Another CFL game, another blatant headshot on a quarterback that goes unpenalized.
In the late stages of the Saskatchewan Roughriders loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West semi-final, Riders quarterback Brandon Bridge took a helmet-to-helmet shot from Bombers’ defensive lineman Jackson Jeffcoat.
Bridge was forced to leave the game – he was clearly feeling the effects of the hit – and David Watford took over for the game’s final play, a desperation heave that was intercepted by Winnipeg sealing a 23-18 victory.
The injury likely had no impact on the game, though with the benefit of a 15-yard penalty the Riders would have been scrimmaging from the Bombers’ 49-yard line making Watford’s Hail Mary somewhat more achievable. But the real issue is that this is hardly the first time the league has missed a clear headshot this season: there have been several others like this one on Travis Lulay or this one on Mike Reilly or this one on Bo Levi Mitchell. Bridge was only starting because Riders pivot Zach Collaros was still feeling the effects of a hit from the Lions Odell Willis that also went unflagged.
We examined the issues facing the league after that debacle and CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie subsequently acknowledged that on-field officials missed the call, erred in not removing Collaros from the game and botched their public response. Willis was eventually fined the maximum allowed under the CBA (half a game cheque) a decision he disagreed with.
Replays of the Bridge hit from the TSN ref cam showed that referee Tom Vallesi was screened on the play and didn’t see Jeffcoat make contact with the quarterback. In the aftermath of the Collaros hit, the league directed other officials to help in calling roughing the passer but apparently no other on-field official saw it either.
As it did after the Collaros hit, the league has acknowledged it botched the call.
It’s worth noting that CFL’s vice president of football Kevin McDonald acknowledged in the aftermath of the Collaros hit that the CFL considered adopting the NCAA’s approach of using replay to identify shots to the head – including potential ejections – last off-season but ultimately decided against it.
“We did discuss that [last] off-season and I think that we have a commitment this offseason to look at ways we can use the personnel and the technology we have in place to better intervene when making decisions on some of the player safety elements,” he said. “There are some player safety aspects that we could take into our rules committee discussion this off-season to see if the replay official or the video official might be able to intervene and weigh in on some of those items.”
Reaction to the Bridge hit on social media has been highly critical of the league for its continued failure to protect its players. Coming as it did in a key moment of a playoff game – featuring the Saskatchewan Roughriders no less – this episode is sure to draw plenty of attention.
Whether the CFL will actually do something this time remains to be seen. The history, destined as it is to repeat itself, is not encouraging.