Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bishop's rough ride ends in Regina

I have begun to wonder if the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Toronto Argonauts share West Jet or Air Canada as corporate sponsors. The frequent flyer points between these two cities are beginning to add up for both clubs, and perhaps after the next trade, the players and coaches will travel for free.

Last season, Saskatchewan won the Grey Cup with former Argonauts Kent Austin and Eric Tillman at the helm. When Austin went South to be Offensive Coordinator at the University of Mississippi, his former school, Gm Tillman brought in former Argo Assistant ken Miller to be Head Coach for 2008. Miller proceeded to bring Argo staffer Paul LaPolice to Regina as Offensive Coordinator and Gary Etcheverry as an Assistant Coach.

Meanwhile in Toronto, Defensive Coordinator Rich Stubler was becoming Head Coach after Mike "Pinball" Clemons moved into the front office. Clemons is perhaps the most popular player and coach in Argonaut history, rising above the CFL to mega-star status on the Toronto sports scene. With future Hall of Famer Damon Allen retiring, Stubler and his staff were planning an easy transition to Michael Bishop as starting QB, signing him to a contract extension in the off-season. When Clemons and the Argo ownership group saw the chance to bring 2007 Outstanding Player Kerry Joseph to Toronto, they pounced on the opportunity. Leaving the defensive minded Coach Stubler a new problem, two starting QB's that had been promised the number one job. Bishop is quoted as saying in Dave Naylor's Globe and Mail report, " I think Rich is a hell of a Defensive Coordinator. He's placed in a situation where I don't know if those were all his calls." From the outside looking in, it's hard to say Bishop is wrong.

Since this problem has been brewing for the entire season, why make this trade now? Toronto's 3-5 record and the QB situation had the Argo players picking sides and ready for a mutiny. According to reports in Toronto and Regina, Bishop went home to Texas during the bye week and contemplated not returning to Toronto, and Joseph was ready to ask for a trade after being pulled in a loss to the Als. On the other side of the equation at 6-2, the Riders pace has slowed. Since starting with six wins, Gm Tillman felt the team under-performed in the last two games and the coaches wanted a change. Said Tillman in the Regina Leader Post, " My job is to facilitate what the coaches want. Michael is a proven winner, he brings many things to the table, and he has a big time arm."

As the Riders lost one star player after another to injury, Tillman's eye for talent was evident as the depth players stepped in to take the team to the 6-0 mark. For Tillman to step in and trade a conditional pick to Toronto for Bishop is brilliant; after all, he helped create Toronto's problem, trading Joseph there in the first place. In recent moves, Tillman has acquired Bishop, Offensive Tackle Greg January, a 2008 1st round pick, a 2010 2nd round pick and other small parts for Joseph, a conditional pick, and a 3rd round pick. Toronto sent Defensive Tackle Ronald Flemons in the Joseph deal, only to bring him back from the prairies for another pick. When Kerry Joseph came to the CFL, only the lowly Ottawa Renegades would give him a chance at QB. He has carved out a fine career, with a Grey Cup ring, but has he plateaued? 2007 may have been his best year. Bishop on the other hand, is coming off a career year, going 11-1 as a starter in Toronto with 2,920 passing yards and 22 TD's. This former Arena Football League star holds several of that League's rushing records and his mobility is an asset in the CFL. Success has followed Michael Bishop in his football career.

Drafted in 1995 by the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball, Bishop chose football and was a star at Kansas State University, going 22-3 as a starter, and setting school records in rushing TD's for a QB with 23 and 1,314 rushing yards. In 1997, Bishop's Kansas team defeated Donovan Mcnabb's Syracuse University in the Fiesta Bowl. In 1998, he was second in voting to Ricky Williams for the Heisman Trophy, but did win the NCAA Davey O'Brien Award as best collegiate QB, an award Peyton Manning won in 1997. After being a 7th round pick of the New England Patriots in '99, Bishop was on their roster for the 2000 season, eventually being released and replaced by another 7th round pick, Tom Brady.

The Bishop trade is certainly a turning point this season. In a very strong Western Division, Saskatchewan was about to fall back to the pack but now seem destined to host a Western play-off game. Toronto and Kerry Joseph will decide their own fate in the Labour Day Classic in Hamilton. In their 3 win seasons, this game is Hamilton's Grey Cup, they'd like nothing more then to kick the Argos while they are down. This year, the Ti-Cats could emerge from the cellar if Coach Stubler can't hold off the mutineers.

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