disastrous advice her administrators have been feeding her, grasps the nettle, and green lights SFU's application to be readmitted to the Canada West in Usports. In the meantime the BC sports community and SFU alumni, shake their heads in abject disbelief. So much for intellectual honesty. The hubris on Burnaby mountain these days is stupefying.


In the battle of undefeateds in Southwestern Ontario the Western Mustangs beat the Windsor Americans...er..Lancers, 21-10. In the 1970s these universities had one of the fiercest rivalries in Canadian football. One win by Windsor and it will return, but not on this day. How fitting that a team with 18 Americans should test the Mustangs on Truth and Reconciliation Day. Fans of Canadian football in this part of the province could be forgiven for thinking that the war of 1812, against the Americans, had resurfaced as one of its most significant battles was fought near London, Ontario. In October 1813, British soldiers and legendary Shawnee Chief Tecumseh fought the Americans under the command of William Harrison in the Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh was killed and 20 years later Harrison was elected President of the United States. His Vice Presidential running mate, Colonel Richard Johnson, took credit for killing Tecumseh using the macabre campaign slogan, "Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh". With his death, the brilliant Tecumseh's vision of a North American First Nations confederacy died as well. The town of Tecumseh, Ontario, near London, is named for him.


Without Tecumseh and Joseph Brant's heroic alliance with the British, Metis, and Six Nations, in repelling the Americans in Niagara, Detroit, and elsewhere, there would not be a Canada today.

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