Thursday & Friday at the Grey Cup

By Nelson Hackewich

Editor’s note: Our friend, fellow CFL fan (Saskatchewan, but try not to hold it against him) and favourite uniform concept designer Nelson Hackewich was kind enough to share some of his thoughts and experiences at this year’s Grey Cup Festival in Edmonton. This is the first of a couple recaps on all the great stuff the festival has to offer. Thanks Nelson! Super jealous!

It was a lengthy eight-hour drive through the frosted Canadian prairie from Regina to Edmonton, which gave me a lot of time to think about who to cheer for this Sunday in the 106th Grey Cup. People will tell you, “you’re from the west how can you not cheer for the west?”, or “the cup has to stay in the east!” But, over the course of the drive, I’ve come up with a few reasons which determined that, although I primarily bleed green, for one weekend in November, I’ll cheer for the Ottawa Redblacks.

Reason #1: Rick Campbell. He’s just a darn decent dude! Back when CFL Week was in Regina, I bumped into Rick almost daily in the Tim Hortons line at Evraz place, where we talked football and his love for Saturday Night Live. Plus, he is linked to not only the Riders, but the Eskimos through his father, the great Hugh Campbell.

Reason #2: The increasingly popular CFL adage of ABC – Anyone But Calgary. I think Stampeders coach Dave Dickenson hit the nail on the head in his West Final post game comments when he told reporters that Canada doesn’t like seeing them in the Grey Cup.

Anyway, onto the festivities!

Grey Cup Thursday

Edmonton has definitely come alive as the hotbed of Canadian football. Everywhere you look it’s decorated businesses, “Grey Cup” food and drink specials and the like. The city is roaring and ready to go! Everywhere you go people are dressed in all 10 CFL team (including the Atlantic Schooners) jerseys and apparel. Bars and restaurants are full and on American thanksgiving, where the NFL generally holds the spotlight, it was almost non-existent as the conversation turned to who is going to win on Sunday. I even heard a conversation about the Las Vegas Posse and Shreveport Pirates.

A smaller crowd strolled the street fest today taking in activations from Shaw (where you could sit in a Redblacks locker stall donning Brad Sinopoli’s jersey and equipment), get some s’mores compliments of TSN, or “Take a Kick at the Can” and see if you can last 8 seconds on a giant can of Twisted Tea (Mechanical bull style). Our night was capped at the outdoor street stage where Winnipeg’s The Watchmen played all their hits! Daniel Greaves (lead vocals) came out in a retro Bombers sweater and opened by stating “I wish the Bombers were here” and closed by asking the crowd “Who are we cheering for on sunday” with a primarily pro-Ottawa response.

Team hospitality rooms open up Friday with the highly anticipated announcement of the Atlantic Canada franchise team name, the CFL fan state of the league, a dip into the Shaw conference center to check out more fan fest activities, performances by Maestro Fresh Wes and Canadian supergroup Toque, capped off by a stop in Riderville and back to the stage to catch The Strumbellas.

Grey Cup Friday

After a quick autograph signing with Saskatchewan WR Namann Roosevelt and Argos WR SJ Green, Canadian hip hop legend Maestro Fresh Wes, Dressed in a special edition Eskimos Damon Allen jersey custom made for the 2018 Grey Cup, got our day going belting out “Let your backbone slide”. Taking shots at current Canadian rap superstar Drake, saying “I’ve been doing this since he’s been on Degrassi” was classic. Wes was followed up by Canadian super group and cover band Toque, featuring Todd Kerns (Age of Electric) Brent Fitz (Slah, Myles Kenedy, Alice Cooper) and Cory Churko (Shania Twain, Live), who played nothing but hits from Loverboy, Streetheart, Chilliwack, and Queen City Kids. True Canadiana and very fitting for the Grey Cup festival.

From there a dip into the Atlantic Kitchen Party for the 10th franchise name unveiling. Seriously, is anyone shocked? There were rumblings early in the week from a few of my media contacts in the league that it would be such. If the Schooners weren’t called the Schooners, it would be crushing not only to the people that host the Atlantic Schooners Kitchen Party year after year, but all of the people that have dreamt of this moment for so long. The font they chose was an interesting “UA Falcon”, which is primarily used by Under Armour teams. Using a white font on a grey stormy background also leaves a lot to be desired. Will they be black and grey? Will they be black and gold?

The night was capped by visits to the #RNation Party, where we bumped into the lovely Redblacks Cheer team, Winnipeg RB Andrew Harris and Ottawa mascot Big Joe (and his forearms). Then a short walk down street fest to Riderville, where we saw performances by the BC Felions dance team, the Alouettes Cheer team and Rider Cheer team.

Saturday, we take in the Grey Cup parade, team walkthroughs at Commonwealth Stadium, a tour of the Oilers beautiful Rogers Arena, and cap the night with a performance by Tim Hicks. Can’t wait!

Thanks for reading!

Follow Nelson on Twitter at @NelsonHackewich.

Follow us on Twitter at @DefendTheR.

Title photo credit: Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

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The 20-Yard End Zone Podcast – Episode 2

The 20-Yard End Zone Podcast – Episode 2

The guys discuss the headlines from the Canadian Football League in Week 8, plus an interview with News Talk 770 and Calgary Stampeders broadcaster Dave Rowe on the Calgary-Saskatchewan rivalry.

Thanks for listening!

@DefendTheR

Redblacks roster shake-up continues on day two of free agency

After an action-packed first day of CFL free agency on Tuesday, day two did not disappoint. A number of big names found themselves new homes on Wednesday, perhaps letting the opening day dust settle and getting a clearer picture of the marketplace.

In Redblacksland, the day was notable for a couple of free agent losses and one signing. First, the bad news:

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The signing has since been confirmed. Capicciotti and his 12 sacks will be sorely missed on a DL that has also lost Shawn Lemon (NFL, er SSK) and Keith Shologan (WPG) since the Grey Cup game. 

Then:

After taking over from Chevon Walker as the starting RB at mid-season, JJ emerged as a real difference-maker in the Redblacks offense. In his seven starts (10 games total), Johnson amassed an impressive 448 rushing yards, 267 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. He also emerged as a leader in the locker room.

Unfortunately, Johnson’s season would be cut short by a foot injury, and William Powell took over the starting job in early October. It was Powell’s performance the rest of the season and into the playoffs that ultimately made Johnson expendable, as the Canadian ratio makes it difficult for CFL teams to carry two American running backs. 

Johnson will be missed. So will his TD celebrations. 

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Now for the good news:

The 27-year-old Gascon-Nadon is a 3-year CFL veteran, originally drafted by Hamilton in 2012 (3rd round, 17th overall). He spent a year at Rice University (2008) before coming back and winning two Vanier Cups (2010 & 2012) at Laval.

As a pro, Gascon-Nadon has appeared in a total of 20 games, though his first start on the Hamilton defensive line was actually in the Eastern Final against Ottawa, filling in for the injured Eric Norwood.

Yes, Ottawa fans only memory of him might be the interception he didn’t make prior to #2ndAnd25, but Gascon-Nadon is not here for his receiving ability. He is a highly regarded DL prospect, who also contributed on special teams in 2015, with 11 tackles.

Another action-packed day in the books for the Redblacks. Here are Ottawa’s remaining unsigned free agents:

QB DeMarco, Thomas
LB Green, James
WR Henry, Marcus
LB Hinds, David
DE Marshall, Andrew
DE Smith, Marlon
DB Thompson, Brandyn
LB/FB Verdone, Jordan

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

Photo credit: Toronto Sun

#TBT Interview with former Rough Rider Quinn Magnuson

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Quinn Magnuson is a former CFL offensive lineman and current co-host of Saskatchewan’s ‘Game Day With Wray’ pregame radio show. In addition to being a great follow on Twitter (and the brilliant mind behind the #CFLTwitterAwards), Quinn suited up for the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1995. That was a bad team. We asked Quinn to share some of his memories with Defend the R.

Tell us a bit about your broadcasting background.
I went to Washington State University on a Football scholarship in 1989 and entered the Edward R Murrow School of Communications for Broadcast Journalism. Education started there as I ran the radio station (KUGR FM). When I left WSU there wasn’t much for radio jobs so I didn’t really get back into broadcasting until 2009 doing some ‘Rider coverage but then was asked to do the ‘Rider Pregame this year full-time for CKOM CJME in Saskatchewan.

I see it has been a passion since at least your university days. What do you love about it?
I love the fans and how passonate they get. Its funny, weird, encouraging, hopeful, sad all at once. These fans, especially Roughrider fans, are the best but they can also be the worst. They are over-zealous and react too quickly sometimes, but hey that’s part of the game. I love being on the air each week and giving the “player’s persepective” too. People need to know what goes through a players head each day / week / game.

How was your first season as co-host on “Game Day With Wray”? Highlights/memorable moments?
Great first season. Started out slow and had to get my chops back, but by the end of the year I was feeling very comfortable. Wray and Chris Cuthbert and Dale iSaac made my job easier as they are professionals that help you along the way. I think the highlight was working with Chris Cuthbert and picking his brain when we had a chance to talk. Absolute gentlemen and such a font of sports knowledge. Also, just having access to so much more info that the average person can’t get.

What else have you been up to since your playing days ended?
Reitred in 1997, went BACK to university and got a degree this time LOL. Taught high school and coached HS ball from 2000-2006. Then left teaching and entered the private sector by owning my own company. Sold that company in 2010 as I was offered a job working at BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada) & been here ever since. Also, have two kids – 14 and 12 – and I have coached them in everything from hockey to soccer to football to basketball. Curently my son is a pretty solid football player at the 12-year old level. He will be better than I was (if he wants to).

How would you characterize yourself as a player? And who were the people/athletes you looked up to or modelled yourself after?
I was a player that maybe didn’t take the game as seriously as I should have. I was talented and had God-given skill and ability. But I didn’t work as hard as I should have and probably could’ve played NFL or been more of a contributor in the CFL. I was a phenomenal long snapper though and that’s probably why I lasted as long as I did in the CFL. I regret not working harder and doing some of the things that other players did (watch more film, spend more time with coaches, etc.). Growing up I modelled myself after the bad boys of football. Brian Bosworth and Tony Mandarich were two players I loved coming out of high school. I wanted to be Tony Mandarich. I went on a recruiting trip to MSU and met Tony. I was hooked and absolutely had to make PRO.

As well, on a personal level, my Uncle Keith Magnuson, former Blackhawks Defenseman (1969-80) was an absolute role model for me both in life and even after his death in 2003. I believe it was his guidance that helped me through high school and college. Even got me an interview with the Bears in 1993 (didn’t make it though).

You spent the 1995 season with the Ottawa Rough Riders. It was the last season of the CFL’s US experiment, on a 3-15 football team and with a franchise that was just about ready to shut its doors forever. Must have been a hoot!
Ottawa was NOT fun. It was a struggle to go to practice every day knowing how bad we were and how much a lot of players didn’t care to be there. We had talent but no “TEAM”. There were a lot of transactions every week LOL

As a player, did the off-field stuff affect you much?
Absolutely!! We were supposed to receive game cheques within 24 hours of the final whistle and we were often lined up outside the offices waiting for extra hours only to have the doors locked and told to come back tomorrow. It was terrible.

Ownership was notoriously cheap towards the end. Hope you didn’t miss a paycheque?
Never missed a cheque but getting them was tough.

There were some good players on that team – Danny Barrett, Mike Richardson… Just not enough of them?
Danny was a great leader and treated the OL well, Mike (whom I player with in WPG too) was great but once again no team chemistry and he struggled as did everyone else. John Kropke was a good player. Irv Daymond too. But players who were in their twilight and too many young players. Bad chemistry.

Any impressions/memories of Rohan Marley?
Rohan was funny but lacked professionalism. He was riding the popularity of his family name. He was, if anything, more of a distraction to the team that became a circus. In fact, in 1995 the CFL was a three-ring circus. Everywhere we went media wanted to talk to Ro. And he wasn’t even a star.

How about Andre Ware?
No comment.

And were those Rough Rider jerseys horrible, or what?
Yup still got mine. Ugly color combo and the gold helmets with the voyaguer on the side. C’mon Man!

Do you still keep in touch with any of the players or coaches from that team?
Im still friends with Dave Black and I Facebook Mike Richardson occasionally. But all in all there wasn’t much cmamaraderie. Tough when it was dog-eat-dog.

What are your memories of the city, specifically?
People didn’t care about the Riders. Any other city if you go to a bar, you get past the lineup , ppl buy you drinks, you get free meals here and there. Ottawa had no clue who we were and didn’t care. Bouncers would laugh when we said we played for the Riders. Sad really. Loved the city itself, beautiful but lacked sports sophistication at the time. Of course the entire league struggled at that point.

What do you remember about playing in some of those American cities, like Memphis or Shreveport?
Ugly, cheap stadiums. Poor crowds. HATED IT. Long travel schedules. The Amercian experiment was a pure MONEY grab by the league and its owners. It was a one million dollar expansion fee that was used to just keep the league afloat. It was the worst thing to ever happen to the CFL. BUT at the same time, the best thing as it made Canadian football fans realize how much they loved their game, and how they wanted to keep it CANADIAN!!! When Baltimore won the Grey Cup, that was the end.

Did you ever see American expansion working then?
I think had they kept it to one or two teams (east and west) it could’ve grown but they added too many too soon and in small-town markets. Also they should’ve kept the teams in the northern states.

What about now?
NOPE. League is strong. Leave it alone.

In addition to Ottawa, you played in Winnipeg, Saskatchewan & Montreal. Can you briefly share a thought on each stop?
Winnipeg – awesome town to play in. They love the Bombers. But the team has been mired in mediocrity for too long. I like Wade Miller there and things will turn around.

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Montreal – got there when the team moved from Balitimre (1996) and there was bad blood between the US players and the Canadians because they had to cut league all-stars to fill the Canadian quota. Once we got through the first few games we were good. Great city. Good organization. Still love Jim Popp.

Regina – when I was there (which was short) the team was terrible. Mostly because of management and coaching. Players were good but the team lacked cohesiveness. And at that time the fans weren’t as enamoured with the team like they are now. LOL

Winnipeg was the best to play and live though. Montreal was expensive and fans took three more years to really come around (i.e. Calvillo’s entrance).

Your late uncle Keith was an all-star with the Blackhawks in the 60s & 70s. Besides the fact that it’s really cool, what kind of impact did that have on you as a budding athlete with pro aspirations?
As mentioned earlier, it was Keith that made me want to play professional sports. He was a great leader and uncle, and always supported me in whatever I did. He was and still is a great influence in my life. Even moreso posthumously, as I want to represent the Magnuson name the way he did.

Before we go, what was your impression of the Ottawa Redblacks after their first season? Roster, coaching, etc.
I think they have something there. But you need to give it a couple of years and also bring in role players, locker room guys who will help the team gel quickly. Football is about trusting the guy next to you. Ottawa has a good coaching staff and players to build off of. But after game 8 they stopped believing they could win and it was “next year country” after that. Tons of potential.

Are you as confident as we are that the team is here for the long-haul this time?
I think the ownership has done a great job and judging by the sell-outs and fan support it should. I think the message form the start has been, “bear with us, well get there” and that’s a good thing. Don’t set expectations too high in Year One. Next year its 9-9. I would love to see the team there forever. It’s a good market with solid university teams in the area, and they need to start drafting players from the University of Ottawa and Carleton, just like the ‘Riders do with U of S and Regina U.

Anything else you’d like to share that I may not have thought to ask?
Our “home locker room” at Frank Clair was the worst I’d seen in pro football or college for that matter. It reminded me of the scenes from Major League when they are using an outboard motor for their cold tubs. LOL. Good guys worked there though. 🙂

Thanks for your time, Quinn. Some great memories and insight.

Be sure to give Quinn a follow on Twitter – @QMags65

by @OTTRoughRiders