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By Ted Michaels, CFL Editor - Archive - Email
Blue Bombers paying the price
Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - Ask any football coach and you'll get the same answer.

"We won't use injuries, or anything else, as any excuse."

I respectfully disagree.

There's a huge reason why Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice is looking at an 0-4 start to the season. It's the schedule.

In the offseason, Winnipeg Blue Bombers brass approached the CFL and asked if the team could front-load the schedule with as many road games as possible.

Why?

The Blue Bombers were hoping to have their new stadium, Investors Group Field, host their first game at the beginning of the 2012 CFL season.

The quiet talk among the experts was, there was no way the stadium would be ready for that target date. In fact, construction was two-to-three months behind schedule.

Still, the executives pushed ahead with their plans.

Initially, it was hoped the stadium would be ready for the July 26 home opener against Edmonton.

Then, it was revealed that delays in construction had pushed the date of the opening to Sept. 21. There was even hope the Sept. 9 match against the Saskatchewan Roughriders - the so-called "Banjo Bowl" - could mark the opening game.

But, on June 15, the Blue Bombers announced that due to continued weather- related delays in the construction progress of the new stadium, the team would play the entire 2012 season at Canad Inns Stadium.

So Investors Group Field will host its first game at the beginning of the 2013 CFL season.

In the meantime, here's a review of the Blue Bombers' schedule since Week 1:

Friday, June 29, Winnipeg at BC, which meant a three-hour flight of 1,383 miles, through two time zones.

Friday, July 6, Winnipeg at Montreal, a three-hour flight, of 1,496 miles, through one time zone.

Friday, July 13, Winnipeg at Edmonton, a 90-minute flight of 812 miles, through one time zone.

Wednesday, July 18, Winnipeg at Toronto, a two-hour flight of 1,304 miles, through one time zone.

That's four road games in 19 days.

When you add in the distance to get back from the various cities, the Blue Bombers flew 9,990 miles and spent 19 hours in the air.

Chris Puskas, is a former head athletic therapist for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Toronto Argonauts. Currently, he is the head athletic therapist at McMaster University in Hamilton. If anyone knows what a football team goes through, he does.

He tells Inside the CFL that people don't understand how tough the Blue Bombers had it.

"In general, a football player's body is sore as heck," Puskas said. "From sprained fingers, to Charley horses, stiff necks, sore feet, bruised ribs and so on, there is no job that I can think of that is more physically demanding and few that are more risky of suffering a debilitating injury than professional football. Unless you've played, or spent time around the game, would you be able to appreciate what these people endure to earn a living ... play a game they love to play. To watch some of the collisions that take place on the field from the sidelines makes you seriously wonder why anyone would want to subject himself to that kind of abuse."

In a perfect world, Puskas notes that football teams would play every seven days.

"It's realistic that a well-conditioned individual can recover from the previous game in that time frame," he said. "It is also enough time for teams to make roster moves (injured out, replacement in) and implement a game plan in that time. However, CFL teams can only have the players for meetings and practice for four-and-a-half hours a day. That makes it more likely that coaches have the players on the field for teaching, implementing and conditioning. In a short week, it becomes even more of challenge trying to balance recovery and implementation."

Puskas explained the average number of plays either for the offense or defense is 60 and some players add 10 more for special teams.

"How sore would you be if you ran full blast into another human being running full blast in the opposite directions?" he said. "Multiply this by 10 if you are a linebacker that plays on both defense and special teams, and you're as sore as heck the next couple of days.

"Experience as both a therapist and a competitive athlete tells me that one's body is usually most sore two days after a game. It's not a coincidence that that is when pro football teams schedule their day off on a regular work week. For example, game day, run down day, day off, day 1, 2, 3, then the day before the game. A shortened work week results in modification to this schedule, particularly if there is travel involved.

"So, it becomes game day, travel day, day 1, day 2, travel day. Run down day is either eliminated or is done once the team arrives home and typically the off day is replaced with a lighter practice day, and not a full day off."

So, what can a player do to prepare himself for such a brutal schedule?

"It's very difficult for a player that is nicked to survive a span like that; there's just not enough time to recover between games," Puskas said. "If a player comes out of camp fatigued or injured, it's likely that they are either going to get injured or perform poorly during that stretch. There is no training that could prepare the body for a three- to four-week training camp which includes two preseason games followed by four games in 19 days. Too much repetition at too high an intensity level for too long a period of time with not enough rest in between. And this does not include the smashing and banging that despite the equipment leaves bumps and bruises of all shapes and sizes that are unpreventable."

Since Week 1, 10 Winnipeg starters have been injured. Some of those injured players either have been, or will be, placed on the nine-game injured list. Football is a violent game and injuries do occur, but not recovering properly after a game is also a factor.

Puskas outlined what the Bombers may have gone through during their visit to BC.

"Research varies, but consistently the experts suggest that on average an elite athlete requires a minimum of eight hours of sleep plus an additional hour for every hour of intense exercise endured that day. Let's say that equals approximately 10 hours for a professional football player," he said.

"In BC, the game ended at 10 p.m. BC time (midnight Winnipeg time). The players changed, showered, packed a bag, found a restaurant, grabbed a bite to eat and then started to wind down. That's roughly a 1 a.m. return to the hotel. Hopefully, he's asleep by 1:30 a.m. The wake-up call comes at 4:30 a.m. to catch the first flight home. The rest of the day off usually means sleep all day, which equates to no hydration, inadequate nutrition and insufficient therapy. In short, a recipe for poor performance or injury.

Here's another ingredient in that recipe: the effects of flying:

"Generally, it takes one day to recover from traveling over one time zone, two days to recover from traveling over two," Puskas pointed out. "Seats on airplanes were not created with a 6-foot-6, 330-pound individual in mind. There's the dehydration issue - flying has a tendency to decrease hydration levels. Decreased cabin pressure - players tend to swell on the plane, largely from the decrease in pressure but also from being cramped and immobile throughout the flight. It makes it difficult to rest."

And, in my opinion, it makes it difficult to win.

The old expression is: be careful what you wish for.

The Blue Bombers brass got their wish.

Too bad their team is paying for it.

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?


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