VANCOUVER — Of all that went wrong for the Saskatchewan Roughriders Sunday afternoon, the most consequential may have been the least inconsequential. What is the point of an extra point when it has become so automatic?
Thanks to the Roughriders, however, the Lions and the Calgary Stampeders -- their dance partners in Sunday’s West Division final at BC Place -- were left with a graphic lesson that even routine plays are never routine.
“That game, to me, was all about the last 35 seconds of the first half,” said Lions head coach Mike Benevides, referring to Sunday’s 36-30 win by the Stampeders in the West Division semi-final. “When I saw that, I thought, ‘Great.’ Because every time we tell our players, 'There’s no such thing as a gimme play’ they don’t always believe it. We tell our guys -- and Calgary operates this way -- ‘they’re going to come hard at you.’ Every play is important.”
The Roughriders lined up to kick an extra point after a touchdown with seconds in the second quarter and were about to take a 17-14 lead into their locker room. Fans at McMahon Stadium were heading up the aisles for a washroom break or a hot toddy. TV viewers were strolling to the fridge for a cold beer. What could go wrong with a convert, football’s version of a two-foot putt?
As it happened, plenty can go wrong.
Keon Raymond came in off the edge to block the kick of Sandro DeAngelis, Fred Bennett picked up the loose ball and dashed to the far end zone for a two-point play, according to Rule 3, Article 5, of the CFL rule book. “If Team B (Stampeders) legally gains possession during an unsuccessful convert attempt, it may score two points by advancing the ball across Team A’s (Saskatchewan’s) goal line.”
The block was not just a swing of three points for the Stampeders, however. Because the Roughriders had to kick off, Calgary had time for two more plays. After a 29-yard run by Jon Cornish, Rene Paredes booted a 50-yard field goal on the final play to give Calgary a 19-16 lead, and the Stamps grabbed a perceptible momentum shift.
“It was a big momentum-changer,” agreed Lions kicker Paul McCallum, who watched the game with his teammates at a New Westminster sports bar. “It was a big boost for Calgary when they needed it.”
From the vantage of point of someone who has made 761 converts in his career -- regular season, playoffs and Grey Cup games -- McCallum believes the onus for the miss fell on DeAngelis. “It could have been a guy who missed a block, but he (DeAngelis) was really slow (in his kick and follow-through,” McCallum said.
The missed convert was a first for the CFL this season. McCallum, who has never failed to make a point-after since breaking into the CFL in 1993, a span of 20 seasons, admits he skipped one off the inside of the goalposts last year, but it still counted.
Still, he knows the convert has become redundant, like his own appendix, a leftover from a different evolutionary time.
Its irrelevance gives him cause to suggest that, if football wants to stick with tradition, a vestige of the game’s rugby roots, why not make it more difficult?
“I think we should move the ball back 10 yards, and make it more challenging,” McCallum said. “If you look at the NFL, there’s always a guy or two who misses from 20 yards. That would bring a more interesting facet to the game.”
He’s not alone. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has suggested getting rid of the point-after altogether, or at least moving the kicking distance back where it wouldn’t be so automatic.
Automatic? No such thing, maintains centre Angus Reid, who snaps for McCallum on field goals (Tim Cronk handles the same duties on point-afters for the Lions).
“Paul has never missed a convert,” Reid said. “That also means the snap was never over someone’s head. That means the holder never bobbled it. There’s more than one factor in play. Three things have to go right. And the more factors you add in -- cold, wind -- there’s more likelihood of something bad happening. People say we should get rid of the extra point. ‘It’s stupid. It’s automatic.’ It’s not. Nothing is automatic in this world.”
If a convert is so mechanical and robotic, Reid argues, why aren’t there volunteers lining up to do his job? (The Lions are weening themselves off the habit of going to the same well by having Cronk snap on point-afters).
“I’ve snapped for 10 years, and I hate doing it,” Reid said. “It sounds easy but it’s terrifying. I know I can screw it up. Try it yourself at home. Bend your legs, grab a ball, throw it back six or seven yards in .8 of a second, with a perfect spiral, and the laces forward. That’s a tough play.”
Indeed, sadder but wiser now are ‘Rider fans, knowing that “routine” is not in the vocabulary of their star-crossed team.
GRID BITS: With five days still to go before kickoff, the Lions announced that ticket sales for the Sunday’s West Division final against the Stampeders (1:30 p.m.) have surpassed 36,000. Last year's West Division final, against Edmonton, attracted an audience of 41,313. New BC Place has a capacity of 54,313, and has only once reached that level -- for the 2011 Grey Cup game against Winnipeg. “We want to create a home-field advantage,” Lions president Dennis Skulsky said in a news release.
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