It was impossible to ignore the fact that the earth moved in Montreal this week. But while the locals were talking about an overnight 4.5 wakeup call on the Richter scale on Wednesday, the Alouettes defence may have come up with its own earth-moving wakeup call: the sack celebrations of Alan-Michael Cash.
Even though Bombers quarterback Joey Elliott brought the Als’ defence crashing down with a thud on Thanskgiving, Cash was still able to bring the Bombers pivot down twice.
No defensive tackle in the CFL this year has more sacks, let alone a nose tackle fighting through the most crowded bash and crash of the trenches, than Cash. Not bad for a first-year player who didn’t even show up on Montreal’s 46-man roster until Week 5 vs. the Argonauts.
Heading back into Toronto for a fateful fight for first place, Cash has caught middle linebacker Shea Emry for a share of the Als’ team lead in quarterback-hunting. The only CFL players with more sacks are defensive ends, and Cash is only three off the league lead.
“Shea was getting in my ear about that,” Cash admitted after players and coaches ditched the Winnipeg game film and simply moved on to focus on the Argos in their film preparation.
“It’s good to have a friendly competition, but it’s more about the 11 guys around me. I’m all about freeing something up for the guy next to me.”
“Don’t count (John) Bowman out either. He says he’s going to play out of his mind this week.”
In the trenches, it’s a hit or be hit world. However, the 6-foot-2, 292-pounder from NC State acts like it’s ‘bury or be buried’.
Cash celebrates sacks by working his imaginary shovel to dig in the dirt.
While he’s won increased playing time from defensive coordinator Jeff Reinebold and D-line coach Mike Sinclair for getting the chores done, Cash admits that his celebration idea isn’t a unique one.
“We had a pretty good defence at NC State and one of our former players used to do that,” reveals the 25-year old, a likeable grunt if not an original thinker. “I Facebooked him to tell him I’m using it. He says ‘just keep balling out’.”
While in college, sack dancing wasn’t only discouraged, it was punished.
“Our head coach Tom O’Brien, he’d hit you with extra running.” Not even the intervention of former Pittsburgh Steeler sack great Keith Willis, the Pack D-line coach, would spare the players.
“My first CFL sack (against Edmonton) I forgot to do anything to celebrate, I was so surprised. But my second one (that same game) I pulled it out.”
His current position coach, Mike Sinclair couldn’t care less about the post-sack shenanigans. The fifth year Alouettes assistant, who helped hone Bowman’s skills, is more concerned about pre-snap until the whistle blows.
“He’s a great coach and a great mentor,” says Cash. “He interconnects family and football. He’s always got a story and he teaches you moves that work.”
The relationship between Cash and Sinclair is one that is developing into a special one. “I Googled and YouTubed Coach Sinclair,” laughs Cash. “He had a funky number (70) and a little old school Afro going on, but I didn’t see any sack dance.”
Sinclair had an explanation.
“That’s because I paid to remove all the tapes from YouTube, poured some gasoline on them and buried what was left,” he claims.
“I’m all about playing with emotion…but celebrate with your teammates. He’s a pit-bull, but he’s a baby pit-bull. It’s a game of chemistry and sacrifice, of always looking in the mirror. I keep telling the guys ‘bring your mirror with you.’”
Montreal has a great dance tradition of course, not all involving imaginary shovels.
In the 70’s, sack specialist Junior Ah You stomped proudly through a traditional Hawaiian fire dance. The scholarly and reserved Hall of Fame head coach Marv Levy happily turned a blind eye to the extravagance.
Since the franchise’s rebirth in 1996 Grant Carter pulled pretend six-guns out of invisible holsters. Then Canadian Football Hall of Famer Elfrid Peyton arrived, revealing the flexibility of James Brown to crouch low for his “freeze move.”
“Elfrid used to get yelled at in Winnipeg by Coach Dave Ritchie during warm-ups for dancing to this 70s soul song that taught you a dance step,” recalls former CFL All-Star turned CJAD radio analyst Dave Mudge.
As an O-lineman, he was trained not to notice, or even be noticed. But as Elfrid’s former teammate turned opponent, even Mudge had to peek and laugh.
However, after Winnipeg shook team confidence, and tremors shook things up geologically this week, Montreal is ready for whatever it takes to feel the earth move again.
So here’s to Cash digging in for better defence with his teammates. After all, about the only things the Als were able to hold onto Thanksgiving Monday were first place and Cash’s imaginary shovel.