The Baltimore Stallions were savoring a chance to play at Memorial Stadium last night, which marked their second home game of the Canadian Football League season. With a grueling road trip on tap, no wonder.
"We had seven days between this game and our last game. We relish those weeks," Stallions coach Don Matthews said. "Now, the dog days of football are upon us."
Indeed. On Friday, the Stallions will set out on a nine-day road trip, during which they will play three games in eight days -- Birmingham on Saturday, then Edmonton on the following Wednesday, before finishing at Calgary on Aug. 6.
In a league that plays an 18-game, regular-season schedule and restricts its rosters to 37 players, the logic of such scheduling is debatable. Moving the Grey Cup up one week from its usual time in late November -- this year's championship game is on Nov. 19 -- didn't do any favors for teams during the regular season.
The only consolation is that every CFL team has to endure a trip like the Stallions' once this year.
"I think we should have had the Grey Cup at the normal time. That would have helped the schedule out a little bit," said Matthews, who added that the Stallions will take at least six practice-squad players on the trip. "But my opinion doesn't cut much cheese [with the league]."
And about those last two games on the trip, coach. Calgary and Edmonton are atop the Northern Division with a combined 7-0 record, and look every bit like the class of Canada. Do you think the league is trying to keep a promising Stallions team in check with some creative scheduling?
Matthews smiled and said, "My glass is half-full, not half-empty. What I was thinking [when he first saw the schedule] was we only have to travel 180 miles between games."
Clark makes amends
Two weeks ago, Baltimore receiver Robert Clark grabbed two touchdown passes in the home-opener against the San Antonio Texans. He spoke of becoming more involved in the offense. The timing seemed right.
Last night, against the Blue Bombers, everything went wrong. Clark dropped two passes in the first quarter, including one that appeared to be a sure touchdown, and another later in the game.
Was the rain a factor? "It may have been," he said, "but the problem was I was thinking about running with the ball before I caught it."
The coaches stuck with him though rather than burying him on the bench, and he hauled in a 24-yarder for a first down.
"I feel good about that," he said. "They know that no one gets out there and tries to drop a ball and make mistakes. Sometimes, it's just going to happen. It felt good that they did keep me in. Things like that happen sometimes. I know what the problem is and I have to correct it."
Rookie stealing show
At this rate, there won't be a need to cast votes for the league's outstanding rookie. Baltimore's Chris Wright will run away with the honor, just as he continues to run away from opposing tacklers.
Last night, Wright accumulated 284 all-purpose yards, continuing what has been a phenominal season. He returned 11 punts for 182 yards and had the crowd on its feet each time he touched the football, nearly getting into the end zone on a couple of dazzling jaunts.
rTC Wright also had 22 rushing yards and 36 receiving yards, gained another 21 on kickoff returns and ran back a missed field goal 23 yards.
Not even a muddy field could contain him.
"I have my best games when it's wet," he said. "I guess God blessed me with good footing on wet turf.
"My teammates did a heck of a job blocking for me. Without them, it wouldn't be possible. I'm just happy we won and that the special teams were a big factor."
The Blue Bombers were penalized before they even arrived at Memorial Stadium. On Friday, the day after they had checked into their hotel, the team was informed they would have to vacate their rooms at 12:30 yesterday afternoon, due to a large wedding party that was arriving.
Eventually, after the team protested, they were allowed to keep six rooms. Cots were brought in to accommodate players, who were put in groups of five and six per room, while some left early for Memorial Stadium. The rest of the team checked out at 4:45 p.m., presumably never to return to the Doubletree Inn At The Colonnade.
Williams gets his chance
Stallions receiver B. K. Williams said he wants to end his career on a positive note, which meant coming back from injuries that forced him to miss all of last season.
Last night, Williams appeared in his first game with the Stallions after being activated in place of Mike Alexander. He made a 16-yard reception.
Last night was fireworks night at Memorial Stadium.
A pyrotechnics display was planned for after the game, but the fireworks showed up early in the form of a thunderstorm.
A bolt of lighting knocked out a bank of stadium lights about 45 minutes before the game.
Heavy rain damanged the fireworks, forcing the postponement of the post-game festivities.
The fireworks have been rescheduled for the Stallions' next home game, Aug. 12 against Memphis.