Baltimore sizes up CFL's yardstick

June 29, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

If you're looking for an identity crisis, Memorial Stadium is the place to be tonight.

Baltimore's newly nameless Canadian Football League expansion team plays its first home game ever against a backdrop of litigation and a real sense of the unknown.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Grey Cup finalists of 1993, will provide the opposition and the first real clue as to what kind of team Baltimore has assembled.

"I'm really excited about playing Winnipeg because I want to see exactly where our team fits in the scheme of things," coach Don Matthews said yesterday. "As a young team, we're going to be better as the season progresses. But I'm very anxious to be good early. So I want to see where we are, and Winnipeg provides exactly what we need to see where we sit in the league."

It will be a night for nostalgia and for looking ahead. At halftime, 65 former Colts will be introduced in the stadium where they once starred. But because of a federal court order in Indianapolis this week, Baltimore no longer is able to use the nickname CFL Colts.

It is a situation that could work to the team's favor, nose tackle Jearld Baylis said.

"With the turmoil, it will only make things better for us and the city of Baltimore," Baylis said. "We're getting more attention. Now our job is to go out and win."

Cornerback Irvin Smith said: "We're looking for our identity on defense, and now we've lost our name. We'll come out fired up. We want to give the fans something to support, whether it's the Colts or not."

What makes tonight's matchup more attractive is the possibility Winnipeg and Baltimore may run one-two in the Eastern Division this year. The Blue Bombers, who drubbed the Ottawa Rough Riders 61-28 last week, are favorites to win the division. Their game starts with veteran quarterback Matt Dunigan, who bounced back from an Achilles tendon' injury last year to throw for 279 yards and three touchdowns last week.

"They're the team to beat in the conference," Matthews said. "Dunigan is second to none as a quarterback in the league. [Baltimore's] Tracy Ham gives you the same kind of entertainment. If I wasn't getting a free ticket, I'd buy one. Those two guys are worth the price of admission."

Matthews' team has been together less than five weeks. But he refuses to burden it with expansion-like expectations.

"One of our goals is to take first or second in the Eastern Conference," he said. "And I think that's a realistic goal. We're not a typical expansion team.

"We're trying to win because we want to establish the winning attitude. Every time we go out on the field, we want to establish an expectancy to win. We will go into this game with that expectancy."

With the regular-season opener in Toronto eight days away, Matthews will let Ham play at least the first half and possibly into the third quarter. He also wants to play backup John Congemi.

Baltimore will start Mike Pringle at running back and Peter Tuipulotu at fullback. Shannon Culver and Joe Washington will start at wide receiver, and Chris Armstrong and Shawn Beals at slotback. In the defensive secondary, halfback Ken Watson, who missed last week's 33-18 win over Shreveport, will start ahead of Matt Goodwin.

Baltimore defensive tackle Robert Presbury, a native of Aberdeen, is eager to see how the expansion team stacks up. "Winnipeg is a veteran team in our division," he said. "This is a preliminary thing as far as where we'll stand in the playoff picture. We've got a great deal of talent. It just depends on how we jell. We're still in the early stages."

CFL TONIGHT

Exhibition opponent: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Site: Memorial Stadium

Time: 7:30

Radio: WJFK (1300 AM)

Tickets: 22,000 available

CFL FIRST LOOK

Ten things that distinguish the CFL from the NFL:

1. It's a longer, wider playing surface. The CFL field is 65 yards wide and 150 yards long with 20-yard end zones. The NFL field is 53 1/2 yards wide and 120 yards long. That means the CFL has 3,350 more square yards, half of which is in the end zones.

2. It's a quicker pace. The CFL's 20-second clock erases a lot of dead time. Three-down football necessitates more passing in the CFL. The bigger playing surface invites more big plays. All of which increases the tempo in the CFL. The NFL has a 40-second clock between plays.

3. More players. The CFL plays with 12 players to a side to the NFL's 11. The extra man lines up in the backfield on offense and defense.

4. Fewer downs. The CFL has three downs to make 10 yards compared to the American game of four downs.

5. Offensive strategy. The CFL uses the passing game to open up the running game. The NFL uses the running game to open up the passing game.

6. Scrambling quarterbacks. The CFL encourages its quarterbacks to run because huge lanes open up at the line of scrimmage. The NFL prefers its quarterbacks to run mostly out of necessity.

7. The rouge. It's more commonly referred to in Canada as the single. A team will get a single point if it prevents the other team from getting the ball out of the end zone on a missed field goal or on a punt.

8. Overtime. The NFL plays sudden-death overtime, which means one team may never get possession. The CFL plays two five-minute halves in which each team is assured of at least one possession.

9. The line of scrimmage. CFL defenders must line up a yard off the ball, giving the offensive linemen more time to set up. NFL defenders line up on the ball, making for a quicker route to the quarterback or ballcarrier.

10. Punt returns. The CFL does not allow fair catches, and also has a rule that the kicking team must give the receiving team five yards to catch the ball. The exception to this rule is that the punter is eligible to go down field and catch the ball for possession for his team.

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