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Welcome Back
by Bob Davis (Other)
Posted on September 10, 2009, 11:32 PM

First of all, an apology is in order. Since my last column, some 3 years ago, I have been kept extremely busy with a new job, a new home, new pets, and a few other changes in my life. For those reasons, I have not been able to find the time to post a column on this very website. Don't get me wrong - I found time to start them. Probably about 20-30 partially completed columns now reside on my hard-drive, and I'm hoping to find the time to post at least a few of them. However, after starting a column, invariably something would come along to take me away from it, and I have not been able to go back to it.

That said, what is it that could bring me out of semi-retirement? The NHL and NBA are still in hibernation, with pre-season in the NHL still a few days away, and NBA's silly season a few weeks out. MLB is in high gear, with a lot of interesting playoff races ongoing. However, while baseball is intriguing, most of the baseball shown in Canada involves the mediocre Blue Jays, with hit-and-miss coverage of the other 29 teams. Only one major sport is left - football.

While Europeans refer to football as the sport with 2 goals and a round ball, the sport I am referring to is the north american version, with pigskin and uprights. The NFL kicked off this evening with a very exciting game between Pittsburgh and Tennesee, in which the Steelers took the overtime victory from Tennesee on the strength of a 33 yard field goal.

However, the sport that holds my interest during the NHL offseason doesn't involve taking a knee with 2 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, then heading off for the showers to celebrate a 3-0 victory. No offense to the NFL fans out there, but that is the one major reason that I tune out the NFL - the extreme waste of time in the American game. Shorten the play clock to 20 seconds, and I'll tune in. By now, you probably have guessed that I'll be tuning in to the Canadian version.

For the uninitiated, the Canadian Football League, or CFL, is an 8-team league that, for some of us northerners, is the only game in town. The CFL plays an 18-game schedule from July through November, with playoffs and the Grey Cup game wrapping up at the end of November. The Canadian game plays with 3 downs, a 20-second play clock, a rouge and an extra player on a 110-yd long, 65 yard wide field with 20 yard endzones and the uprights on the goal-line as opposed to the back of the endzone.

The reason that I am writing tonight is not to talk about which is better, the CFL or the NFL. Nor is it to tell you about which of the 8 teams is the best, or the worst, or review the first half of the season. It is also not to burst the cherry on the CFL for this site, although that is being done at the same time. It is to talk about one of the most controversial plays of 2009 in all of sports, and one that has ticked me off in more ways than one.

A little background is required. For 3 seasons, I officiated a large number of minor basketball and football games in the city of Saskatoon, SK. An errant tackle by a DB during one game ended my career, but my background has made me quite defensive of officiating crews in general. With that, back to the game. Allow me set the scene:

Montreal Alouettes (7-1) vs. British Columbia Lions (3-5)
BC Place Stadium, Vancouver, BC
Friday, Sept. 4.

A low-scoring affair to that point, B.C. led the game 19-12 with 1:05 remaining. Montreal QB Anthony Calvillo had the Als driving, having completed a 45 yard pass to WR Bryan Bratton, and a key 11 yard run by RB Avon Cobourne. A 7-yard completion to Bratton and a 2-yd run by Cobourne set up the Als, 3rd down and 1 yard to go, at the B.C. 8 yard line. The head referee, Glen Johnson, whistled time in on this decisive play, the Als broke huddle, and the crowd went insane in B.C. The game was on the line.

Calvillo called for the ball, and handed to Cobourne, who charged forward and appeared to have the first down. However, Johnson came over the loudspeaker and stated that the Lions had called time out prior to the snap, and the play would be repeated. This was understandable - 30,000+ screaming people in a dome stadium can make it quite hard to hear a whistle.

Following the timeout, Calvillo led the troops to the line. Again, a handoff to Cobourne, but this time, the running back shot outside to the left, and shot into the endzone to put 6 points on the board for Montreal. With the ensuing point-after, Montreal would've tied the game. However, after a long conference, Johnson again came on the microphone, and said that the replay official required a look at the previous play. More on that shortly.

After talking with the Command Centre in Toronto, Johnson stated that the clock needed to be set at 1:00 remaining, and that the play would again have to be replayed. The Als lined up again, and this time, Cobourne was stopped short of the first down. B.C. was given possession (remember, CFL is 3-down football), and consequently, ran out the clock to end the game.

Montreal filed an official protest with the CFL, contesting the results of the game. This left commissioner Mark Cohon 2 options: Uphold the results of the game, or admit that his officiating crew working that game were incompetent, or worse, criminal.

In the CFL, teams may challenge the outcome of a play at any time, with the exception of the final 3 minutes of the 4th quarter. Teams are given 2 challenges to use, with a 3rd challenge available if the first 2 are both successful. Successful challenges are not penalized; failed challenges are penalized by losing your time-out.

In the final 3 minutes, and overtime, the CFL Command Centre initiates all reviews. An official in Toronto will send a page to the on-field officials when a play needs a review, and the officials will stop the game to allow time for a review. Once the play has been reviewed, the game will resume once the changes, if any, are made to the game. In the Montreal/B.C. game, the page from Toronto came late, and the officials on field could not hear it due to the crowd noise.

Commissioner Cohon upheld the verdict, while stating that human error led to the controversial finish to the game. However, a number of fans on numerous websites, as well as a number of media outlets, have criticized CFL officials in general. One local radio station in Regina, SK, let loose a parody of a recruiting advertisement for CFL officials, claiming that, if you were myopic, biased, and creative (Super-Duper Holding), you'd be perfect for the job.

In sports, there is no job harder than being the referee/umpire. In baseball, a player can be successful at the plate just 40% of the time, and be one of the best players of all time. In hockey, score on 50% of all shots you take, and you'll soon surpass Wayne Gretzky; save 95% of all pucks fired at you, and you will be the best goaltender in the history of the game. In basketball, shoot 70% from the field, and you'll score more than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (on the court, not off). As a football quarterback, complete 70% of your passes, and you are guaranteed either a Super Bowl or a Grey Cup... in fact, probably both.

As an official, get 99% of your calls correct, and chances are you will still be called blind, moronic and myopic; pelted with tomatoes, beer cans or worse; and criticized anywhere you go, all because the one call you missed cost a team a game. Now, I am not saying that all officials are perfect - each and every official in every sport has made at least one mistake in their careers. That said, nowhere in sport is perfection as important as it is when you are wearing the striped shirt.

For that reason, when you go to the next game for your team, whether it is hockey, baseball, football (North American or European), basketball, or any other sport, leave the rotten tomatoes at home. Let the referee know when you disagree with a call he/she made, complain about that call anywhere you wish, but don't shoot the messenger. In reality, that's all they really are.

In the coming weeks, I'll be back with an NHL preview for the upcoming season, including the Phoenix Coyotes (or whatever they will be known as when the season starts). I plan on a column at least every 3 weeks, if not more often than that.

In the meantime, you can find me on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/bestlurker; or drop me a line at bestlurker@gmail.com.

Keep warm; we'll chat soon.

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