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Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Alex Brink reacts after losing their CFL football game to the Calgary Stampeders in Calgary, Alberta, November 5, 2011. REUTERS/Todd Korol (Todd Korol/Reuters)
Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Alex Brink reacts after losing their CFL football game to the Calgary Stampeders in Calgary, Alberta, November 5, 2011. REUTERS/Todd Korol (Todd Korol/Reuters)

The Usual Suspects

TSN refusing to push CFL envelope Add to ...

It was a Gary Bettman dream. Five teams tied at 10-7 heading into the final weekend. Sweet parity in the CFL. But when it ended with Montreal throwing up a white flag on the West Coast to the resurgent B.C. Lions, we had a Peggy Lee moment. Is that all there is?

For all the algorithmic possibilities of the final weekend’s log jam, there was a curious dissatisfaction in the CFL regular season just ended. And no, not because the Toronto Argonauts face-planted again or the Saskatchewan Roughriders turned back into a pumpkin. In a season chock full of record-setting performances by Anthony Calvillo, the regular season still lacked an overarching story.

B.C. got a new stadium and executed Lazarus in shoulder pads. Two young quarterbacks (Travis Lulay, Drew Tate) may have stepped forward. But across the league there was a void in star power. It seemed like most teams were just keeping it together with bailing wire and masking tape. Hamilton was 8-10 and everyone – everyone – was unsatisfied. Ditto Winnipeg. Calgary. Montreal. Attendance seemed acceptable if not lusty (available seats in Montreal?), and did we say there’s a new stadium in B.C.?

Even when attendance in the CFL plateaus, you can count on television numbers to reflect a healthy interest in three-down football. But when we asked, the CFL and TSN both politely declined to reveal the season’s TV ratings until this week. Usually you want to trumpet success, but since when has the CFL ever acted like all those other guys?

Or maybe it’s TSN’s presentation of the CFL that’s got stale. If it weren’t for the gentle ministrations (and paycheques) of TSN, heaven knows where the league might be today. It gave the CFL a big-league feel. But many of the features that elevated the league and its TV product have been around for a few seasons without much change. The panel schtick. Kick For A Million. Glen Suitor’s spotlight on the military. Those interminable sideline close-ups that get truly cringe-worthy around the 20-second mark.

Watching the game-day presentation often seemed a throwback, not a way forward. Why?

Having TSN as exclusive broadcast partner was a financial success for the CFL. But part of this season’s malaise may have been TSN’s monopoly status. With no competition to turn to, fans can get complacent with the same-old. Matt Dunigan raising his voice louder or new animation does not always constitute value-added. You can’t go to another channel, as you can with the NFL, when you tire of, say, Rod Black saying, “He almost had that one in his mitts.” Even the best marriages need the occasional weekend off.

TSN couldn’t turn the CFL’s watery content into wine in the 2011 regular season. No doubt the postseason – ending with a game in B.C.’s NEW STADIUM – will provide lots of vintage moments for TSN. But it could and should look at freshening the product for next season. Spotlight upcoming football stars in Canadian Interuniversity Sport and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Get Cabby into the dressing rooms. A new set. Maybe a retired hockey enforcer (someone has to talk Leafs during the off-season). It’s time.

How you remind me

Typical of CFL’s stale aroma. While the league celebrates this week having Nickelback play at the Grey Cup game, fans of the Detroit Lions are petitioning to get the Alberta rockers off the Thanksgiving Day menu for their annual game. “I’d rather drink bleach than listen to Nickelback,” blogged on Motown fan.

Talking hockey

Part of the NHL’s belated European media rollout this week was a series of NHL websites in the native languages of hockey’s other nationalities. You can see for yourself. There are the Czech, Finnish, German, Russian, Slovak and Swedish sites where fans can follow their local heroes. For a drinking game, try reading the Slovak site and take a drink every time Zdeno Chara is mentioned. Then check yourself into the Betty Ford Clinic.

The NHL says it’s still working on its French language website. Sources say it wants to spend the extra time on this one in particular to make sure it gets the best possible product instead of rushing it out just to time it with season’s start. “We wanted to get it right,” we were told. Not that anyone in Quebec would ever complain about a little language issue.

Candid caddy

Someone needs to prompt Steve Williams, ex-caddy for Tiger Woods, on the nuances of off the record and on the record. As in, when you suggest shoving something up Woods’s “black arsehole” at an off-the-record gathering it is not likely to remain off the record for very long. In Shanghai, Williams made the comment about celebrating his first post-Tiger win at some caddy clambake, and immediately everyone forgot about Raffi Torres impersonating Jay-Z.

It’s hard to imagine which is more ludicrous: Williams assuming he’d be granted the cloak of silence for his Woods vituperation or Tiger actually becoming a sympathetic figure for, say, a minute. For the record, Williams’s current employer Adam Scott thinks it was all in good fun and plans to move on. We’ll see how he feels when his sponsors get him on the phone.

Tip your waitress

Finally, signs of the apocalypse. (Iron) Mike Ditka making Kim Kardashian jokes on the Fox pregame show.

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