Bo Levi Mitchell looks to attempt a pass during Week 21 against the BC Lions in Vancouver. (The Canadian Press)
This is going to be one the oddest columns I’ve ever written, which is saying a lot for anyone who has read my work over the past decade.
With the 2021 Draft in our rear-view mirror and the specific start date for the upcoming season still not 100 per cent certain, we are all left with this gap of time before the start of training camp where there just isn’t much tangible action. It happens in all sports, this dead zone period. So with this extra time on my hands, I begin to wonder, just what the hell is going on around the league? I could be a real reporter and make calls and check my sources but then I remember my “source” is whatever the CFL.ca writers are working on and Dave Naylor’s Twitter account.
So instead, I’m going in a different direction. Here is what I hope is going on for every franchise based on nothing more than speculation and my weird imagination. Consider it a random look behind the curtain into the everyday life of your favourite CFL players. I totally get if you find the next 1,000 words or so ridiculous but I hope you enjoy.
Somewhere in Vancouver, Mike Reilly and Bryan Burnham are out shopping. (Yes, for anyone worried, both have received their first vaccination and were quarantined.) Because of the economic realities of our time so many players have taken pay cuts or restructured their contract to fit within their team’s budget. From star players down to those on special teams, this is just a part of life. The one that stuck out for me was Burnham, the receiver who finished second to Brandon Banks in receiving yards, found the end zone 11 times while averaging an impressive 15 yards a catch. Burnham has been making life easier for quarterbacks for years and he did the same for the BC Lions’ organization by taking a home town discount.
As you read this, I imagine Reilly is spoiling Bryan ‘Pretty Woman’ style, letting Burnham shop with abandon like Julia Roberts on Rodeo Drive. Whether it is cool boutique stores in Gastown, some fancy shopping at Nordstrom and Holt Renfrew or just a pleasant afternoon on Granville Island, the Lions quarterback is flinging his credit card around like he’s targeting his favourite receiver on second and long.
For good measure maybe they could find an Italian designer suit for the guy who will help allow Burnham to get deep, the team’s new left tackle Ryker Matthews. Matthews could go down as the most important free agent signing for the 2021 season.
What is the age that grown men stop having sleep overs? I imagine around it’s the early teenage years. In the past 18 months, the Calgary Stampeders have lost over 2,500 yards in receiving to the Toronto Argonauts (Eric Rodgers) and the NFL (Reggie Begelton). That is a massive talent drain that no amount of development can easily replace.
If there is one organization that can overcome such a loss, it’s Calgary. Everyone raves about John Hufnagel’s ability to find new talent but very few discuss his unusual techniques when it comes to player development.
Over the next month Bo Levi Mitchell, Josh Huff and Hergy Mayala will be making popcorn, binge watching ‘Ted Lasso’ and bonding in the way that only comes with pulling off all-nighters, eating gross food and hoping you don’t wake your folks. I want Instagram shots of them staying up late, playing Call of Duty and drawing moustaches on the face of whoever falls asleep first.
Mayala and Huff were the most productive 2019 receivers still left on the roster, with Mayala averaging over 80 yards a game and scoring five touchdowns to close out the 2019 season. These three are going to have to get on the same page to continue their run of excellence in a division that somehow should be even more formidable than it was two years ago. Look for Kamar Jorden to swing by late with the second round of pizza.
EDMONTON FOOTBALL TEAM
As you read this, new head coach Jaime Elizondo is painstakingly devising the most creative touchdown celebrations you’ve ever seen. Have you seen the offensive talent about to be unleashed in Alberta? You got a trio of 1,000-plus yard receivers (Greg Ellingson, Derel Walker & Armanti Edwards), some new high-end blockers (Derek Dennis and SirVincent Rogers) and a running back with a sizeable chip on his shoulder to prove that he still belongs in James Wilder Jr.
This league has seen the Winnipeg Blue Bombers play Duck, Duck, Goose, Dave Stala treat a football like a hacky sack and Calgary receivers recreate an Olympic Bobsled team. With all this talent and a coach with a background in high end offence, I expect Edmonton to go full Electric Circus at Commonwealth Stadium.
I imagine the coaching staff is working on protection schemes while also figuring out how to blend a dance that incorporates Single Ladies and The Dougie with a pinch of The Robot. Can I get Elizondo flossing on the sidelines while all the receivers are nailing the latest TikTok dance? I think we can all use a little “Blinding Lights” TikTok action from Ellingson, Walker and Edwards.
I know they get along but I think we’d all be happier if Dane Evans and Jeremiah Masoli could recreate ‘Step Brothers’ before the start of camp. Evans and Masoli are forced to move in together in Bob Young’s house. Masoli makes it abundantly clear that Evans is not allowed to touch his drum set while Dane at one point will attempt to bury Masoli alive.
The two will bond when, after counting to three, they both simultaneously answer “Brandon Banks” to the question “name your favourite receiver.” Near the end of the film Dane and Jeremiah will successfully pull off the ultimate “Hess Street Wine Mixer” and party with crossbows and lifelike Rod Smith masks. This movie practically writes itself.
Let’s take a quick break from quarterbacks. With all this down time, players have been forced to find other avenues for employment. In the case of Naaman Roosevelt, he has taken up coaching, teaching football techniques for children and teenagers in the Buffalo area. I want Roosevelt to take this to the next level and form his own rag tag youth football team.
As a child of the 1980s, I envision Naaman’s team will be forced to take on some evil rich guy’s team where the owner is looking to tear down the local orphanage and replace it with soulless condominiums. If the Little Alouettes defeat the Little Lord Fauntleroy squad, the orphanage gets to stay and the wealthy owner must help build a new gym for the kids.
The movie ends with Naaman and his students celebrating while ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ by Simple Minds plays in the background. I know this scenario may sound strange but every third movie from the 1980s had this exact plotline.
Oh, if you want to find any information about the football camp you can check it out here.
If karma does exist, then every day something good gets to happen for Jalen Saunders. He hits every green light while driving on Elgin Street; he picks the quickest line at the grocery store and wins every time he purchases a scratch lottery ticket.
This is the least we can hope for as Jalen has seen his fair share of bad luck these past four years as a football player. Saunders broke out in 2017 with Hamilton (76-1,170 yards) and was on pace for a similar season the following year before a serious knee injury on a routine play ended his season. Saunders has not seen the field since as COVID-19 has denied his chance of playing in both the XFL and the CFL.
While we’re at it, can we get the marketing people behind the “The Most Interesting Man in the World” Dos Equis beer commercials to hire Jalen to be their next pitchman? I learned from a Tim Baines Ottawa Sun article that Saunders started up both a moving company and a tax-return business. What an unusual combination for a football player. I want to know more about how Jalen spends his time. Also, you could do far worse than having football players move your stuff.
Remember that ridiculous movie idea I came up with Naaman Roosevelt and his football camp? Well, I found a villain for the sequel, quarterback Cody Fajardo.
I understand this role is going to be difficult for a genuinely good man like Cody, who volunteers his time as the Pediatric Ambassador for the Hospitals of Regina Foundation but helping the hospital isn’t the only place that he volunteers at. Last October he started giving his time to the Reno High School Huskies football team, coaching the quarterbacks and working as the pass-game coordinator.
So for this second movie, we get two teams from two different geographical regions (Nevada versus upstate New York) doing battle. Don’t worry. In the end, both teams will learn that it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, just that everyone has fun and learns to be themselves. Yeah, this movie will run on the Disney Channel.
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WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
Can we get a documentary of the tragic 2021 Texas Power crisis told through the perspective of Jackson Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson? Go back and check out Paul Friesen’s Winnipeg Sun article detailing what both these men went through during those days when over 4.5 million homes and business were without power for many days.
Jeffcoat was forced to boil snow for drinking water as his family was without power for 50 hours. Jefferson saw eight family members, one of them pregnant, all move in to his Austin home. Both Bombers credit their time in Canada for helping them navigate driving in snow and being able to adapt to such harsh conditions. I know I have been having fun with some goofy movie ideas for a bunch of CFL players but this one I’m serious about. It would make for a compelling film.