On Monday, I unveiled my latest project for 3DownNation, a list of the top 10 CFL feuds.
Over the next two weeks, I’ll countdown the nastiest fights and most contentious disagreements in the history of the league.
Check out our previous posts below:
We begin today with the tenth worst CFL feud of all-time.
Number 10: Adam Rita vs Jeff Reinebold
“The conduct exhibited by almost everyone involved was unprofessional and unsportsmanlike.”
It is hard to disagree with commissioner John Tory’s assessment of the famous post-game fight between Adam Rita and Jeff Reinebold. For Rita, the instigator, it was largely out of character. The public animosity burned so briefly that I considered excluding it from this list, but the explosion rivalled anything the league has ever seen and it has stuck in the consciousness of CFL fans, despite the regrets of its participants.
While the feud itself was a bright flash in the pan, there was some groundwork laid in the years leading up to it.
Jeff Reinebold is a true CFL original. He once said “I’ve got to be who I am, I’m not going to change for anyone. Some people apparently don’t like that. Too bad.” That character was the B.C. Lions defensive coordinator in 1996 and had established himself as one of the premier young coaches in the game.
Rather than reward the up-and-comer after Joe Paopao was fired, B.C. went with the experienced Adam Rita. At the time, Reinebold was vocal about harbouring no ill will towards his old team. B.C. needed a known commodity and Reinebold got a solid job as Winnipeg’s head coach. On the outside, he said “mahalo” for the experience and moved on. Beneath the surface, there were hints of tension between the two sides.
As he departed the west coast, the charismatic Reinebold drew with him several B.C. players, which did not go unnoticed. Several disgruntled Bombers in turn fled to B.C. Despite all the talk of no hard feelings, Reinebold didn’t shake Rita’s hand after their first matchup as head coaches. None of this qualified as true beef between the two men but Rita was likely irked enough to make his response in their second game even more emotional.
On September 19, 1997, as the clock was winding down, Bombers’ defender Robert Davis laid a hit so late on a supine Damon Allen that it might have taken place in 1998. The cheap shot sparked a small fight after kicker Lui Passaglia, then 43 years old, charged the field in his sideline jacket to defend his quarterback. It wouldn’t hold a candle to the events after the game.
As the teams took to the field for handshakes, an enraged Adam Rita went after the man he held responsible for the egregious action: Jeff Reinebold. In the eyes of Rita, player behaviour was a direct reflection of what the coach allowed his players to do. The Lions’ head man sought out the opposing coach and gave him a firm two-handed shove, much to Reinebold’s surprise. Almost immediately he was put into a headlock by Bomber Grant Carter, who was ripped off Rita by Virgil Robertson and pummelled by Chuck Bradley. The whole thing devolved into chaos as Reinebold egged on the crowd.
“His actions spoke louder than anything I could ever say,” said the Bombers’ coach.
The incident mirrored a similar event almost exactly 18 years previous, when enraged B.C. coach Vic Rapp, fuelled by jealousy and resentment, charged Edmonton coach Hugh Campbell and accused him of running up the score. While that fight had a deeper hatred associated with it, Campbell’s cool head left the true animosity to the fans. It did not have the same aftermath as this one.
Rita was incensed post-game as he tried to explain his actions.
“For the last four or five years, since he’s been in the league, this happens and it only happens on his teams. What would you do if it was your son out there? These players are like my family,” the coach expressed after the game.
It would have been one thing had it stopped there, but Rita continued. His problem with Reinebold went deeper than just this incident and he had a very serious allegation.
“He’s known to put bounties on players. I can’t prove it, but people talk about it. When he coached in Vegas, he supposedly put out a bounty on Lui [Passaglia].”
Just like that, 14 years before the New Orleans Saints, the CFL had its own Bounty-gate.
The rumours around Reinebold’s penchant for encouraging illegal hits had indeed swirled since his days with the US expansion Las Vegas Posse. Rita’s players backed him up on the allegations. Those who had suited up for Reinebold said they had been compensated for big hits on special teams. Some alleged there was a specific bounty that game on special teamer Larry Von Hofwegan, who had spurned the Bombers’ practice squad for a shot in B.C.
Reinebold’s response: “Tell them to sue me.”
“It’s not true,” he elaborated. “When I used to coach special teams, I’d offer $5 if they knocked a player off his feet, that’s all.”
Rita wasn’t about to back down however. He was quick to apologize for hurting his football team, but remained bullish on the Bombers.
“I apologize to B.C. Lions fans and to the organization,” he said publicly. “But I’m not going to apologize to Jeff Reinebold. I’ll never do that.”
Reinebold, who rarely shied away from controversial remarks, actually avoided fanning the flames and put the onus on Rita to prove his allegations. His post-game comments loomed large and no doubt ate at the conscience of the generally amicable Lions’ coach.
“He’s got to live with himself,” said Reinebold pointedly.
CFL discipline was fast and thorough. In total, a whopping $14,550 in fines were assessed to the key players involved and Rita. It was not without controversy.
“He gets fined $150 less than I do for assaulting a head coach. That’s an absolute joke,” said Chuck Bradley in regards to Grant Carter’s smaller penalty. “Maybe I should have tried to kick him in the face instead of hit him.”
All threats of face-kicking aside, the bigger issue facing the league was the bounty allegations. Rita refused to retract his accusations and the league launched a full-scale investigation. The Bombers were adamant it was a fabrication and at one point, ironically given Reinebold’s earlier comment, threatened to sue for defamation. Ultimately, John Tory was forced to make a public statement two months later to put the issue to bed. The league found no evidence of bounties in Reinebold’s past.
Rita earned the respect and admiration of his players through his outburst, not that it helped B.C. win anything, but was largely ashamed by his actions. He never apologized for his accusations but made a conscious effort to silence the feud the following season. He insisted he and Reinebold were not friends, but acquaintances who still performed a good deal of business with each other.
One of the greatest fights in CFL history resulted in cordiality, but it burned hot at its peak. If feuds were measured by the number of Sportcentre highlights run, Rita’s two-handed shove deserves to be up there with the best.