First & 10 : CFL loyalist

These are tough times for Canadian Football League loyalists, as the excruciating wait for a thumbs up or thumbs down on an abridged 2020 season continued through this week’s apparently ‘soft’ deadline to get a deal done.

And I make no bones about where I stand, not in the decision to return to play, but in this: I am one of those CFL loyalists.

This was the league of my youth, covering the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was my first major ‘beat’ as a sportswriter dating back to 1990 and now I work for the team.

So… biased? Hell, yeah.

But even if I hadn’t joined the organization when I left the newspaper biz in 2016  – crossing to ‘the dark side’, as my old colleagues liked to say – I can tell you that it has always pained me when writing on this league’s financial struggles, or the uncertainty swirling around the future of any of the franchises over that span.

And, make no mistake, we’ve been here before to varying degrees.

The Montreal Alouettes folded in 1987, pushing the Bombers to the East Division by the time yours truly began chronicling the daily happenings of the team. But there were also telethons to save the Ottawa Rough Riders, the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Calgary Stampeders. There was the failed U.S. expansion era from 1993-95. And there were the trials of the Bombers franchise at the end of the millennium, when the situation was so dire staff actually brought their own toilet paper to the office for a spell while the club’s executives mapped out a financial plan with major stakeholders that saved the club.

There was the return of the Alouettes, the end of the Rough Riders in Ottawa, a rebirth with the Renegades and then their untimely death before the arrival of the RedBlacks. And there have been too many ownership changes to detail here, but included in that was a stretch in which David Braley owned both the B.C. Lions and Toronto Argonauts at the same time.

Anyway, as for an update, all we can pass along is discussions with the CFL Players’ Association and the federal government are said to be continuing through the weekend And so we wait and wonder what the after-effects of all this on the league might look like for 2021 and beyond.

Look, if nothing else the CFL has proven to be resilient over the years. But it’s times like these when it feels like you are visiting an ailing loved one at the hospital.

And I hate hospitals.

Here are the rest of our notes, quotes, links and other ponderings in this week’s First & 10…

1. Let’s switch the vibe here with some good news, for a change…

Charlie Sammons was a long-time volunteer with the Blue Bombers from 1990-2012 – a jack-of-all-trades type who would primarily help in the equipment room and then, as a driver for Grey Goose/Greyhound, be behind the wheel for the team’s bus rides to the Labour Day Classic or any other function like funerals or to the annual golf tournament.

But Charlie’s eyesight began to deteriorate a few years ago.

“It started around 2012 when I left the Bombers and then just gradually got worse and worse until finally I couldn’t see anything,” he said in a chat with bluebombers.com this week from his home in Pine Falls. “I got totally blind in my right eye. I had an operation and something when wrong and I’m totally blind. I can only see about 15 per cent out of my right eye.”

Diagnosed with macular degeneration, Charlie and his family established a crowd-funding initiative to raise $8,000 to help him to get e-Sight eyewear, essentially goggles that enhance his ability to see.

“I didn’t want to start it myself at first,” he said. “I put it off and put it off and put it off because I was kind of embarrassed to do it. Finally I said, ‘If I want to see I’m going to have to bite the bullet.’ It’s a good thing I did. I honestly didn’t realize I had this many friends.”

Within two days Sammons was halfway to his goal. And then he got a boost from members of Bomber Alumni like Lyle Bauer, Bob Molle, Stan Mikawos, Chris Walby – ‘all the old guys’, as he described them with a chuckle – as well as the folks in Pine Falls to more than meet his goal.

“I was impressed, flabbergasted, actually,” said Sammons, now 70. “I thought I was on my own. But, like I said, I have a lot of friends. The people here in Pine Falls… the folks at the Chicken Chef here donated all the money from coffee sales one weekend. Another restaurant in town had a raised a certain amount that they had raised by putting out a big jar for people.

“Next thing you know the total was over the top and I had to stop it. I didn’t want to people to keep on donating when I didn’t need the money anymore.”

During his days with Grey Goose/Greyhound – a career spanning 30 years – Sammons was part of the ‘Two Million-Mile Club’, meaning he had driven that many miles without an accident.

“I’m proud of that,” he said. “I never had an accident in my career.”

2. Another item from the Department of Feel Good and an update on Beau Bighill, the now 10-month old son of Adam and Kristina Bighill.

Beau was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, as was his father, and has now had two successful surgeries.

For more details, check this out:

3. It’s been a weird week, beyond waiting for news on a CFL season. There has been the ongoing saga of where the Toronto Blue Jays might play games – from Pittsburgh to Baltimore to ultimately Buffalo – while both Edmonton and Washington have made the decision to move away from their team nicknames.

Edmonton will go by EE Football Team if there is a 2020 season while they undergo a ‘comprehensive engagement process on a new name.’

But it won’t be Edmonton Empire, as many have suggested, because it references an ‘era of imperialism.’

Here’s a good piece from Gerry Moddejonge of The Edmonton Sun/Journal updating the name change.

4. As for the Washington Football Team, as they will be known in the interim, check out the wild story of Martin McCauley – an actuary in the Washington, D.C. area – who spent $20,000 locking up the trademarks to a number of possible names.

Naturally, Vegas bookies are taking odds on what the new nickname might be for the Washington team with ‘Red Tails’, ‘Red Clouds’ and ‘Warriors’ the top three leading contenders.

5. Sat down this week for three interviews with Blue Bombers alumni – James Murphy, Troy Westwood and Bob Cameron – as part of a ‘Fireside Chat’ series that is sponsored by the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg.

Stay tuned… those should be appearing on bluebombers.com in August, September and October.

6. Interestingly, while visiting with Cameron we referenced his addition to the Bombers Ring of Honour last year – including his planking on the back of a pick-up truck while he was honoured during halftime of a game.

But it got me thinking… I wonder who fans think should be the next addition to the Ring of Honour?

Already up there at IG Field, FYI, are Ken Ploen, Leo Lewis, Chris Walby, Bud Grant, Milt Stegall, Doug Brown, Gerry James, Herb Gray, Cameron, Jack Jacobs and Fritz Hanson.

If you’d like to offer your pick, fire me an e-mail at etait@bluebombers.com.

7. For those that may have missed the news about the passing of former Bomber Jim Thorpe, his obituary can be found here.

Thorpe began his CFL career in 1969 with Toronto, but was traded to the Bombers in 1971 and enjoyed his best seasons in Winnipeg – pulling 70 passes for 1,436 yards and nine TDs in 1971 and then another 70 for 1,260 yards and 11 scores a year later. He was released prior to the 1973 season, along with Mack Herron, after getting into some off-field legal issues.

8. We visited recently with Jonathan Kongbo, who spent last year with the Bombers and is now heading to camp with the San Francisco 49ers. That piece can be found here.

There continues to be a real fascination with Kongbo’s shot at making the 49ers, partly because of the player we remember during his days at Tennessee and his first season as a pro with the Bombers last year.

Kongbo has had a handful of stories written about him this offseason. Here’s the latest.

9. If you haven’t had a chance to see the CFL.ca’s ‘All-Decade Team’ project, it’s a cool idea.

The latest position group to be featured is the offensive line and it features former Bomber centres Dominic Picard and Matthias Goossen, guard Brendon LaBatte, and tackles Stanley Bryant, Jermarcus Hardrick and Glenn January.

10. And, finally, just because I’m a CFL loyalist – as I mentioned right from the get-go – we dust off this gem, part of the excellent ‘This is our league’ marketing campaign from a dozen years ago.

This is why the league still matters to so many.

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