Here’s one of the harder truths in professional football: losing games costs people their jobs.
The consequences can come quickly, as they did for veteran defensive back Geoff Tisdale, who was released by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after a poor performance in a loss to the B.C. Lions. Or they can play out slowly over time as they have for Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, who is facing questions about his employment status following an 0-2 start (and a 12-26 record over two-plus seasons.)
“A lot of people say to me ‘it must be great to be able to play professional football,’” said Hamilton offensive lineman Brian Simmons. “And it is. But I can wake up any morning and be without a job and that’s not a great feeling.”
The Bombers and Ticats face off Thursday night at Tim Hortons Field, two teams trying find some stability after demoralizing losses the week before. Winnipeg fell behind by 29 points to Calgary before making up some ground in an extended garbage time while the Ticats ran just one offensive play inside the B.C. 20-yard line in a 28-3 loss.
To be fair, Hamilton appears to be in the better place, psychologically speaking. They’ve already got a convincing win under their belts, a week one beat down of the arch-rival Toronto Argonauts, and a string of solid seasons under head coach Kent Austin. But even a single loss can have an impact.
Receiver Luke Tasker used “business-like” to describe the mood at practice this week.
“It’s a little hard to be happy after last week’s game,” Tasker said. “We could use a little happy mojo, we play best when we’re having fun.”
And there were indeed human consequences to the B.C. loss: Tisdale, a nine-year CFL veteran and father to a young son, is now unemployed. Rookie Quinton Pointer, who has played field corner the first two weeks, moves into Tisdale’s busier spot on the boundary while another first-year player, Travis Lee, gets his first career start on the wide side.
“Right now we’re just not good enough – I should say we’re not consistent enough for our staff’s liking,” said defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer. “They’re always tough decisions, it’s people’s families and lives. At the end of the day, we’ve got to make more plays.”
The Ticats have other concerns as well, beyond the secondary. Kicker Brett Maher went 0-for-3 against the Lions and the offence, led by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, produced a staggering nine two-and-outs in 15 drives.
“We have a lot of guys that need to bounce back and play well this week,” Austin said.
On the other side, O’Shea spent part of the week answering questions about whether he was concerned about his job status and if the speculation was hard on his team. A former Ticat and Argonaut linebacker who played 16 CFL seasons, O’Shea’s answer was as direct as could be expected: no.
“The reason I know it’s not tough is that I happened to play a few years and never once thought about that when trying to prepare for a game or when out there playing,” O’Shea said.
In a nine-team league in which six make the playoffs after a marathon 18-game season – and don’t forget, the Ticats started 1-6 in 2014 and made it to the Grey Cup – it’s hard to drum up a sense of urgency in week three. But there should be, said Austin.
“Every game matters You can sit here and say ‘well, there’s 16 more games so the record is less important.’ That’s not true,” he said. “With the parity in this league, one game might be the difference of making the playoffs or not, or hosting a home playoff game.”
As Tisdale learned – and as O’Shea might – the consequence can be even more immediate and personal. And in football, there’s only one pathway to job security: winning.
Notes: Austin provided a brief update on the status of quarterback Zach Collaros, who is recovering from a knee injury suffered last September. “He’s doing well. He’s perfectly on track according to what the doctors have projected,” Austin said. “He’s very, very close to being on the field and at least starting to practice.”
Winnipeg Blue Bombers (0-2) at Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1-1)
Tim Hortons Field
Thursday, July 7
Game time: 7 p.m.
TV: TSN Radio: TSN 1150
The storyline for Winnipeg: At 0-2, the Bombers are already in desperation mode and there are rumblings about the job security of head coach Mike O’Shea. The team was blown out by Calgary last week and quarterback Drew Wily has struggled in the early going this season. Former Ticats kicker Justin Medlock, signed by Winnipeg in the off-season, makes his return to Hamilton.
Key injuries and line up changes: Receiver Weston Dressler is back after suffering a suspected concussion in week one but defensive backs Bruce Johnson and Johnny Adams are both out. A couple of key Canadian depth players in linebackers Sam Hurl and defensive end Trent Corney are also sidelined.
Five funky Winnipeg stats:
1. The Bombers Grey Cup drought extends back to 1990 and is the longest in the CFL. The Ticats are next, having gone without a championship since 1999.
2. The Bombers have started slow in both games so far this season: they trailed Montreal by 18 points in the opener (final score 22-14) before falling behind the Stampeders by 29 points in a 36-22 loss last week.
3. Former Ticats kicker Justin Medlock hit a 58-yard field goal in his debut with Winnipeg on June 24, tying the Bombers’ club record set by Bernie Ruoff in 1975.
4. Quincy McDuffie, another former Hamilton player now with the Bombers, is No. 2 in the CFL with 279 total return yards.
5. Winnipeg has taken the second-fewest penalties in the CFL thus far, averaging only 6.5 per game. Winnipeg has drawn just two special teams flags this season.
The storyline for Hamilton: The Ticats are trying to rediscover their mojo after a demoralizing 28-3 loss last week to the B.C. Lions. They’ve retooled their secondary and will expect better performances from quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and kicker Brett Maher (0-for-3 on field goals) against Winnipeg.
Key injuries and line up changes: Veteran defensive back Geoff Tisdale was released after a tough night against the Lions and rookie corner Quinton Pointer will move to the boundary with another first-year player, Travis Lee, inserted into the started line up on the field side. Canadian running back Anthony Woodson returns from injury so American Ross Schuerman comes off the roster allowing the Ticats to add linebacker Will Smith for added special teams depth. Canadian defensive end Everett Ellefsen also out.
Five funky Hamilton stats:
1. Since opening Tim Hortons Field with nine straight wins, the Ticats have gone 2-5 and are now 11-5 at the new stadium.
2. Kicker Brett Maher leads the CFL in punting through two weeks with a record-pace average of 53.2 yards and a net of 42.3 per kick.
3. Since the start of 2014, the Ticats are 16-9 (.640 winning percentage) with Zach Collaros at quarterback and 4-9 (.308) without him in the line up. They are 1-2 with Jeremiah Masoli as the starter.
4. Since 2005, the Ticats are 9-26 in the first three games of the season and have been over .500 just once in that stretch, going 2-1 in 2009. They can get to 2-1 with a win this week.
5. There has been an average of just 19.1 penalties per game through Week 2 and the four games last week averaged only 18.3 calls. The CFL averaged 25 per game over the first eight games of 2015. The Ticats are tied for the second-most penalties in the league with 26.
TSN play-by-play: Rod Black and Duane Forde
Referee: Andre Proulx
Weather: Partly sunny, 29 degrees with a 40 per cent chance of thunder showers. Winds out of the southwest at 18 km/h.