Ham takes blame, refuses to buy conspiracy theory

November 28, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The locker room was full of angry young men. They were throwing shoulder pads. Cursing reporters. They were shouting that the game was fixed, that the Canadian officials didn't want the American team to win the Grey Cup last night at B.C. Place.

The Baltimore CFLs were a portrait of paranoia and hysteria after losing the Canadian Football League championship to the B.C. Lions, 26-23, on Lui Passaglia's last-second field goal.

"The game was 110-percent taken from us" by the officials, said cornerback Irvin Smith.

"No doubt in my mind, they wanted the Cup to stay in Canada," said cornerback Karl Anthony.

In the midst of all this noise was one small voice of reason.

"There were some questionable calls, but we can't complain," quarterback Tracy Ham said. "We had plenty of chances to win the game."

Bingo.

It may be true, as the CFLs insist, that B.C. receiver Ray Alexander didn't have possession of the ball on what was ruled a 34-yard reception that put B.C. in position to win at the end. And it is debatable whether Ham fumbled on the goal line midway through the fourth quarter. The CFLs were convinced that he didn't.

But even though both calls were no less than devastating to the CFLs' cause, they didn't lose the game.

The game was lost when Ham missed a wide-open Robert Drummond near the goal line early in the fourth quarter, costing the CFLs a sure touchdown. The game was lost when Ham overthrew a wide-open Drummond at midfield late in the fourth quarter, costing the CFLs possession when the game was tied.

The game was lost when the CFLs were up 14-3 in the second quarter and getting ready to blow things open, and Ham, throwing from his end zone, was intercepted by Charles Gordon, who returned the interception for a touchdown that let B.C. back into the game.

"There were a lot of plays I didn't make tonight," Ham said. "This team looks to me to make the big plays, and they were there for me to make, and I didn't get it done. It's that simple."

In a locker room full of fingers being pointed elsewhere, here was the island of class.

"I can make the plays I didn't make tonight," Ham said. "I just didn't. It hurts, but I can take it. This kind of thing comes with the job."

Ham's performance was far from the only decisive factor. The Lions' defensive front shut down Baltimore's running game, limiting Mike Pringle to 71 yards. The Lions' defensive backs limited Baltimore's wide-outs to five catches. Ham was blitzed and harried all night. The CFLs' offensive line had one of its poorest games, a critical factor.

"Their defense played a great game," Baltimore's Elfrid Payton said. "You have to hand it to them."

Said CFLs coach Don Matthews: "They put a lot of pressure on us and we didn't handle it as well as we could."

And the Lions' running game, surprisingly, was better than Baltimore's. B.C. backs Cory Philpot and Sean Millington each rushed for more yards than Pringle.

Still, had Ham hit Drummond on those open passes, or not forced the interception, or not fumbled on the goal line, the game would have been cast in a decidedly different light.

Ham played his heart out and scrambled for 88 yards, keeping several scoring drives alive, but his big-play game was missing.

"All I can say about Tracy is that he played hard for 60 minutes," receiver Chris Armstrong said.

Someone asked Matthews if it was accurate that Ham had missed a handful of key plays.

"I'm sure that's true," the coach said. "That's part of playing. Sometimes you make the plays, sometimes you don't. It's a team sport."

Whether Ham fumbled on the goal line was not clear. Replays were inconclusive. Ham said he thought he had scored anyway before he fumbled.

"I was pretty sure I crossed the plane with the ball," he said. "I was surprised it was a fumble."

A far more controversial call was Alexander's catch. He collected the long ball from quarterback Danny McManus as he dived to the ground, but lost control of it as he rolled. Replays indicated that it wasn't a catch, but the officials ruled otherwise and suddenly B.C. was in Baltimore's end of the field.

Although Passaglia missed a 37-yard field goal, the CFLs were trapped inside their 5-yard line and had to punt, giving Passaglia another chance.

"He never had the ball," said Irvin Smith, who was defending Alexander on the play. "I thought it was an incompletion. I was heading off the field."

Smith said that Anthony had told him two days ago that the Canadian officials would find a way for B.C. to win if the game was close.

"Karl was right on the button," Smith said.

"It's no secret, everyone knew," said defensive back Charles Anthony. "The league didn't want the American team to win."

The players were hot. Tired. Furious. They will always believe that the game was stolen from them.

But it wasn't. Tracy Ham knows that it wasn't.

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