The rouge is fine, thanks. Long live the rouge. If you want it abolished, well, maybe you ought to reconsider your point of view. Your single-point of view.
So say a couple of big names from both the CFL’s past and present: Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ placekicker Troy Westwood and current Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach, Craig Dickenson.
“I cannot understand why, every year, we have this same old debate about getting rid of the rouge,” says Dickenson, a little flabbergasted that the conversation has surfaced again, but game to mount an intelligent, impassioned defence of the rule.
“I am a little bit of an old school traditionalist. I think the rouge is awesome. There’s not been a good argument, yet, in my opinion, to get rid of it.”
You just need to reframe your mindset, argues Dickenson, if you’re the type who attaches failure to the rouge instead of success. And Westwood, a man who connected on 617 career field goal attempts, to stand fifth on the all-time list, agrees.
“To me, when the sport emphasizes marching the ball down the field,” Westwood says, “and if you’re able to put yourself in a position as a team that an individual can send the ball through a boundary that gives you a point, I don’t mind it at all.”
“It wasn’t designed to be a reward for a missed field goal,” echoes Dickenson, a longtime special teams coach who still holds those responsibilities for the Riders along with his head coaching chores.
“It’s designed to reward the team for moving the ball from their end of the field to a position where they could possibly kick it into the end zone.”
Dickenson likes the rouge’s roots in old-style rugby. “It’s a reward for moving the football and gaining field position,” he reiterates.
The debate has resurfaced with a little more zeal this spring, what with the announcement of exploratory talks between the CFL and XFL investigating the possibility of a future partnership. What that might look like remains nothing more than an abstract sketch. But with that abstraction framing the future of Canadian football, all things are to be dissected as changeable, or defended as non-negotiable.
‘Perfect opportunity to ditch the single,’ cry the rouge’s detractors.
‘Over my dead body,’ reply its backers.
For the record, I’m a backer, if push were to come to shove. However, I have long been a proponent of an adjustment to the rule, one I decide to investigate further with both Westwood and Dickenson.
Even a tweak here and there, though, doesn’t seem to catch Dickenson’s fancy. A suggestion I’ve discussed with fans and league executives for years leaves him mostly unimpressed. And although Westwood sees some possible merit in it, he punctures my tires with a little cold, hard reality on why it might not fly in the long run.
Ever since Toronto Argonauts’ place kicker Lance Chomyc missed a short field goal at the end of a regular season game, in 1986, I’ve worried about the same kind of scenario playing out in a playoff game, maybe even a Grey Cup.
That 1986 game was being played in Edmonton, tied at 34 and Chomyc — as stellar a placekicker as the Argos have ever known — won it on a single point when his 23-yard attempt went wide. There was absolutely no chance of the ball being run or kicked out by Edmonton because it landed on the running track behind the end zone. (Note: my thanks to football historian Paul Woods for digging up video of that game in order to confirm for me that I wasn’t fabricating something through the fog of passing years.)
The memory of that kick drives my proposed adjustment to the single point rule: The rouge would live on, but only if the team on the other end of the kick has the choice of conceding the point or attempting to get the ball out of the end zone.
Any ball that flies over the end zone or bounces through it without being touched, I declare, would be nothing more than a dead ball. That removes the awarding of a point on a ball that can’t possibly be fielded while leaving open the possibility of a long return or one of those fabulous kick-it-out-of-the-end-zone scenarios we all love. Personally, I’d never want to see that die and eliminating the rouge completely would kill that.
The rejigged rule is a good compromise, yes?
Dickenson, though, can’t see the need to ensure that the team that’s backed up has a play on the ball. It’d be part of the price they must pay for dereliction of duty.
“I think you lost your ability to (decide whether to) give up the single point when you allow that team to drive it down to your 20-yard line,” he says, returning to his belief that the single is a reward for gaining field position, “and the game’s over, now, because your defence wasn’t able to stop ‘em.”
Westwood finds the single point tweak interesting, at least, saying “I can understand incorporating that rule for sure.”
But, thinking way ahead, he explains why it might actually lead to putting players in unnecessary peril if a chip-shot field goal was missed, due to a change in the way the attempt would be made. Kickers would no longer hoof the thing hard, since they’d not secure a point if the ball were to sail into the stands.
“You’d get coaches that would have their kickers strike way lower on the ball to kick it as high as possible,” Westwood explains, “and not as hard as possible, so that if you did miss it, that your cover team could go down and still get the guy in the end zone.
“If you had this situation where guys were getting 30, 40 yards to sprint down to a dude who’s trying to wind it up to get it out of that end zone…boy that’s a crazy collision thing. And I think just for that reason alone, that could lead to the extinction of the rouge. It’d just be suicide missions to try and get it out.”
Westwood and Dickenson aren’t the only ones who believe the single point is a weapon to be used at the appropriate time, no matter the circumstances, and that getting the point is not a failure of kicking, but rather a success of driving the ball to a spot where the rouge comes into play.
On August 3, 2001, current Argos’ general manager Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons was then the team’s head coach as a game in Calgary was winding down, tied at 35. Clemons sent out his kicker, Jacob Marini, with instructions to intentionally miss on his 26-yard field goal attempt. Marini did, sending an unplayable ball through the end zone and the Argos came away with a 36-35 win.
Clemons had decided to take out of play the only thing, really, that could have scuttled his team’s chances of winning on the final play of regulation. No way he was going to allow one of the uprights to be struck, resulting in a dead ball and no points at all.
“We didn’t want to take the chance of hitting the goalposts,” Clemons told Argonauts.ca’s Mike Hogan, “but the other thing is, when I (as a kicker) try to make it I can aim more. In aiming more, you get a ball that can actually not get out of the end zone and potentially be returned or kicked out.”
Clemons wasn’t sure if it was his idea or if it was the late Don Matthews’ brainchild, but he did say it was not a spur of the moment thing. His team did practice the scenario in order to be ready.
There were other considerations, too. So, you can’t just declare ‘well, he had no faith in his kicker,’ when you hear more of Clemons’ explanation:
“When a team goes to block the field goal, they’re going to line themselves up in the middle of the goalposts. When we kick the ball to the other side, where the pressure is coming from is up the middle. The pressure is designed to block that ball up the middle and that’s where they’re putting their hands up. So we actually had a little extra protection on that short side. We brought another guy across so we covered up that short side because we were kicking into that boundary.
“Taking the block out, taking the return out and the goalposts out. It was a combination of things were were tying to eliminate in that process.”
Maybe, then, it’s my failing that I don’t see that kind of play as poetry, but rather as litter. Clemons, Dickenson and Westwood do have me reconsidering some other angles, however.
But, I do have a clear recollection of having one of the best views of Dave Ridgway’s winning kick at the 1989 Grey Cup Game, as I was standing on the dead ball line, directly behind the goal posts that Robokicker was aiming to split. And I remember thinking, ‘Please don’t miss and hoof it out of the end zone.’ In 2005, watching Edmonton and Montreal play a Grey Cup beauty in overtime, I had the same dread as Sean Fleming lined up for a 37-yard field goal. I couldn’t bear to think such a game could possibly be won on a single point gained on a wide ball that had no chance of being dealt with.
Perhaps I’m paranoid, waiting for the day that a big game is won on such a missed field goal, but I’d like to assure that it doesn’t happen as opposed to reacting to it afterward if it ever does.
Dickenson can’t endorse my worry because, he says, he’s had a play in his book that calls for an intentional kick for a game-winning single and never once had the opportunity to employ it.
“My point being is I’ve been in the CFL now going on 18 years,” he says. “I’ve never had that play run against me and I’ve never run it myself so to change the rule for something that’s never happened in 18 years, I think, it’s silly.”
He goes on, and his rationale for having the play in his book would be similar to the feelings Clemons had two decades ago on that night in Calgary.
“We have that play in our playbook,” says Dickenson, “because we don’t want to risk trying to kick it through the uprights and hitting the goalpost because, for some reason — and I don’t know why this is — you don’t get a point if it hits upright.
“You could probably argue that you were closer to making it if you hit the upright than if you missed it altogether,” he says, laughing.
Westwood jokes about his affinity for the single being based on the field goals he missed over his career, leading to 110 of his 2,748 career points, ranking him fifth on the all-time list. “I might be 20th if they took away all my rouges,” he says, laughing.
In all seriousness, declares Westwood, his misses were “never OK. It was failure,” he says, referring to himself, not to the rule that allowed the point to be scored.
“Being able to push the ball that far down the field, I can understand how that’s worth the point. You just get a point for for achieving that, as a team, I think.”
Dickenson is firm. The rouge is a gift, not a liability, and you just have to look at the bigger picture. “It brings all sorts of strategy into the game, especially, you know, late in the fourth quarter,” he says.
“I just really feel like people are way out to lunch on the rouge if they feel like it’s a reward for missing a field goal.”