VANCOUVER - “I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet. So I stole his shoes.”
With due apologies to those who are missing extremities, the unknown comic who first penned this joke likely did not have the Canadian Football League in mind. But in doing so, he (or she) more or less summed up the philosophy of those CFL teams not located in Edmonton or Winnipeg in the year 2013: i.e., things could always be worse, and to hell with the less fortunate.
To say that their lodge brothers in this cozy little league do not feel the pain of the Eskimos and Blue Bombers during this, their hour of hopelessness, is possibly harsh.
But no one is sending care packages their way.
For the Eskimos, who have utterly lost their way since the Danny Maciocia/Eric Tillman reigns of error, and the Bombers, who have a nice new stadium in which to play unsightly football, matching 3-13 records at this point actually do not represent the worst stretches of incompetence in their respective histories.
Edmonton, at the nadir of its post-Jackie Parker Decade of Dreadfulness, the 1960s, went 2-14 in 1963 with Lynn Amedee and future Alberta premier Don Getty at quarterback.
The Bombers have gone 1-14-1 (1964), 2-12 (1949), 2-14 (1970), and they were 3-15 as recently as 1998, with a 3-13 (1968) and a 3-12-1 (1969) tossed in to reinforce the point: that theirs is a football market with experience at having neither shoes nor feet.
The carnage in these two once-powerful football cities is mounting.
In Winnipeg, already this season the club has turfed quarterback Buck Pierce, general manager Shoeless Joe Mack, and mutually (cough) agreed to part company with CEO Garth Buchko. Head coach Tim Burke survived the purge, but he’s on borrowed time now.
Investors Group Field is fabulous, they say, give or take the press box, but that new-car smell will wear off quickly if the team doesn’t improve.
In Edmonton, the league’s flagship franchise for a generation has run aground and is leaking oil like a Liberian tanker.
Head coach Kavis Reed’s “why me?” body language is that of a man who knows he’s about to walk the plank, no one has any idea whether former star receiver Ed Hervey is the solution or part of the problem as GM -- and if rumours are to believed, the club is leaning towards raiding the coaching staff of the hated rivals in Calgary to get Rick Campbell, who’s not only the defensive co-ordinator of the CFL’s best team but the son of Hugh Campbell, who retired as Esks’ CEO in 2006 and appears to have taken the club’s organizational DNA with him into the wilds of Idaho. Or is it Montana?
Equally alarming: attendance fell below the magic 30,000 number the last four home games, and the venerable Edmonton scribe Terry Jones questions whether the 27,633 recorded last week was heads or feet (if the latter, somebody was one short, or one over.) That takes care of the CFL’s footless. But what about the merely shoeless, the mediocre mass in the middle?
At the moment, they are led by the underachieving, 9-7 B.C. Lions, whose latest calamity -- a 35-14 stomping in Regina by the Saskatchewan Roughriders -- can be summed up as follows: “Dome team goes outside in the rain, soils itself.”
However, the Lions are joined in this category by Kent Austin’s yoyo-like, 8-8 Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who appear to have received one of the all-time Bad Hank performances from QB Henry Burris (106 yards passing, 0 TDs, 1 int) while being whipped 36-5 by another mediocre (but improving) team, the Anthony Calvillo-less Montreal Alouettes (7-9), who lit up the Ticats with rookie Troy Smith at quarterback.
That Smith became the sixth QB this season to win in his first CFL start speaks to the parody ... uh, parity of the league ... or just overconfident defences taking their eyes off the ball.
Two games from the end of the regular season, then, only three teams have any reason to smile:
-- The Stampeders, who probably could throw their three quarterbacks on the table at the coming expansion draft and tell the Ottawa TwoColors, “Pick one, any one,” and never notice. They also have as dynamic a defence, and running game, as there is in the league and a terrific coaching staff.
-- The Roughriders, greatly underestimated, who would certainly play the Stamps in a Regina Grey Cup, if not for the fact that only one Western team is allowed. But if, by chance, the Riders should happen to win the West final ... oh, lord. Call in the army.
-- The Toronto Argonauts, defending champs, who have all the same qualities, on both sides of the ball, that took them to the title last year. They may or may not be milking the last drops of greatness out of QB Ricky Ray, but on the bright side, they have him.
The Eskimos used to, but Tillman traded him for kicker Grant Shaw, who’s currently seventh in an eight-team league in punting and tied for fifth in field goal percentage ... and quarterback Steven Jyles (the less said, the better) ... and a 2012 first-round draft pick, which they then exchanged for B.C.’s pick, and took offensive lineman Austin Pasztor, who at present is the backup right tackle for the NFL’s only 0-7 team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
One day, if anyone in the Edmonton organization is still around to celebrate, perhaps Pasztor will come north and help get the odd first down, and it will look like a good move.
At the moment, it’s a couple of feet short.
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