Winnipeg Blue Bombers #9 Justin Medlock during practice at IG Field September 17, 2019
It happened last weekend – actually, it happens almost every weekend during the National Football League season – when a kicker whiffs on a field goal attempt and your humble agent says out loud to no one in particular:
‘Justin Medlock would have made that.’
Admittedly, there’s some bias at play here, but we are talking about one of the most accurate kickers in the history of the Canadian Football League, and a guy who has a career 86.5 field goal percentage hoofing it in the rain and snow, wind and heat.
Just for the record, there were six kickers in Week 1 of the NFL who finished their days 50 percent or less on their field goal tries – including 15-year veteran Stephen Gostowski, who missed a convert and his first three attempts before hitting a 25-yarder with 24 seconds remaining to give the Tennessee Titans a 14-13 win over the Denver Broncos on Monday night.
Gostowski, who is 36 – like Medlock – missed most of last year due to injury, was released by the New England Patriots in the winter and only added by the Titans on September 7th. He missed from 47, 44 and 42 yards – plus the convert – before saving the night from total disaster on his last kick.
Over the last few weeks after the cancellation of the CFL season, a handful of kickers have opted out of their contracts to get NFL looks, including Lirim Hajrullahu, Sergio Castillo, Richie Leone, Lewis Ward and Brett Lauther.
But not Medlock…
“My situation is different,” began Medlock in a phone conversation with bluebombers.com on Friday. “Opting out would have meant I would have missed out on the medical (coverage, as guaranteed by CFL through to next training camp) and that’s a big thing for my family.
“Where I’m at in my life, that’s big reasoning for me. Then… when you’re chasing the NFL dream that can get a little bit old. Sometimes you just need to know where you’re at in your career and I’m older now.
“Kudos to everyone who is trying it. It’s not as easy as everyone thinks it is. I’ve done it before and made it. And I’ve failed a few times, too. It’s not the easiest road and it’s not the most pleasant of roads, either.”
A consensus First Team All-American in his final year at UCLA, Medlock was a fifth-round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007. He began the season as the Chiefs kicker, but was released in mid-September of that year, beginning an odyssey that ultimately has taken him to Winnipeg, where he has spent the last four years after stops with – inhale here – the St. Louis Rams, Toronto Argonauts, Washington Football Team, Detroit Lions, Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League, Toronto again, Edmonton Football Team, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Carolina Panthers, Oakland Raiders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“The timing is a big part of it this year,” said Medlock. “Nobody knew what was going to happen with the CFL for the longest time. At the last minute there was the opt in or opt out decision. If they would have mentioned that in April… maybe I would have taken a chance.
“I know what it takes to be a kicker down there and I knew that when they made that option available to us I knew I wouldn’t be ready to kick at the level I want to kick at. I could still go there and kick well, but…”
Medlock’s voice trailed off here and you could hear the sounds of his two young kids in the background.
“Everything’s good here, what can I say?” said Medlock. “We’re grinding away, but we’re enjoying it. We’ve enjoyed the summer.”
More from Medlock and some other items, links, etc. in this week’s edition of 1st & 10…
1. Some insight from Medlock at the current kicking situation for NFL teams…
“It was definitely a little shocking to see what happened in Week 1. There were a lot of missed kicks,” he said. “You can tell mentally it’s a different game with no fans and they didn’t really have an offseason… I don’t know how it’s going to play out.
“I will say there is a benefit this year for them because there is an open spot on the PR (practice roster) where teams are carrying an extra kicker. That creates another up 32 jobs available for kickers. I sure wish I would have had that when I was younger.
“That’s the benefit, but also the challenge. You can just go ‘Oh, our kicker missed three field goals’ and then have a workout the next day (with another kicker). You’ve got to go to do the COVID testing… they’re not going to be as quick to change kickers like they would have in the past.”
2. Yours truly asked Medlock if he had received his Grey Cup ring yet, as they are being couriered to guys all over North America – and to Germany for Thiadric Hansen.
Medlock laughed at the question and when I asked why he was chuckling he added:
“Right now it’s down the street at FedEx, being held up and they won’t release it to me. I just laugh. I think it’s funny… it seems like some fans are rubbing in to the players with ‘You mean you haven’t got your ring yet?’ and saying ‘We got ours already!’
“That’s the crummy thing about this. Obviously, 2020 has been a very difficult year but getting your ring like that and seeing it virtually… it’s not the same feeling. It would be nice to have it and go to a few Bomber events and show that you have it. That’s just not going to happen. That’s tough.”
3. Another really good episode of ‘The Waggle’ podcast on CFL.ca, hosted by Donnovan Bennett and this week featuring Dayna Spiring – the Chair of the Winnipeg Football Club Board of Directors and the first woman to have her name inscribed on the Grey Cup.
“You still get goosebumps a little bit,” said Spiring when asked what it feels like to be making history. “It certainly was unexpected to me, as well. I went to the Grey Cup last year in Calgary and we were really caught up in the excitement – Winnipeg was going to be playing and we’re going to be playing against Hamilton… you could feel the energy because so much of Winnipeg was with us and cheering on the Bombers.
“The night they did the player awards, in was Thursday night, we were sitting in the arena in Calgary and the keeper of the Cup came up to me and asked if I wanted my picture (taken with the Cup) and I knew the right answer was, ‘no’ because you can’t have your picture with the Cup unless you win it. I stayed clear of that.
“He said, ‘You know if you guys win on Sunday you’re going to make history.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it’s been almost 30 years. It’s great we’re going to make history.’ He said, ‘No, no, no. Your name will be on this Cup.’ That was the first I had heard of it and that was the first it had even popped into my head.
“it gave me goosebumps then and even thinking about it now gives me goosebumps. It’s unfortunate that women haven’t had a bigger role and it’s unfortunate that it’s taken this amount of time. But I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say I was so proud and so humbled to be the first.”
4. Spiring, who is the President and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg, is a respected voice not only at the Bombers’ board level, but within the CFL. And when asked for her thoughts on how the league might better attract the casual fan, which is so critical to grow the business, she crushed her answer with this:
“… Part of it is showing the accessibility of this game, the entertainment value of this game. If you haven’t gone to a Bomber game, you walk into that stadium and the energy is palpable. The noise, the cheering, the events that are going on, everything from the Walby Burger to beer snakes… it’s an experience to be there. So, my message to a lot of people has been, ‘Go and experience the game just as entertainment and don’t be intimidated if you don’t know all the rules of the game and you don’t know exactly what is going on all the time. That comes and the fans that are sitting next to you will fill you in at the drop of a hat.
“… The CFL is pretty special. It’s a Canadian institution and there’s so much culture and so much history there that I think a lot of people can enjoy and I’m excited by that. Having more diversity, having more women involved, having more nationalities involved will bring more excitement to this game and hopefully open doors to people who haven’t experienced it yet.”
For those interested, you can listen to the full podcast here:
5. Sort of related… Earlier this week I met with two pals to drink some lagers, eat some wings and discuss many topics – including the past, the present and the future of the CFL.
Naturally, there were a wide range of CFL-related emotions expressed over the long visit, from disappointment to the 2020 season being deep-sixed, to concern about the future.
And there was a whole lot of reminiscing about the days previous in this old and storied league.
I’ve been purposefully cautious in this space each week not to become overly nostalgic because, as the old saying goes, ‘Nostalgia is a dirty liar that insists things were better than they seemed.’
Look, we all know the CFL has its warts and they’ve been plainly visible for decades. This is a gate-driven league facing serious financial challenges in a COVID world. There is indifference in its biggest markets and nine individual operations notorious for pushing their own agendas who are now likely tasked with embracing some big-picture/for-the-good-of-the-league ideas. And what comes out of all this will be absolutely critical in helping the league get off life support and out of the intensive care unit in 2021 and beyond.
Growing the business is always being discussed and marketing the game to younger audiences is an absolute must for every league, especially the CFL.
Having said all that – and maybe this is the history major in me surfacing – let’s also not consider it a sin for this league to run away from or embrace its past as part of its re-branding.
6. My prediction for a player who was going to really bring it in 2020 was Bombers receiver/kick returner Lucky Whitehead, who was heading into his second year in the CFL and likely to be utilized in a number of manners in Buck Pierce’s offence.
That now gets delayed until 2021, but Whitehead continues to showcase how hard he is training through his social media accounts:
Elevate ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/ULR8JyrUPx
— Lucky Whitehead (@Luck2fastt) September 17, 2020
View this post on Instagram
If I had predicted what life might have looked like in 2020 I would have said I would be playing another year with the defending Grey Cup champions!! The world had other plans… instead a global pandemic hit & shook everything we knew…. so what now? No CFL this year… heartbreak sets in, the feeling of loss & misdirection. How do I find my way now? I spent the last 7 months training, no drinking, fixing my mindset to conquer what I felt would be an amazing season… You never control the outside factors … you do control the inside ones. And I’ve had a hard road of learning that’s what I focus on… in the end I’m the only one who puts on the uniform, learns the plays & gets up everyday to win… I control my destiny, the work I put in will get me where I need to go. 🙏🏾⚡️ 🎥: @pixbyigo – @u_sportsplex – @blitzsportss #CreateU #Luck2Fast #Cfl #HowICfl #FortheW #SE7EN #Speed #Nfl #Playmaker #GameChanger #PhenomElite #FreeGame #FreeAgent #ComeGetThisWork #TheU
A post shared by Lucky Whitehead (@luck2fast) on
7. Completely unrelated to football or the Bombers, but something I couldn’t just resist adding this week: Vin Scully, the legendary 92-year-old retired voice of the Los Angeles Dodges for 67 years, just recently joined Twitter. And nobody does/did nostalgia better than Mr. Scully, whose Twitter profile reads:
‘A voice of Dodgers baseball broadcasts (Brooklyn and LA) for 67 years. Now, a rookie on a new adventure in social media.’
One more random link, from The Ringer, on this weekend’s 30th anniversary of Goodfellas – one of my favourite movies:
8. This week’s Chris Streveler appreciation links:
9. Our likely new reality in 2021 unless a Coronavirus vaccine can be fast-tracked and made available to the public, courtesy the Cleveland Browns:
10. And, finally, myself and Darren Cameron – the Bombers’ Senior Director of Public & Player Relations and Chief Consigliere – taped another episode of the ‘Handled Internally’ podcast on Friday with Glenn January.
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) September 18, 2020
January is a fabulous storyteller, FYI, and he seemed to be particularly interested in setting the record straight on a couple of hellacious hits quarterback Buck Pierce took while he was employed to protect him up front – both coming in 2011, the first in the season opener against Hamilton and the second in the Banjo Bowl vs. Saskatchewan.
“The two biggest hits on Buck came on my side, but had nothing to do with me,” explained January. “It’s the famous clips where he gets absolutely levelled by Jamal Johnson and then Craig Butler.”
January then explained the play call and the breakdown, which was caused by a receiver not being ready for the ‘hot’ read and Pierce having to hang onto the ball rather than throw it before he was mauled.
To make matters worse…
“Everybody was ripping me apart because (the pressure) came from the right side, but I was engaged with the defensive end,” he said. “It’s fine… and on TSN Milt Stegall comes on and says, ‘This is not the right tackle’s fault, this is definitely on the receiver.’ Milt was good for that. But the one thing that really stung was for some reason in my bedroom (after the game) I had WGN out of Chicago on and the news was on. I’m doing laundry or something and I hear ‘Now from the Canadian Football League… and you thought our right tackle was bad. I wonder which grocery store he’s sacking at now.’”
January’s got a few more gems in the podcast, coming soon and exclusive to season ticket members on The W Hub.