Editor’s Note: Arash Madani is a reporter and commentator for Rogers Sportsnet. He is a columnist for 3DownNation.
Of all the shames from Saturday night, two stand out: one, we were robbed of a sensational finish to an otherwise sensational football game and two; no stakeholder – be it a fan, coach, player, you name it – can have confidence in replay review. The CFL Command Centre clearly has no idea what a fumble is.
The Blue Bombers defence had just finished a terrific goal line stand, Moe Leggett making a world class play on Chris Rainey to shut the door on 3rd-and-1, with B.C. trailing four, and under a minute to play.
Leggett and the Winnipeg defence should have had to do it again. With the clock winding down. With playoff implications and home field and jobs on the line.
But instead, with the ball clearly moving and coming out of Andrew Harris’s arms, the league’s top replay officials deemed the Bombers tailback was down by contact.
Here’s the problem: he wasn’t.
You saw it, I saw it, Wally Buono saw it, Mike O’Shea saw it. A national television audience saw it.
It was clear as day, visible for anyone’s naked, untrained eye to see. Not sure what kind of medical benefits package the league office offers, but I’d add optometry to it, if it’s not already there.
The ball was loose, it should have been ruled a fumble and Lions ball, and one last chance for Jon Jennings against that Winnipeg defense, with the game on the line, in front of the loudest stadium in the CFL.
Instead, it wasn’t and no real explanation was given until a couple of hours following the game. Quietly, the league issued a statement to Drew Edwards of 3DownNation. They did not send it out via press release to the media to offer clarity, they remained mute on it on their social media channels — where the CFL often boasts of their in-house decisions. They tried to hide instead of being accountable for all to see.
The league claimed there was no visual evidence to overturn the call made on the field. That it, ahem, “could not be determined from the angles provided” if Harris had lost possession of the ball before his butt touched the ground.
How is it that everyone saw it but the command centre?
A Leos player fired me back four consecutive text messages when I copied and pasted the league’s ruling to him.
Then 22 minutes went by and, unsolicited, came this from that very same player.
“If that wasn’t ruled forward progress and whistled dead, that’s bad. Like Fail Mary bad.”
The only plausible explanation for why the Harris bobble was not ruled a fumble is that: forward progress. That was the predominant belief by many football people league-wide who were watching the game live. But, then, you began to wonder: if this was a forward progress issue, why was it even a reviewable play, then?
“I don’t care who wins,” a team executive messaged over, “but [expletive] me.”
A source I trust who was on the Bombers sideline, told me that the on-field officials told Winnipeg’s people during the review break that it was a forward progress matter. Yet, moments later in-game, that wasn’t communicated as the reason for the ruling, nor was it in the explanation given by the league later that night.
The role of replay and the Command Centre is quite simple: get it right. If the league is incapable of making that happen, in critical, game defining moments, then what is the point of having the system in place?
And what a shame, as we look back on the game of the year, that it is tainted this way. This was a high-flying duel between two heavyweights, wanting their shot to fight for the belt next month. Winnipeg came out swinging fast, and B.C. took the blows in stride. Then came Jennings, with his cool moxie and wise-beyond-his-years poise, and he gave us more reason to believe Bryan Burnham is a human highlight reel.
The playoffs are a month away, and this game was played at a post-season level. It had it all. You just couldn’t turn away.
Some football executives are not fans of mic’ing up players and coaches, but on this stage, with the exchange of uppercuts and jabs for four quarters, it added to the theatre. You felt the tension. You understood the urgency, sensed just how much this one mattered to both teams. October football like this is why we come back for more.
Down the stretch, it was one big play after another. It was two teams, late in the year and their bodies battered, who left everything there. Leggett’s season looked over, for crying out loud, when he hobbled off early in the game, yet there he was, when push came to shove, in the dying moments of the final round, leaving his mark on a ballgame that for 59 minutes was the gold standard. Of why we watch, of why we maintain that you can put a classic three down game up against anything south of the border.
Then, just before the bell, the judges intervened. Earl and Dave Hebner could not have been this foolish. The puzzlement in the stadium was shared in living rooms across the country. Even the television studio panel, looking at the very same angles the Command Centre did, couldn’t offer any reason on how or why that wasn’t an Andrew Harris fumble
For more than three hours, two good football teams put on a spectacular show. For 59 minutes, it was Canadian football at its very best. The additional bells and whistles only added to it. You had the sense you were right there with them, feeling what they felt.
Then, just as Leggett and his defence should have come on to match-up one more time with Jennings and the B.C. red zone unit, out of thin air came an inexplicable ruling that left you feeling gross about the whole thing.
How could this be? Let them play! That’s a fumble, damn it.
We’ll never know if Leggett and his unit would have had another stop left in them. Or if Khari Jones would have kept the gadget plays in his holster for that final goal line series.
When Dale Scott blew it in Game 5 of the ALDS last October, calling the play dead in a sequence where the ball was live, he owned up to it post-game — speaking to a pool reporter. A week prior, officials missed the illegal bat by Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright at the end of a Monday Night Football game. Not long after, NFL officiating boss Dean Blandino was on television to explain what had happened and went wrong. And the NBA, of course, sends out memos when its officials make mistakes in the final minutes of games.
The CFL does none of that. In this scenario, though, it’s not on the stripes on the field. Glen Johnson owed it to viewers to provide a spin-free explanation. But didn’t.
The league sabotaged itself again Saturday night, and this time it may have decided the outcome of a game. It certainly robbed its audience of a fabulous finish at the gun.
The shame of it all is what was revealed to us all on Saturday night: that the people who are supposed to get it right are incapable of doing exactly that.
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