Yes, Moncton can have the Rolling Stones but Halifax has landed the CFL for the second straight year.
The Stones were a terrific act last fall and a once in a lifetime deal for New Brunswick, but Halifax seems to be the favourite of the CFL for these neutral site, 'let's see if CFL football will work in this city' games.
Seems the CFL was so impressed by what took place last June that they have decided to return for an encore. And just maybe they will be coming back on a permanent basis should Halifax get the bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. In December, Halifax won the Canadian city bid and we will find out in November of 2007 if we are successful against Scotland and Nigeria.
If Halifax is the successful city, then expect the building of a CFL type stadium to start soon afterward. Sure it will be the showpiece of the 2014 games and will have the opening/closing ceremonies and events staged in that stadium but, much like Empire Stadium (Vancouver 1954), and Commonwealth Stadium (Edmonton 1978), it will be tailored to a CFL field.
There is no doubt that the CFL is keeping its eyes on this city. In fact, one of the very first people to congratulate Commonwealth Games committee chairman Fred MacGillivray was none other than CFL Commissioner Tom Wright.
It seems many cities are interested in looking at a CFL franchise, such as Moncton, and they want to hold a CFL game in their town. Mind you, the fact the league and organizers made a profit in last year's game doesn't hurt and, while Wright can't openly favour any city as an expansion choice, he has spoken very highly of Halifax in the past.
The league had offers from Moncton and expressions of interest from Windsor and in the past Quebec City for a pre-season game, but picked the Atlantic site for the second straight year.
"It a combination of a lot of factors from the stadium, our fan fest, dressing room and marketing opportunities," said Wright, who pointed out the successful history of the city in successfully hosting many of the world's largest events.
On Saturday, June 3rd, the Ottawa Renegades under their new head coach John Jenkins will host the Grey Cup finalist, the Montreal Alouettes at Saint Mary's. The game will kick off at 3pm et. Last year the game was held in the evening. The reason for the time change is to make it 'more festive and fan friendly' says a league spokesperson. Touchdown Atlantic will also feature 'fan fest' for families, fans and children and a 3pm start goes better with that aspect of the weekend.
In announcing the CFL's return to Halifax for Touchdown Atlantic 2006, Wright emphasized the success of last year's event and the support he got from the people in Halifax and Atlantic Canada is general.
Last year's game attracted over 11,000 and featured the Toronto Argos and the Hamilton Tiger Cats.
While the game was well received, many left with a bitter feeling as the game ended up in a 16-16 tie and did not have a tie breaker.
Don Matthews, the Montreal head coach, has already gone on record saying that the CFL overtime format should come into play if a tie happens again.
"We will have the CFL's shoot them up overtime format into play. People in Halifax have not witnessed this so they will if it is tied after 60 minutes," says Matthews. The overtime format will only be used in the Halifax game and in none of the CFL's other preseason contests.
Matthews called the game 'a pre-season contest' and not an exhibition game and promised his team 'will come to play.' Montreal could have an interesting Atlantic University Sport (AUS) component come game time.
No less than three former AUS all-stars are on the Montreal roster. The best known is two time, former Hec Crichton winner, and former Mount Alison running back sensation Eric Lapointe.
Lapointe, who has been in the CFL for seven years, broke out in the CFL Eastern Final against the Argonauts with a monster game and has over the years earned the respect of Matthews.
"I can say that I've known Eric from day one when I drafted him in Edmonton. I made a mistake as I drafted him as a fullback and not a feature running back. I'm glad I got him back a few years ago. Eric Lapointe is a starting running back in this league and I'm glad to have him," Matthews told TSN.ca.
Whether Lapointe is able to replace Robert Edwards, the former New England Patriots No.1 draft choice, is another matter. But to relieve him, produce and create a healthy competition with the U.S. import is something Matthews believes happens.
However, Lapointe hasn't decided whether he is coming back for another season. He has turned into a good stock broker and will be at it full time when his CFL days are over. Matthews is hoping for at least another season from the former AUS star.
A former Saint Mary's star will be suiting up for this game and that is Dave Stalla who Matthews calls 'one of the very best in the CFL at the wide out position.'
"Dave Stalla may be the only 6th round draft choice to make it as well as he has," Matthews told TSN.ca. "I'm glad that our GM Jim Popp saw something in him because he has developed into one of the best 'go to guys' in the CFL. To be moved all over the place with us from slotback to wide- out, to here and there and still come up with the plays and those pass catching numbers is outstanding," said the Als coach.
The Atlantic Canada connection continues with lineman Paul Archea and linebacker Bart Szarzynski for the Als, both of which played at Saint Mary's. Matthieu Proulx, who is a defensive back, played with the Laval Rouge et Or but comes from Plaster Rock, NB
The game will mark the beginning of a new era for Ottawa coach John Jenkins. While Jenkins has been around the CFL for decades, notably as an offensive coordinator, this is his first full-time job as head coach and I'm wondering if good old staid government town Ottawa is ready for this guy.
Flashy, friendly, extroverted and garbed in a bright red blazer with bright almost bleached neon-blonde hair and wearing one of those 'Don Cherry' ties (this was a football one), Jenkins seems anxious and ready for his new role as the main man of the Ottawa Renegades. He replaced Joe Paopao as head coach in the nation's capital.
Colourful seems to be an understatement. If he can produce wins as well as he can dress, then Ottawa will be in the playoffs.
"I welcome the opportunity to coach against the legend (Matthews) and I'm glad it's going to be in Halifax. The Renegades are the home team and we will try to use whatever advantage that gives us," said the flamboyant coach.
I'm sure he is hoping for the same results that another rookie coach had against Don Matthews last year. That was when Danny Maciocia, a former assistant of Matthews and now head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos, beat his former boss in overtime in the Grey Cup. Jenkins worked for Matthews when 'The Don' was in charge of the Toronto Argos.
While it is the Ottawa home game, I expect the crowd will be cheering for the white, red and blue as a result of the Archer-Lapointe-Stalla connection.
This is the only CFL pre-season game to be televised by TSN. Last year's inaugural Touchdown Atlantic game was watched by 352,000 and peaked at 454,000 viewers watching nationwide on The Sports Network. Those are strong numbers for an exhibition game.
There have been several pre-season games played in the Maritimes with several contest played in Saint John, New Brunswick. One was between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Montreal Alouettes in 1986 with the Bombers winning 36-10. The game drew around 10,000 fans. A year later saw the Bombers returning and playing the Hamilton Tiger Cats. What is remarkable about that contest is some 5,000 fans showed up in the pouring rain! Those games were held at the Saint John Canada Games Stadium.
The ability to expand Saint Mary's stadium from four thousand to 11 thousand seats is one of the big factors why Halifax got the game over Moncton.
"Halifax has a true stadium (SMU) that can be expanded. It has dressing rooms, easier for players and transportation and very convenient for fans," says Alexis Redmond, the CFL Director of Communications.
In other words Moncton has a great field which can hold thousands for concerts like the Rolling Stones but it's not really attractive for a CFL game.