Sports Football

SIMMONS

SIMMONS SAYS: Grey Cup game is better when it's not in Toronto

By Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun

The Stampeders do their walkthrough ahead of the Grey Cup game at BMO Field in Toronto on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. (Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun)

The Stampeders do their walkthrough ahead of the Grey Cup game at BMO Field in Toronto on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. (Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun)

The city was wrong. The timing was wrong. The pricing was wrong.

That was the lead up to the 104th Grey Cup. Maybe a great game Sunday night can salvage the months of dubious decision making by the Argonauts, the Grey Cup Committee and the Canadian Football League.

Maybe not.

The notion that there needed to be a Grey Cup in Toronto in the first year of the new ownership of the Argos was rushed. It wasn’t necessary. And it was certainly too soon. This hasn’t been the least alive of Grey Cup Weeks I’ve experienced — the 1992 game in Toronto was the undisputed champion in that regard — but it’s near the bottom in atmosphere and build up.

And if it has been salvaged in any way, it has been from those coming from other places to take part in the festivities. The house papering of the stadium, reduced ticket prices and giveaways have left a bad taste in the mouths of those who paid full fare for their seats.

The Grey Cup remains one of my favourite events and favourite weeks. It’s better when it’s not in Toronto.

THIS AND THAT

Connor McDavid is leading the NHL in scoring. The question now becomes, for how long? One season? Next season? The next five seasons? We knew he was going to be good. We didn’t know he was going to be this great, this fast ... Time was, few hockey players of consequence came from the GTA. They were small-town guys. From all over Canada. Not anymore. My GTA all-star team: F - McDavid, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares; D — P.K. Subban and Mark Giordano; G — Michael Hutchinson and if you want to stretch the borders just a little, Cam Talbot. Is that any good? ... I asked the normally unavailable junior coach Dale Hunter what he taught Mitch Marner. His answer: “I didn’t teach him. He taught me.” ... Mike Babcock says the Leafs defencemen have to decide who is the fourth, fifth and sixth defenceman on the team. And I wondered: Isn’t that the coach’s job? ... Weird story going around that the new Vegas Golden Knights: Apparently, they’re not going after a coach just yet because they don’t have the budget to do so. That’s not a good early sign, is it? ... By the way, did you know Jose Bautista is a minority owner of the Golden Knights? ... Who saw this coming? John Tortorella, coach of the year candidate? ... If Winnipeg can’t start winning games on the road, you have to wonder at what point does Paul Maurice’s employment becomes in question. The Jets are among the most patient operations in hockey. But you’ve got to be more competitive on the road than Winnipeg has ben so far ... Aren’t the Buffalo Sabres supposed to be better than this? ... Yeah, the NHL is a hard place to play. Patrik Laine has one goal in his past nine games.

HEAR AND THERE

Alex Ovechkin is not the greatest goal scorer of all time, but he’s darn close. Mike Bossy is the best I’ve ever seen. Mario Lemieux next. After that, you can argue about Ovechkin, Brett Hull and the non-goal scorer, goal scorer, Wayne Gretzky. And I can’t put Rocket Richard in the group only because I never saw him play ... Babcock is a big believer in goal differential. Heading into Saturday night, the Leafs were 12th in the East in that category. Which means, they fight for a playoff spot, and quite likely don’t make it unless they can do something about their road record (one win in 10 games) and about their high number of goals against ... Weird team, the Boston Bruins. Almost twice the number of wins on the road than they have at home ... The difference between the NBA and the NHL: Great teams. The top four teams in the NBA — Cleveland, Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City — combined have a 53-10 won loss record. By baseball standards, they’re playing .841 ball ... The most fun team to watch in football: The Pittsburgh Steelers. Why? They have the NFL’s best running back in Le’Veon Bell, the best receiver in Antonio Brown and one of the best quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger ... And shouldn’t the NFL be better when the Steelers, Cowboys, Raiders and Dolphins are all competitive?

SCENE AND HEARD

The best deal of the week didn’t last long. Pizza Pizza was offering a large pizza, three toppings, 10 chicken wings, four cans on Coke, two dipping sauces, and two Grey Cup tickets for $29.99. I would have been happy with just the tickets and the Diet Cokes ... Take this to the bank: This is Henry Burris’ last game in the CFL ... Two memorable Burris quotes from this week: About going for Canadian citizenship: “We’ve just got a new reason on why we don’t want to go back to the U.S.” And about a career where he has been great, not so great, starting and on the bench: “I can understand where a guy like Tony Romo is. Dak (Prescott) is balling. Tony Romo is like, ‘I got this team to where it is’. Give me a chance to prove it. That’s all we want." ... Scott Milanovich has quietly told some people he wouldn’t mind being fired as coach of the Argos. Three reasons for that. One, he doesn’t love the setup with the Argos. Two, he has two years guaranteed left on his contract. Three, if he gets another job, he’ll be able to double dip with the Argos deal ... Still to be determined, will general manager Jim Barker survive? He also has two years left on a deal which pays him huge dollars by CFL standards ... The Vanier Cup deserves bigger crowds than the game gets annually. The game Saturday afternoon was full of fun and drama. This neutral-site idea doesn’t work ... Unlike most pro leagues, the CFL needs help from the media and yet has a more restrictive media policy than the NHL, NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball. It should be the leader in this area, not in last place. And for some reason, neither commissioner Jeffrey Orridge or the majority of league executives seem able to do anything to make the appropriate changes ... Man, if you listen to Ottawa coach Rick Campbell, he sure sounds like his dad, Hugh.

AND ANOTHER THING

All quiet on the Edwin Encarnacion-Yoenis Cespedes big-signing front. Baseball’s Winter Meetings begin next Sunday. Once one of the big bats signs, it should set off a bunch of secondary signings. That’s the feeling around baseball now. The Blue Jays, still, with so much work to be done ... A quick admission: Before last Sunday’s Eastern final, I had never heard of Kienan Lafrance. Reminded me of Tim Smith’s Super Bowl performance. Smith rushed for 190 yards in his career, but ran for 204 yards in Super Bowl XXII for the Washington Redskins. Lafrance had 180 yards rushing in his first two CFL seasons: Ran for 157 yards in the snow against Edmonton ... Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis are now 1-2 in the NBA in scoring, ahead of DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan is still scoring more than 30 points a game. That can’t last ... Happy birthday to Milos Raonic (26), Garry Valk (49), Jim Thome (46), Chad Kilger (40), Ken Schinkel (84), Mike Scioscia (58), Larry Allen (45) and Kathleen Heddle (51) ... And hey, whatever became of Tom Wilkinson?

BOZAK HAS BEEN A GREAT BARGAIN

Alex Ovechkin was the first pick in the 2004 NHL entry draft. Sidney Crosby was the first pick one year later.

Those happen to be the two drafts in which every NHL team passed on Tyler Bozak.

In all, 521 different players were selected in those drafts, and of the 521, only 28 players have managed to score more NHL points than Bozak has accumulated in his NHL career.

Only 17 players from Ovechkin’s draft class, which includes Evgeni Malkin and David Krecji, have outscored Bozak at the NHL level.

Only 11 players from the Crosby class, which includes Anze Kopitar, have bettered Bozak’s rather modest NHL numbers.

Bozak, who has developed into a career bargain for the Maple Leafs, has been more effective than early NHL picks from his classes. The draft busts from 2004 include Cam Barker (third overall), Rusty Olesz (seventh), Alexandre Picard (eighth).

It’s not superstar numbers, but it is impressive: Bozak is on pace for his first 50-point NHL season.

MISSING BADGER BOB

Has it really been 25 years since Bob Johnson passed away?

Has the time really gone that fast?

Hardly a day does by that I don’t think about Badger Bob. Or hear his voice in my head. Or wonder what he might have done or said in any situation. Or tell a Johnson story.

There are only a few voices I hear regularly without really hearing them at all. My father, who has been gone for 17 years. Al Arbour, who passed away just over a year ago. My Grade 11 history teacher. And Badger Bob the hockey coach, who would punch me on the arm, or sometimes on the shoulder, always in excitement as he would say “great day for hockey.”

And usually it was.

There isn’t anyone around the NHL right now who is much like Bob Johnson. There isn’t any father figure in hockey, who was part coach, part actor, part story teller, part comedian. I miss him and I miss our conversations.

BO LEVI COULD BE A CFL GREAT

My personal list of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the CFL is rather basic: 1. Doug Flutie; 2. Warren Moon; 3. Russ Jackson.

And every once in a while I flip one and two.

That leaves out a pretty good list that includes Ron Lancaster, Anthony Calvillo, Matt Dunigan, Dieter Brock, Tom Clements, Ken Ploen, Damon Allen and the one I never saw, Jackie Parker.

Which in a round-about way brings me to Bo Levi Mitchell, quarterback of the Calgary Stampeders. This is his fifth season in the CFL, third as a starter. He has already been a Grey Cup MVP. He has already won a league Most Outstanding Player. He won 12 of his first 13 games as a starter and has barely trailed off since.

Is he ready to challenge the best of all time?

“Not yet,” said his former coach and current general manager John Hufnagel, “but he’s getting close.

“Some quarterbacks are perfect in practice,” Hufnagel said. “They have to do everything a certain way. Bo is kind of the opposite of that. He’s good in practice, he’s great in games.”

And he’s signed for two more seasons in Calgary.

And he’s saying he’d be happy to spend his entire career in the CFL.