1 – WINNIPEG: Take a bow Regina. Marks CFL Week II in Winnipeg this weekend is bigger and better than last year’s inaugural event and that’s because the Queen City knocked it out of the park a year ago. If it had failed, there would be no sequel. There are more exhibits, more fans, more events, more everything this time around. Winnipeg is killing it.
2 – It was tough for the CFL, the Riders and Regina to even sell last year’s first-ever CFL Week because as any entrepreneur knows, it’s very difficult to sell a concept. Show me. But this has become very much like Grey Cup Week – without the game – and fans are grasping it. There are CFL fans of all ages from across the country in Winnipeg to celebrate the 3-Down Game. I’m glad I’m here and thanks to 620 CKRM for sending me.
3 – Everybody wants to know what other CFL cities are interested in hosting Marks CFL Week and who has a legitimate shot at pulling it off? I’m told Edmonton, Ottawa and Hamilton have all expressed interest. Rumour has it that last year in Regina, Blue Bombers President Wade Miller was adamant that Winnipeg host this year’s event and he got his wish. Hats off to Wade for carrying through with it and taking it to another level.
4 – I heard only one complaint from a fan on Thursday and it was a minor one. Fans attending the Regional Combine at the University of Manitoba campus couldn’t tell which players were which. They generally all looked the same, in track clothes. What’s required is a name bar, and perhaps an announcer telling the crowd “who’s up”. The GMs and Coaches all know who the players are because they have a number and roster, but the fans do not. This is a little detail that can be fixed in a jiff.
5 – It’s not all fun and games. For personnel types, this week is their “playoffs”. One GM told me this is their most-important time of the year and that centres around the 1-on-1 interviews which will be conducted over two days this weekend. This is where they find out about a player’s family background, future aspirations, and every tiny detail in between. One head scout said they ask the players “Tell me about the last time you were arrested?”, just to see their reaction! Apparently 98% of the kids are stumped by that question.
6 – Probably the best part of Marks CFL Week is seeing the local children interact with CFL players. 53 CFL stars – including Duron Carter – are here for photoshoots, interviews, sponsor mingling and youth camps. Hundreds of Winnipeg-area children were put through drills on Thursday by the likes of Naaman Roosevelt, John Bowman, Andrew Harris and the like. Do you think that’s something they’ll ever forget? And please name me another league which does something as inclusive as this.
7 – The CFL Rules Committee met for the first two days of CFL Week and tabled seven proposed rule changes for 2018 on Thursday. They are all very slight “tweaks” to what’s already in place and should make it easier on the referees to call. However, in some cases, I fear it’ll make it more difficult (like penalizing a low block outside the tackle box. The tackle box is a gray area). The main idea behind these rule changes is to increase player safety and cut down injuries.
8 – CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie (reportedly) quipped that the biggest reason for officiating complaints is high definition TV and slow motion reviews. I couldn’t agree more. Fans have the comfort of “living room officiating” while coaches have the benefit of “rewind” on their Ipads to decide if a call is correct or not. On the other hand, referees have to make a call in a split second, from one angle, while the players are bigger and faster than ever before. And that’s how we got into this huge mess with video review.
9 – There was some concern that Marks CFL Week might get overshadowed by the play of the Winnipeg Jets, who are in the midst of a history-making season. But that doesn’t appear to be a problem. This city is big enough for both and many football fans are taking in tonight’s Jets-Ducks game at Bell MTS Place. It’s far nicer when leagues work together, rather than fight. I was in the arena last night for the AHL Manitoba-Stockton game and picked up some Jets merchandise from their store. I’ll need to fit in when they go on a long playoff run this spring and become Canada’s (Hockey) Team.
Meanwhile Regina’s J.C. Lipon was sensational for the Moose. Saturday night is J.C. Lipon Bobblehead Night in Winnipeg.
10 – Coaches and players will be available to the media today here in Winnipeg and I’m hoping to get some time with Chris Jones and Zach Collaros. Tune into the SportsCage at 4:00 pm on 620 CKRM as I’ll be live from Fan Fest with The Sports Doctor. We’ll have all the latest CFL info!