More than just pride on the line

On the surface, there is no reason to tune into Saturday’s matchup between the Argonauts and Blue Bombers. Yes, it’s simply a clash of two 3-8 teams. Yes, the teams might well duplicate the 13-12 snoozer they played earlier this year. Yes, the winner will only slightly improve its chances of making the playoffs. But what about the loser?

In a season that has been disastrous for each team on and off the field, a loss would not only solidify their spot in the CFL’s cellar, but also further question each team’s off-season hirings.

Toronto faced many questions after firing Rich Stubler in early September of last season. Their 0-8 record with Don Matthews — then the winningest coach in CFL history — left them with even more. Enter Bart Andrus. Having spent five seasons as an offensive assistant with the Tennessee Titans, he was given the task of igniting the fire under 2008’s worst offence. The Argos reached the 30 point plateau in their first two games, but haven’t hit it since.

New Blue Bombers head coach Mike Kelly is a reporter’s dream, a funny and honest man who will tell you exactly what he thinks. Though with his team at 3-8, he hasn’t had much positive to say. He entered his first CFL head coaching gig with a fine resume of positions on the offensive side of the ball as well. He had been an offensive coordinator with the Bombers, in the XFL, and at small colleges in the States. The Bombers have only scored 200 points this season (fewest in the league), and granted he hasn’t exactly had Joe Montana and Steve Young on his bench to choose from, his reputation for offensive craftiness has taken a hit.

But for each man, the main critique hasn’t come from their teams’ inability to score, but from handling of fragile situations. Former All-Star receiver Derick Armstrong refused to play for the Bombers in Week 2 unless he started, so Kelly released him. Bart Andrus had a few run-ins with his best playmaker, Arland Bruce, which caused Bruce to be shipped to Hamilton, and create havoc in the Argos’ secondary on Labour Day. Winnipeg’s best player, linebacker Barrin Simpson, was insulted that Kelly would ask him to take a reduced role a few weeks ago, and hasn’t played since.

So will a win on Saturday completely exonerate the winning coach from his mediocre season? Not likely, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the loser is shown a pink slip on the field as the final whistle sounds.

Now that would be must-see TV.

-Marc Tessier

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