CFLs awaken to official hangover

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

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The B.C. Lions preserved the Canadian way, but couldn't stop the controversy.

They kept the Grey Cup out of American hands, but couldn't quiet American voices.

The Border War broke out in earnest in the wake of Baltimore's 26-23 loss to the Lions Sunday night in the 82nd Grey Cup.

The morning after B.C. was awarded a critical completion on a questionable catch late in the game, Baltimore owner Jim Speros said the Canadian Football League had to address the issue of officiating.

"There will be something done about officiating," Speros said in a hoarse voice before the CFLs returned to Baltimore.

"We've got to protect the product and the integrity of our game. If it can't be protected, we're in trouble. I've been disappointed in the refereeing all year. We've got to do a better job in the league."

The issue heated to a boil when officials ruled B.C.'s Ray Alexander caught a 34-yard pass from quarterback Danny McManus, even though it appeared he lost the ball falling to the turf.

Cornerback Irvin Smith was defending on the play and insisted Alexander did not have control of the ball.

That was the prevailing opinion in the Baltimore locker room. Defensive back Ken Watson was running toward the play with a clear view.

"I saw Irv's hand go in there [for the ball] and I saw the ball wasn't in control," Watson said yesterday. "I saw the ball come out and I started to go off the field, thinking it was incomplete. When I saw Karl [Anthony] running over there, I thought there was a fight."

The play carried to Baltimore's 36 and gave B.C. good enough field position to get two shots at a game-winning field goal. Lui Passaglia missed the first -- a 37-yard kick -- but hit from 38.

Baltimore coach Don Matthews reserved judgment Sunday night until he could see a replay. When he saw one, he was even more disconsolate.

"No question, it's not a catch," Matthews said. "I asked Alexander after the game if he caught the ball. He said it was really close, but they were making a lot of bad calls all year."

Like Speros, Matthews said the league must deal with the issue of erratic officiating, a theme throughout Baltimore's first season.

"When it comes down to affecting the outcome of a game, you've got to look for a way to upgrade," Matthews said. "That [call] certainly decided the game."

Commissioner Larry Smith defended the call yesterday, suggesting Baltimore was merely voicing its frustration over a difficult loss. "The officiating was very good," he said.

"It wasn't [decided] on one call. The angle I saw, it looked like Alexander caught it and the ball was knocked out by the ground.

"Let's get by the emotionalism and move on," Smith said. "The game's over."

Smith, a former fullback who played in five Grey Cups, said he thought Baltimore lost the game in the third quarter, when B.C. rallied from deficits of 14-3 and 20-10 for a 20-20 tie.

"That big offensive line and defensive line [of Baltimore] got blown off the ball," he said. "Which was a paradox, because that's been the strength of the team in the season.

"It's difficult to face that adversity for a team that's only been together a year. You haven't faced a situation like that before."

Baltimore was losing the war of attrition in the second half. The CFLs experienced a shortage of defensive linemen when Robert Presbury and Scott Miller were sidelined by injuries.

That circumstance saw offensive tackle Shar Pourdanesh -- the Most Outstanding Lineman in the CFL this year -- play nose tackle for a few plays and veteran Jearld Baylis move to wide tackle.

That was also when B.C.'s running game was at its best.

"With all that happened, we still had a chance to win the game," Matthews said. "It comes down to making plays and winning the game, and we didn't get it done."

In the bitter aftermath, fingers of blame were cocked at Baltimore quarterback Tracy Ham, who threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on the goal line. But Matthews said Ham was not solely responsible for the loss.

"It's disappointing that players are talking about other players," he said. "The only one they have a legitimate reason to talk about is themself.

"Tracy made some great plays, and some plays were there that Tracy didn't make. But that could be said for everybody."

The CFLs missed scoring opportunities when Ham fumbled on the goal line in the fourth quarter, and when Donald Igwebuike missed a pair of 47-yard field-goal attempts in the second quarter.

And when Passaglia missed his 37-yard field-goal attempt with a minute to go, Matthews thought the CFLs should have had a better return on the kick. Charles Anthony took the ball deep, and only got to the 2-yard line.

"It wasn't him," Matthews said of Anthony. "We had a return on, not a block, and they had too many guys downfield.

"I feel bad for the players," Matthews said. "You never know when you'll get to the show. When you get there, all you ask is your best and an equal shot. I don't feel we got it.

"I'm disappointed I couldn't do anything to help. I'm disappointed for them, because they played their hearts out and weren't given a fair shot."

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