Joe Paopao's Ottawa Renegades have reached their last stand.
They may resemble the maimed black knight from the Monty Python movie, but they are not done yet. Almost certainly, massive changes are in store, but for the 2005 CFL season one rallying cry remains: "Everything is on the line."
That was the head coach's message to his players yesterday.
The club's playoff hopes, Paopao's job, his assistants' jobs and many players' jobs.
For four years, Paopao has been the great survivor. The face of the Renegades has survived an ownership change, a cost-cutting accountant's reign, a football operations power struggle, four losing seasons, 48 defeats and one giant egg last week in Hamilton.
The escape routes are now closed. Nothing short of a long post-season run can change that now, and even that might not be enough.
As reported yesterday, former CFL offensive co-ordinator John Jenkins has contractual guarantees to become the Renegades' new coach in 2006 if Paopao is not retained. Team president Lonie Glieberman claims ownership has not made a definitive call on its coach next season, saying Paopao will be evaluated after the season.
Today, that evaluation can end.
If the Renegades lose to the visiting Montreal Alouettes at Frank Clair Stadium, their post-season hopes die, and the face of the franchise changes. But should they win, the season finale next week against the Toronto Argonauts gains significance, and Paopao would be one win away from triggering an extension clause that will guarantee his salary next year, if not his job.
"We'd love to. We want to win for him," quarterback Kerry Joseph said. "Eight wins hopefully gets us to the playoffs and eight wins puts him in a good situation also."
Unlike previous seasons, the Renegades have been the beneficiaries of fortune this year.
Their injuries have been manageable, and the Joseph-Josh Ranek-Jason Armstead triumvirate has played all 16 games.
They caught the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders at the right times, winning three of four against teams that became their post-season competition.
Almost without fail, the pieces of the playoff puzzle around them have fallen into place over these past two weeks, including Toronto's division-clinching victory over the Tiger-Cats Thursday, a result that renders this game meaningless for the Alouettes.
"You know I am a strong man of faith, and I thought about that last night," Joseph said.
And, of course, the biggest break came at Frank Clair Stadium on Canada Day, when Montreal blew a 23-point fourth-quarter lead and handed the Renegades' an overtime victory.
Alouettes head coach Don Matthews has no intention of handing Ottawa a win this time.
Yesterday, Matthews said the Argonauts' result, which locked Montreal into second place in the East Division, would not change his approach whatsoever.
"We're going to try to win the game -- that's it," he said. "It's an interesting game for us. We have to see some people, get back on track and prepare for the playoffs."
The Alouettes have seven starters scratched due to injury, and they continue to tinker with their defensive scheme and personnel. But quarterback Anthony Calvillo is expected to play so long as the game is competitive, and he alone makes the Alouettes a much better club than the Tiger-Cats' outfit that stomped the Renegades last week.
"We shouldn't be underestimated," Joseph said. "We've had our struggles in the second half of the season, but we've always played well at home."
Notes: Those with ticket stubs from the Renegades-Alouettes game can purchase discounted tickets to tomorrow's Canadian Interuniversity Sport playoff game between the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and the University of Guelph Gryphons. Adult and seniors tickets cost $5 and children's tickets cost $3 when presenting the stubs at Bank St. ticket booths. Kickoff is at 2 p.m.
the Renegades are 0-3 in games that coach paopao dubs 'must win'...so im guessin they will lose today too.