The Baltimore CFLs will start three new players on offense tonight against the Calgary Stampeders, but the offensive key still figures to be the improvisational ability of quarterback Tracy Ham.
Despite nine dropped passes in last week's 28-20 victory over the Toronto Argonauts, Ham threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns. The Canadian Football League's most prolific running quarterback ran only sparingly -- four times for 17 yards.
Coach Don Matthews said this week it may be necessary for Ham to generate more rushing yardage.
"He has to get out and challenge a little more," Matthews said. "Without his running, he played an outstanding game at quarterback [against Toronto]. His running will always be there. His quarterbacking will win for us."
Ham said Baltimore needs the running game to keep the ball away from Calgary quarterback Doug Flutie. "We have to try to run time off the clock," he said. "We have to be able to run on second-and-three. We can't have a third period like we had last week. We have to execute much better."
Still, Ham said, "I can't step out of character because we're going against Flutie."
Last week's malaise at Toronto cost wide receiver Joe Washington his starting job. He'll be replaced by Eddie Britton, signed this week. At running back, Mike Pringle replaces Sheldon Canley. And in the line, O'Neill Glenn moves to right guard, Keith Ballard to left guard and Diego London to the practice roster.
On special teams, newcomer Stan Petry will return punts. That job had been held by Shannon Culver, who was suspended by Matthews after walking off the practice field this week.
Memorial Stadium will be decked out for the occasion, with American and Canadian flags along the top rim of the stadium and bunting on its facades. "The field is in better condition than I have ever seen it," said Tom Matte, a limited partner who worked on stadium renovations with facilities manager Jobie Waldt.
The only thing missing tonight will be the JumboTron that team owner Jim Speros said he would rent for each home game. Matte said the deal fell through.
Speros said the team has attempted to correct deficiencies from the preseason game at Memorial Stadium, including traffic and parking problems. He met this week with officials from the city, the recreation and parks department and Quille parking to resolve certain issues.
The result, he said, is that all gates into the stadium will be open tonight (three were closed on June 29), and twice as many parking attendants will be working. There also will be a shuttle from the Montebello parking lot to the stadium. The cost will be
$1 each way.
Commissioner Larry Smith and Speros will be flown by helicopter into the stadium before the game, and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will throw out the first ball. Maureen O'Sullivan, wife of Matthews, will sing the Canadian national anthem and Mary Aiello "The Star-Spangled Banner." Children of the World will carry flags during both anthems, and there will be a fireworks display before the 7:44 p.m. kickoff.
While teammates chanted "Iggy, Iggy," Donald Igwebuike drilled a 57-yard field goal in practice yesterday -- and had 10 yards to spare. . . . Matthews institutes "hat day" the day before a game, and the rule is every player must wear some kind of hat. Tackle Shar Pourdanesh was the most creative, wearing a red bra. . . . Speros said he placed a call last week to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue seeking to resolve the trademark lawsuit, but Tagliabue has not returned the call. . . . Former Penn State QB John Hufnagel is offensive coordinator for Calgary. . . . On his 24th birthday on Thursday, punter Josh Miller was taped to a goal post at the team's practice field and pelted with water balloons. "It was better than last year," said Miller, cut by the Green Bay Packers on his 23rd birthday. . . . Baltimore's Sam Cassell of the NBA champion Houston Rockets will be on the sideline for tonight's game. . . . Sports Illustrated writer Mike Farber is in town to do a feature article on Baltimore's team.