It's come to this: Akili Smith, one-time Sports Illustrated cover boy (and it was just the one time) is going to start a game in the CFL this week with the Calgary Stampeders.
Nothing against Akili Smith, who's filling in for injured Calgary Stampeders starter Henry Burris. However, learning the former NFL bust who's thrown five interceptions in just 26 pass attempts as Calgary's backup is going to start is irritating to a fan of Canadian football.
For starters, it lets the NFL chauvinists on both sides of the border laugh at the league -- Akili Smith?! Secondly, it's a reminder of how the league is a closed shop when it comes to letting Canadians play the game's glamour position, quarterback.
Every season, there's a couple American QBs in the league who, in their brief stints as backups or fill-in starters, cause you to wonder how anyone who's paid to have an eye for football talent could have ever thought they would be able to thrive in the CFL, which is a high level.
Five interceptions in 26 attempts (small sample size, granted) means Smith is pretty much that guy this season, just as fellow NFL washout Mike McMahon was with the Argonauts earlier in the season. Shaun King never played in a regular-season game with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Isn't there a Canadian passer who at least merits a chance to flame out in equally spectacular fashion? Being totally tongue-in-cheek, Jesse Palmer could throw five picks in 26 attempts. So could Mathieu Bertand, the former Laval QB who moved to fullback in the pros. So could former Queen's star Tom Denison, who was in a couple CFL camps.
It's one thing for the CFL to be a second-chance league for an American QB who doesn't have the physical attributes for the NFL, or was buried deep on a depth chart for a couple years. Akili Smith is getting his, what, 19th chance in a Canadian league that won't give some Canadians a first chance, so yeah, we're totally rooting for him to throw seven interceptions this week. If he leads the Stampeders to the Grey Cup, we'll live with it.
(The hometown media in Calgary are saying, "at 32, Smith is more mature and ready to handle the pressures of a pro start." In other words, the Cincinnati Bengals, who drafted Smith No. 3 overall in the 1999 NFL draft, just needed to be more patient.)
Smith runnin' the show (Calgary Sun)