Sandy Annunziata

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Sandy Annunziata is a CFL blogger for Yahoo! Sports.

  • Annunziata: The best of what to see, do, and drink at the 101st Grey Cup

    Regina mayor Michael Fougere with the Calgary Stampeders' cheerleaders. (The Canadian Press)It's not every day the CFL community gets to experience the cold and quirky, football-crazy landscape that is the City of Regina. Where Rider Green is the official colour of an entire province and domed stadiums are for wimps, this year’s Grey Cup, the 101st, promises to be special. And for those unfortunate fans unable to attend, for your reading pleasure, this year’s Grey Cup "Best of List."

    Best mascot: Gainer the Gopher.

    A revered rodent with a slight drinking problem equals one great mascot. Gainer's not really dancing on the sidelines, more like stumbling. After a public unmasking, turns out Gainer is really Toronto Mayor Rob Ford!

    Best storyline: Ticats coach Kent Austin returns to Regina.

    Two of the three Grey Cups won by the Riders, he helped bring. Once as a player, the other as head coach. The reception should be warm right up until kick-off, when 'Kent' becomes another four letter word with a hard 'K' sound. Watch and listen as the Rider faithful take 'fan heckling' to a

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  • Anunnziata: Ticats, Riders Grey Cup brings back memories of 1989

    Tony Champion and the 1989 Tiger-Cats and Roughriders. (The Canadian Press)What’s that old saying about "leaving a Ferrari parked in the garage”? But when your neighbour down the street steals your keys, sometimes you have no choice. That was the case Sunday afternoon when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats knocked off their Southern Ontario rivals in the CFL's East Division Final.

    When you own the services of arguably the best quarterback in the CFL, how unfortunate for the Toronto Argonauts when you can't get him off the bench. After an extraordinary first half, where Ray completed 18-of-22 passes for 279 yards, the Argonauts failed to get their star pivot on the field and were shut out at home in the second half by a brilliant game-plan executed by Ticats QB Henry Burris.

    Yes, that's right – it was the Hamilton offence, not the defence, that kept Ray sidelined. Proving once again, sometimes the best defence is a consistent offence. Hamilton simply refused to give up the field and as a result, earned a trip to Regina in this year’s Grey Cup.

    Early on it became very

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  • Life on the O-Line: Richie Incognito situation demands locker-room justice

    Richie Incognito. (Getty Images)This past week Miami Dolphins starting right guard Richie Incognito was suspended because of allegations of harassment, including but not limited to, racial slurs and death threats aimed at teammate Jonathan Martin. There is no question in light of the graphic voice mails and text messages attributed to Incognito, he crossed the line. There is no defence for an indefensible action. But then again, this is pro football.

    The 'thinning of the herd' mentality has been tolerated in professional sports for decades. Offensive linemen are not immune to that primitive rite of passage. Quite the opposite. Where toughness, both mental and physical, are pre-requisites for success, lacking those qualities will always spell the end of a lineman's career.

    Some have called Martin 'soft' and Incognito a 'bully'. But with its locker-room culture seemingly on trial, the revealing nature of pro football is that only one of those titles seems entirely insulting. Guess which one?

    Incognito is a punk with a

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  • The CFL’s Tim Tebow effect: Tickets over talent?

    Quarterback Tim Tebow was released but don't expect him in the CFL. (Getty Images)

    This past week, the New England Patriots released Tim Tebow. Perhaps in the process, sealing his fate and accelerating his exile into football purgatory.

    For those unfamiliar with that biblical reference, purgatory is also known as limbo. An appropriate reference given our fallen hero's outwardly professed faith and the perfect word to describe the delicate career predicament Tebow now finds himself in. It's also that uneasy place between heaven and hell where a decision about where you'll end up is left to a higher power. Who knew the Christian afterlife would have so many similarities with professional football?

    For a recently released, aspiring NFL football player, limbo has another name – it's called the CFL. An unfair stigma perpetuated by a long history of NFL reclamation projects not all with happy endings like Moon, Flutie and Wake.

    But if the release of Tebow and the subsequent media stories about his potential arrival in Canada have shown us anything, it has highlighted the divide between football fans who continue to make unfair comparisons about the two leagues and those that embrace the CFL for what it is and isn't.

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  • Annunziata: A cruel twist of fate for Edmonton quarterback

    Matt Nichols is out for the season. (The Canadian Press)The football gods, at their best, are unpredictable. But in Edmonton, they're just down right nasty. Especially with young quarterbacks who throw interceptions instead of touchdowns. Perhaps they're still upset and haven't fully recovered from the Ricky Ray trade. And if that's the case, why can't they take it out on Eric Tillman and leave poor Matt Nichols alone?

    The last time CFL fans saw Nichols in a game, he was lying on the Rogers Centre turf, screaming in agony, his left foot bent in an awkward, sickening direction. It was the kind of injury you talk about around the water cooler at work the next day. The kind you upload and watch over and over on YouTube. Not quite Joe Theismann-like, but stomach turning none the less.

    A fractured ankle suffered in the 2012 East Division semi-final and the player head coach Kavis Reed had identified as "the next franchise quarterback of the Edmonton Eskimos," all of a sudden held more questions than answers.

    Fast forward to the Eskimos first

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  • Annunziata: A blind, black and blue eye for Blue Bombers

    Jonathan Hefney. (The Canadian Press)Someone should remind Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager Joe Mack where he lives. Regardless of your opinion on the legalized Marijuana debate, last time I checked, it was still a criminal offence to possess pot in Canada. Apparently it's criminal in Rock Hill, South Carolina as well. That's where defensive back Jonathan Hefney was arrested for possession of Marijuana.

    Mack's response? No big deal.

    Everyone will have an opinion about the effects, negative or otherwise, of marijuana use. But when it rears its head in professional sports, "athletes as role models" is the inevitable direction these discussions usually gravitate toward. How unfortunate that, with a chance to turn a negative event into a positive message, Mack failed miserably.

    All CFL teams, including the Bombers, are community minded. Players are invited to events, functions and schools in order to inspire, deliver positive messages, encourage health and fitness, and hopefully cultivate new fans. I myself attended

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  • Annunziata: No love for greatest O-lineman in CFL history is pathetic

    Chris Walby: The greatest of all time? (The Canadian Press)Last week, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers chose to immortalize four players. The criteria, apparently, was based entirely on a player’s “favoured" status among fans. Unlike the accolade itself – the naming of gates at new Investors Group Field – the process for choosing those players seemed entirely trivial.

    That some would continue to legitimize their selection by constantly blathering on about the differences between "All-time greats" and "fan favourites," simply compounds the insult toward those far more deserving. The naming of a stadium portion is grand praise, commensurate with choosing an "All-time great." For a "fan favourite," a stadium sandwich named after the "popular guy" will do.

    But this is not an indictment of those players chosen, rather a kind word for the one who wasn't. Brothers in arms, offensive linemen will always have each other’s backs. Bombers fans, on the other hand, have chosen to turn theirs on an iconic warrior who for 16 years carried the hopes of a franchise upon his.

    The Alpha of my career, came on September 15, 1995, when running back Eric Blount set a single-game touchdown record for the Edmonton Eskimos when he scored five times. My first game ever as a pro, I was a member of an O-line unit that helped establish an Eskimos milestone that still stands today. It should have been the highlight of my evening but surprisingly, it wasn't.

    In the aftermath of the game, with the Commonwealth Stadium crowd still buzzing from the five-TD performance against the Blue Bombers, meeting the greatest offensive lineman to have played in the CFL, was the greater honour.

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  • Annunziata: Contact not allowed

    Stamps coach John Hufnagel can't put his players through their usual paces. (The Canadian Press)Remember the "Our Balls are Bigger" campaign? A catchy phrase that epitomized what Canadian football players were all about. How the times have changed.

    The CFL's league office released a statement earlier this week confirming yet another new CFL regulation designed to make the game "safer." The statement read in part:

    "Contact will be restricted to a maximum of one practice a day during training camp, as will the use of shoulder pads and other protective equipment in addition to helmets. Only helmets can be worn for the other practice on the same day, and contact is not allowed."

    It was received with mixed reaction (via CFL message board):

    als rule:

    "just like the entire attitude within the country LEFT WING leaning kumbyiah society afraid to do anything!! next thing you know the CFL will want me to buy tickets to their flag football which is next!!"

    Tabbiefanmcb:

    "A good idea to prevent injuries before the playing season really begins. How often have players been injured in TC

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  • Annunziata: ‘The kissing guy is gone’ and what that means for Khalif Mitchell

    Khalif Mitchell has a new home in Toronto with the Argonauts. (The Canadian Press)How appropriate, the man who plays like a wild beast, marked his territory on the first day of Toronto Argonauts training camp with one innocuous comment.

    "The kissing guy is gone," declared new defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell, the reference aimed at the recently retired DL, Adriano Belli. And with that said, laid claim to 1x10 yard patch of precious Toronto real estate, his new home along the Argos line of scrimmage.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Mitchell, between the lines, will dominate his position in his new home. But determining the success and value of a football player comes with many qualifiers. Some tangible, others more abstract. Sure, tackles, sacks, knock-downs are the numbers most rely on. But rarely do they tell the whole story, especially within the context of a "team."

    Those are the metrics that get you a bonus and All-Star votes but do little to hold you in high esteem within the locker room. Trust me, I've played with guys that were all about "the numbers" and put up impressive stats. Some were "team" guys, others were "me" guys. Guess which ones didn't last because they couldn't gain the trust of their teammates?

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  • The cruel, unfair world of backup quarterbacks

    (The Canadian Press)Can your backup quarterback win you games and lead you to championship glory? Depends on who you ask.

    For guys like Calgary's Kevin Glenn, Toronto's Jarious Jackson, Edmonton's Kerry Joseph and Winnipeg's Joey Elliott — backups when the season started — they'll let their play on the field answer those questions.  But for others, in a game that judges its athletes based on their last performance, answering becomes more problematic when your last performance was spent holding a clipboard.

    For backups who've never been given the chance to prove they can consistently perform at an elite level, shedding the stigma and overcoming the stereotyping that comes with sitting second, third or fourth on a teams depth chart, will always prove challenging. Especially in pro football, where second chances are rare and first impressions sometimes last a lifetime.

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