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  • The CFL's history of providing opportunities for black players who were discriminated against in American football is one of the most interesting elements of the league, and it's the focus of a new documentary set to air on TSN this fall—if enough people back it. Filmmaker William Armstrong spoke to 55-Yard Line last week about the project, titled Gridiron Underground. Armstrong, president of Strongwall Productions, said there's a compelling story here, and one that goes beyond just sports.

    "It's an hour-long documentary about the waves of African-Americans who came to Canada to play in the CFL," he said. "Canadians really opened their arms to them, and the legacy of African-Americans in the CFL is huge. ...Football and sport in general is its mode of transport, but the story is a more general one of perseverance and hope."

    You can see an impressive trailer Armstrong's put together for the project here, complete with snippets of interviews with Warren Moon, Henry Burris and Bernie Custis:

    Perseverance and hope describes the project to date, too. Armstrong has been working on this for several years, and that involved plenty of cross-continent trips to track down former players and interview them, but he accomplished that without major funding.

    "Out of my own pocket and money I've raised, we've been travelling all around North America for the past few years," Armstrong said. "We've been working on it for three or four years now."

    Read More »from Interview: Filmmaker William Armstrong turns to crowdfunding to finish Gridiron Underground, a documentary on black players in the CFL
  • Roughriders' general manager Brendan Taman has received a contract extension.It's not particularly surprising that the Saskatchewan Roughriders have extended the contract of general manager Brendan Taman; after all, the team's coming off a Grey Cup win, and they gave head coach Corey Chamblin an extension through 2017 earlier this offseason. Taman's contract was set to expire after the 2015 season, and it looks like the Riders want him to stick around through 2017 as well. That's probably a good move, given the success he's found so far, but there will be challenges ahead for him and the team.

    Taman has been with the Riders since 2009, starting as the director of football administration, and he's been the full general manager since Eric Tillman's resignation in January 2010. That span's had some ups and downs for the team; they made it to back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010, but lost both to Montreal, and then went 5-13 in 2011. 2012 saw them post a 8-10 record and a first-round playoff exit, but it was this year that was particularly impressive, with the team going 11-7 in the regular season and then making a dominant run through the playoffs to win the Grey Cup at home. Taman's moves over the years played a big role there, too. He inherited a capable quarterback in Darian Durant, but made the decision to stick with him despite struggles in 2011. He took a major leap of faith on Chamblin, who had only been coaching for six seasons and had only spent one year as a coordinator when he was hired as Saskatchewan's head coach in December 2011. The team also found star running back Kory Sheets on his watch, and he made smart signings and trades for proven CFL stars like Dwight Anderson and Alex Hall. All of those moves proved crucial to the Roughriders' 2013 triumph.

    Read More »from Roughriders extend GM Brendan Taman: now, can he lock up Durant, replace Sheets and Dressler?
  • Winnipeg's Investors Group Field is reportedly suffering water damage.It may be warming up in Winnipeg, but that doesn't seem to be a good thing for the Blue Bombers' stadium. Water from melting snow is apparently exposing inadequate drainage systems at Investors Group Field, causing massive flooding in the suite level. Via Paul Friesen of The Winnipeg Sun, here are the details of what's gone wrong:

    The Winnipeg Sun has learned of significant flooding at Investors Group Field, caused by a lack of drainage to handle the spring melt.

    A source who saw the problem first-hand but spoke only on the condition of anonymity said roughly one-third of the suites have been affected, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

    “And then there will be the cost of the permanent fix,” the source said, describing a scene of collapsed ceilings, soaked carpets, even a bucket catching water in the middle of the visitors locker-room.

    One problem, the source said, is water from melting snow falls down from the stadium’s roof into the seating area, where it flows back towards the suites, instead of away from them.

    “There’s no drainage — it’s sitting at the doors and leaking through.”

    The water has also spilled out of the suites and into adjoining hallways, the source said.

    Bombers' CEO Wade Miller downplayed the reported damage in his comments to Friesen, but said media outlets wouldn't be permitted to examine it. In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, though, BBB Stadium (the non-profit group responsible for building the stadium) CEO Andrew Konowalchuk described drainage as something that's been a problem before:

    Read More »from Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field’s suites are flooding, which could be problematic for Bombers
  • The Saskatchewan Roughriders trained in Florida in 2013, and are back this year.The CFL is coming to the Sunshine State—for real this time. Two attempts were made to put teams in Florida during the league's USA expansion era in the 1990s, which didn't work out, but four of the league's current nine teams are heading to Florida's IMG Academy for offseason camps this year. The Saskatchewan Roughriders' camp is already underway this weekend, with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers following from April 12-15, the Edmonton Eskimos heading there April 22-25 and the Calgary Stampeders taking over April 26-28.

    It's interesting to see such an extensive CFL presence in the US, and all at one facility. These aren't free-agent tryout camps of the sort just about every team runs; they're the three-day offseason voluntary workouts for current members of the team that we've discussed before. There are huge advantages to doing these in Florida rather than in the team's own city as they've often been in the past, though, and they go well beyond just getting sunshine instead of snow. One of the biggest factors is geography and the cost and availability of flights; as explored in 2011, it was extremely difficult for teams in more isolated cities such as Regina and Winnipeg to get their American players in for a minicamp. At that time, Edmonton was the only West Division team holding an offseason voluntary workout, and that was a short one. Now, teams like Saskatchewan and Calgary have elected to do these in Florida, making it much easier (and cheaper) to bring in their players from across the States. That's a way around geographic isolation, and one that will likely work out well for those teams.

    Read More »from Florida’s IMG Academy is hosting preseason camps for almost half of the CFL’s teams
  • BMO Field could soon be home to the Argonauts.The Toronto Argonauts' decade-plus search for a new stadium appears to be drawing to a close. Thursday saw Toronto city council vote 39-3 in favour of loaning Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment $10 million to help with the estimated $120 million cost of renovations, a deal previously approved by the Exhibition Place board and the council's executive committee. A crucial part of the planned renovation involves expanding the stadium so a Canadian football field can fit inside and striking a lease deal with the Argonauts. (Funnily enough, two of the three dissenters were Mayor Rob Ford and Councillor Doug Ford; the mayor's affinity for the Argonauts and football doesn't appear to have come into play here despite his previously-stated support for finding them a new building.) Thus, if the deal goes through, the team should have a new home. All that remains is for the remaining $20 million in funding (MLSE is putting in $90 million) to be found.

    That money is expected to come from provincial and federal government coffers, but there hasn't been much discussion of how likely that is just yet. It's certainly possible; after all, both of those levels of government contributed over $90 million (combined) to build a new stadium just down the road for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. However, that was a new stadium rather than renovations, and much of the funding there came through the Pan-Am Games process. MLSE president Tim Leiweke did mention the Pan-Am Games (held in Toronto in July 2015) in his remarks to council Thursday, so it's possible the renovations could be done by then and the stadium could be used for that, which might help motivate the federal and provincial governments to pitch in.

    Read More »from BMO Field expansion endorsed by Toronto council, making Argos’ new home a step closer
  • The new Ottawa mascot is Big Joe/Grand Jos following a naming controversy.While the Ottawa Redblacks changing their mascot's name from Big Joe Mufferaw after people took offence may seem funny at first to the rest of Canada, the Big Joe/Grand Jos compromise actually makes plenty of sense, as Neate Sager detailed here earlier this week. The Ottawa franchise needs to appeal to both anglophones and francophones to have a chance at long-term success, and the new name should do that. There's been an unexpected side benefit to this controversy, though; it's proven to be a chance to discuss the history of both the largely-fictional Mufferaw and the very-real Jos Montferrand, whose life inspired many of the Mufferaw legends. Tom Spears explores the history behind the name in this excellent Ottawa Citizen piece:

    Nearly lost in tall tales of Jos Montferrand’s strength, beating up 50 Irish raftsmen and all that, is this perspective on why his heritage matters: “Unable to realize their visions, French Canadians, between 1840 and 1880, built a symbolic country in their ideology, their legends, their literature, and their art. In the struggle they continued to wage against the English and against nature, French Canadians found hope and greater self-respect in the Montferrand legend.

    “The legend has not died out. It still lives in town and countryside, and reappears with more vigour than ever in difficult periods.”

    That’s written by historians Gérard Goyer and Jean Hamelin in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. ...

    Young Montferrand first drove a cart, but was eventually lured by money, or love of the outdoors, to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company.

    After a few years he moved on to shanty work for various lumber barons. Logging took him along the rivers of Lower Canada and also the Upper Ottawa River, working in the camps all winter and driving the logs downstream to the mills in spring.

    Once back in town there was always another fight to win. He won most of them.

    Tales of his strength and agility spread:
    • He could hold up a plow at arm’s length with one hand.
    • In a hotel bar beside the Le Lièvre River he once jumped up and left the mark of his boot heel mark on the ceiling, landing on his feet.
    • He beat maybe 50, perhaps 150, “Shiners” who attacked him on the bridge between Hull and Bytown.

    Shiners were Irish workmen brought to Canada to build the Rideau Canal. Once the canal was finished they looked for work as shantymen and raftsmen, which put them in competition with French-Canadian raftsmen.

    (The word Shiner comes from the French chêneur: Someone who works with oak.)

    There was violence between the groups for several years, and the Montferrand story claims he picked up one Shiner by the legs and whirled him around as a weapon to deal with the rest.

    There's much more in there, including about how the knowledgeable Montferrand excelled with his brains as well as his brawn, finding great success as a raft guide and shanty foreman. It's a fascinating piece that shows there's plenty of reality as well as legend to the story of Montferrand, and it explains why many francophones were annoyed to see a mascot named "Mufferaw", a deliberate Anglicization of the real French-Canadian hero. However, the English tradition of Mufferaw's story isn't all bad, either, and in particular, the song from Canadian music legend (and noted CFL fan) Stompin' Tom Connors stands out as a way to pass on tales of "the best man in Ottawa" to a new audience:

    Read More »from Big Joe/Grand Jos compromise shows multiple sides of history, could help build Ottawa fanbase
  • Calgary RB Jon Cornish (9) pranked Twitter with a fake trade to Saskatchewan Tuesday.Calgary Stampeders' running back Jon Cornish has a long history of controversies with Saskatchewan players and fans, including arguments with Kory Sheets about who the better back was and mooning the Roughriders' crowd, so his decision to come up with an April Fool's prank tweet that had those fans and players thinking they'd have to get to like him was pretty perfect. Here's what he tweeted Tuesday morning:

    That's pretty well done by Cornish, especially considering that he went to the lengths of acquiring (or making a photo of) a Saskatchewan jersey with his name on it. No doubt he managed to take some people in. (Although, the jersey really should have been another indication that this is false; a player who just switched teams wouldn't have a new jersey on hand at his house.) Calgary fans can relax, though; the league's reigning most outstanding player and most outstanding Canadian is still set to wear red and white this coming season. If Cornish can keep pulling pranks like this, he might be set to add most valuable tweeter to his titles, too. Meanwhile, inspired by Cornish, here are 10 other CFL headlines making news today:

    Read More »from Jon Cornish pranks Twitter with April Fool’s tweet about being traded to Saskatchewan
  • Ottawa's mascot will be called Big Joe and Grand Jos after fans raised concerns (Mike Carroccetto for Yahoo! Canada Sports)

    In an only-in-Ottawa — and that's meant in the most positive way possible — the Ottawa Redblacks have tweaked the name of their mascot.

    To some, the move might reek of being too concerned with being politically correct, to use what's become the blanket term thrown around when someone actually exercises sensitivity. Another way of looking at it is to marvel at how quickly the Redblacks realized while it had good intentions when it named its mascot Big Joe Mufferaw after the 19th-century logger immortalized in lyrics and music by iconic folk musician (and football fan) Stompin' Tom Connors, it was off-putting to some Francophone sports consumers in the Ottawa-Outaouais region.

    A name based on an Anglophone mangling of the name of a real person — Joseph Montferrand, a real-life Outaouais logger and defender of Francophone rights in the 1800s — who was the basis for a fictional character was cute, in its time. It was meant as a tribute. Mufferaw also reflects the casual prejudice against French-Canadians in those days. It's patronizing in 2014. As a result, the Redblacks announced Monday that even though Big Joe Mufferaw was the choice of half the respondents to a name-the-mascot poll, he will be Big Joe in English and Grand Jos en français.

    "We unintentionally offended some with the original name and we sincerely apologize for that," Jeff Hunt, president of sports with Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the Redblacks, Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's and Fury FC of the North American Soccer League, stated in a release issued Monday. "We hope to create a fan base that is unified in its support for the REDBLACKS and we will continue to strive to do our best in that regard."

    If this seems like the most Ottawa thing ever, it kind of is, but in a good way.

    Read More »from Ottawa Redblacks change mascot name that ‘unintentionally offended’ francophone fans; say bonjour to Big Joe/Grand Jos
  • New CFLPA president Scott Flory is taking a hard stance in CBA negotiations.It appears the under-new-management CFL Players' Association has decided to start getting their message out. Following Friday's leadership elections that saw Alouettes' guard Scott Flory elected as president, replacing incumbent Mike Morreale, the organization sent out a release Monday morning listing their full new executive team and discussing their plans for the contentious collective bargaining negotiations ahead. That's much more forthcoming than the organization has been in the last few months, which is a positive step, and there's plenty of interesting information in that release. Perhaps the most notable part is that Flory and his new executive (former Calgary guard Jay McNeil returns as first vice president and Ottawa centre Marwan Hage returns as second vice president, while Toronto centre Jeff Keeping is in as third vice president and Edmonton centre Brian Ramsay is the new treasurer) have made it clear they won't play the 2014 season under the previous CBA, an option some had discussed to allow negotiations to continue during the year and avoid a potential work stoppage. That could well mean that some games are missed if the sides don't come to an agreement before June.

    What are the deadlines to keep in mind here? Well, preseason action starts June 9, with the regular season beginning June 26. Full training camps start even earlier in June, and the existing CBA expires before the first day of training camp. Those dates aren't all that far off, so we're going to have to see substantial progress to avoid missed games, especially considering that there appears to be a philosophical impasse between the sides at the moment on whether the salary cap should be a flat number or a percentage of league revenues. With the league and the players' association that far apart, it may not be easy to come up with a new CBA. Refusing to play under the previous agreement while a new one is hammered out is an escalation from the players' side, and it's one that does make the chances of a work stoppage more likely, but they shouldn't necessarily be blasted for taking this tack.

    Read More »from CFLPA says they’re not prepared to play under previous CBA, which could lead to lost games
  • Als' guard Scott Flory has been elected as the new CFLPA president.There's a new man in charge of the CFLPA, even if the organization itself hasn't yet confirmed it. According to Drew Edwards of The Hamilton Spectator, who first reported that the CFLPA was holding a leadership vote Friday in Las Vegas, that vote resulted in Montreal Alouettes' guard Scott Flory defeating incumbent president Mike Morreale. After a 12-year CFL career with the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Morreale went to work as the CFLPA's marketing director in 2007 and became president in 2012. Now, it seems the organization has decided to go in a new direction with Flory. It's going to be interesting to see what impact that has on the contentious ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations with the league.

    It isn't particularly known what approach Flory plans to take, and that speaks to a central issue with the CFLPA at the moment. At the moment, the organization isn't communicating much to the public. Their website (which is still titled "CFLPA 2011") doesn't appear to have been updated since Feb. 14, and their Twitter feed hasn't posted anything since Thursday; there was no discussion of their meetings this week, the existence of a leadership vote, when that vote was set for, what each candidate stood for, or the results of that vote. If not for Edwards' reporting, the public wouldn't have known the CFLPA was having a leadership vote (or who won it). Granted, the CFLPA exists primarily to serve its members rather than the public, but there still needs to be better communication with the outside world, especially considering that the association is locked in a labour dispute.

    Read More »from CFLPA goes in a new direction, electing Scott Flory as president, but will he communicate?

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