Three downs on the CFL on TSN: analyzing Week 6 television broadcasts

Screenshot courtesy: TSN

There are fun weeks in the CFL and then there’s the week that we just had, which was on a completely different level.

Take out the Thursday night matchup between Hamilton and Edmonton and the CFL had one of their most entertaining weeks in recent memory. Friday’s game between Toronto and Montreal was great from start to finish and the games that made up Saturday’s double-header were both completely bonkers down the stretch.

All the action led to a fun week for TSN, the league’s exclusive broadcast partner. Here are my thoughts on the week that was.

First down

Perhaps the best news of the week was the return of veteran broadcaster Rod Smith.

“The Voice of God,” as he’s known around the three-letter network, had been absent from the airwaves for the better part of a month. Given the ongoing cutbacks across the Canadian sports media circles, especially at Bell Media, there was concern that Smith was among those let go by one of the nation’s two major media companies.

Heading into that game, a few of us around 3DownNation had actually started asking some questions about Smith’s whereabouts. Thankfully, one of the network’s longest-standing employees was back in the booth on Saturday afternoon for the Ottawa Redblacks’ insane comeback against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

We’re glad to have Smith back working alongside Duane Forde and hope we’ll get to hear his dulcet downs the rest of the season and beyond.

Second down

Smith returned to the booth at just the right time as he was able to deliver a great call of Dustin Crum’s incredible touchdown run that gave the Redblacks a chance to send Saturday’s game to overtime.

And then win it.

While that moment was fun, Dustin Nielson may have offered up the best moment of the week with this absolute gem of a call on Thursday night when Edmonton quarterback Taylor Corneilus did whatever this is.

What is happening, indeed, Mr. Nielson.

This moment even landed Nielson his own comedic bit on Sportscentre with Jay Onrait.

I actually like this a fair bit for the CFL. If Nielson’s bit becomes a common feature on Onrait’s show, it will expose some of the league’s most fun moments to an audience that may not regularly watch the CFL.

If that wasn’t enough for Nielson, his voice will forever be part of a classic ending on Saturday night at Mosaic Stadium, though he’s admittedly pretty hard to hear on the Riders’ go-ahead touchdown.

But the call was loud and clear on the game-winning field goal from Rene Paredes.

Meanwhile, the game of the week between the Argos and Alouettes ended with this call from Marshall Ferguson.

Ferguson’s calls on big plays have gotten better, but his build-up to important moments like this one still needs work. If you were just listening to this play, you’d have no idea it was the end of a one-possession game. It felt more like the Argos just won a blowout.

Even if the odds of something happening are low, it’s the play-by-play announcer’s job to make it sound possible. Nielson did on the Tevin Jones touchdown, Ferguson did not.

Third down

There was one interesting development this week from TSN as panelist and longtime CFL coach Paul LaPolice got a shot at working the booth.

On Friday night, LaPolice made an appearance as a colour analyst alongside Ferguson and Forde in the second quarter. It’s likely that he spent the lead-up to the game and the first quarter learning behind the scenes before making his debut closer to halftime.

It took some time for LaPolice to find his groove in the booth, which is understandable given his lack of experience. By the end of the game, LaPolice was breaking down plays with ease using plain language. I think he’ll end up being very good at the job, even if he’ll be missed on the panel.

This is why it would be good for TSN to have the rights to broadcast occasional U Sports football games as they would help develop potential future broadcasters outside of the big show. It’s a model ESPN has used with varying degrees of success throughout the years.

Based on the broadcast, it sounds like LaPolice will make his official debut as a colour analyst in a couple of weeks. Hopefully he’ll be working solo with a play-by-play announcer this time around as three-person booths can be a little overcrowded.

Joel Gasson is a Regina-based sports writer, broadcaster and football fanatic. He is also a beer aficionado.