Week in Review: Seven Days in 3DownNation

There was a time when the long CFL off-season meant there were significant dry spells when it came to news and media coverage.

But the league has managed in recent years to stoke the fires of interest during the winter, aided in no small measure by social media and the relentless nature of the 24-hour news cycle – both insatiable in their demand for content. So what was once a slow time for Canadian football news (like now) instead produces a week of interesting stories.

The official announcement of the hiring of general manager Jim Popp and head coach Marc Trestman got things rolling on Tuesday and there was plenty of analysis to go around. Most pundits – ours included – felt it was a positive step for the franchise but many questioned whether the process simply took too long.

The consequences of Copeland’s “process” are illustrated nicely by quarterback Drew Willy. Barker, desperate to save the team’s season and his job, sent a first-round draft pick and a promising defensive back to Winnipeg for Willy last September – a trade that, if there was any question about his future with the club, Barker shouldn’t have been allowed to make. After missing the playoffs anyway, Barker restructured Willy’s deal and gave him a $7o,000 signing bonus. Trestman’s first move as head coach? Naming Ricky Ray his starting quarterback.

In other words, the new regime doesn’t look at Drew Willy the same way the old one did. That’s perfectly fine, understandable even. But it’s something the team should have known months ago, before they renewed their commitment to a guy who is now clearly a back up quarterback.

But 3DownNation’s Justin Dunk was able to get an inside look on how the deal between Toronto president Michael Copeland and Popp came together, which went some way to explaining the decision-making process. It started with a meeting a BBQ joint near Popp’s home in Charlotte, North Carolina.

I ate so much there that I didn’t eat again for 24 hours, so Jim fully delivered. Everything: pulled pork, brisket, corn bread. It had all of these NASCAR cars, it was a roadhouse like right out of the movies.

During the press conference, Trestman announced his first major decision as head coach: naming veteran quarterback Ricky Ray as the starter. While Trestman is clearly trying to recreate the success he had in Montreal with Anthony Calvillo, contributor John Hodge says that could tough given Ray’s age (37) and injury history.

Ray, however, is not Anthony Calvillo. Ray’s history of injury is long and the talent around him is substandard. Plenty of comparisons will be made between Trestman’s success with Calvillo and his future with Ray. These comparisons are easy to make and enticing for a beleaguered fan base that is re-upping season tickets at a glacial pace. Between Ray’s health and Toronto’s lacklustre roster, however, they may also prove ill-advised.

In Saskatchewan, a couple of Canadian offensive linemen were asked to take pay cuts, according to to contributor and SportsNet reporter Arash Madani. It’s just the latest in a series of intriguing moves in Regina, which have included the trading of veteran quarterback Darian Durant and a dalliance with former NFL star Vince Young, who may or may not sign with the club.

In Hamilton, safety Craig Butler is making his way back from a knee injury that cost him all of last season. But despite a challenging rehab schedule, Butler made sure to maintain his role as one of the team’s leading community ambassadors, including last week’s launch of the BeFit program that emphasizes the importance of exercise and healthy eating for kids in schools around the city.

“Kids kind of hang to every single word and eating healthy and getting exercise is such a simple message,” Butler said. “They’re listening not because it’s me telling them but because I’m a Hamilton Tiger-Cat.”

On Friday, Ticat legend and CFL pioneer Bernie Custis was laid to rest and columnist Steve Milton put both the man and his accomplishments in context while also remembering some of the many wonderful moments of a life in football.

An enduring memory of Ivor Wynne Stadium from the first decade of this millennium has Custis and Ron Lancaster sitting on a rickety bench, day after day, under that cheap plastic overhang near the player’s entrance, yanking each other’s chain throughout practice. You learned, if you sat with them, that you too were fair game. During the barbs and laughs, neither ever missed anything on the field.

Other interesting stories of note: Ticats neg lister Johnny Manziel re-hired his old agent, researchers found CTE  in a person without a history of concussions, the CRTC said it wasn’t responsible for the Super Bowl ratings drop and a highly-touted prospect was ruled ineligible for the 2017 CFL Draft because of a drug suspension in the NFL.

What will this week bring? Well, preparations are well underway for the the league’s first-ever CFL Week in Regina from Mar. 21 to 26. And while that’s unlikely to produce much news – at least not yet – this league (and it’s fans) has penchant for producing something worth talking about.

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