For all those bemoaning the current slow state of American sports, there's plenty of action going on north of the border. The Canadian Football League just finished Week Three of its schedule, and as usual, there have been some insane highlight-reel plays. One in particular came Saturday when Hamilton Tiger-Cats' receiver Chris Williams (formerly of New Mexico State, the Miami Dolphins and the Cleveland Browns) returned a missed field goal by Toronto Argonauts' kicker Noel Prefontaine (formerly of Arizona State, San Diego State, the Baltimore Ravens, the Los Angeles Xtreme and the Kansas City Chiefs) 119 yards for a touchdown. Video after the jump:
This play's notable from a couple of angles. First, it's something that can really only happen in Canadian football; the uprights are positioned at the front of the end zone, not the back, so while that can occasionally make for collisions, it also means that many missed field goals can be returned for touchdowns. (The goalposts can also be used to set a pick on receiving or returning plays, as Williams does effectively here.) Technically, missed field goal returns for touchdowns can happen in the NFL too, and Antonio Cromartie pulled off a 109-yard one in 2007 that remains the longest play in NFL history, but missed field goals can only be returned if the ball doesn't go out of bounds. Thanks to the goalposts being at the back of the end zone in the NFL (and the smaller end zone, too), only a miss that falls short is likely to be returned, and given NFL kickers' legs, that doesn't happen all that much. In the CFL, there's a full 20 yards between the uprights and the back of the end zone, so the vast majority of mid- to long-range missed field goals can be returned, and the results are often spectacular, as they were with Williams' above.
This clip also shows some reasonably impressive announcing from TSN's Rod Black. Black gets a lot of criticism from some CFL fans, and he doesn't have as much experience as fellow play-by-play man Chris Cuthbert (Cuthbert and analyst Glen Suitor usually take half the games, with Black and analyst Duane Forde doing the other half), but this particular play isn't a bad effort at all from this corner.
Black doesn't dwell on the missed field goal, instead quickly recognizing that there's a chance for a big return here, and points out Williams' skillful use of the posts without distracting from the ongoing narration of the play, builds excitement over the course of the run and even manages to add game context ("Another touchdown!": this was Williams' third score of the night, with the first two coming on a reception and a punt return respectively) and note that there are no flags (penalty flags often negate these plays) even before Williams crosses the goal line. He then lets the Hamilton crowd's celebration be heard, and although he gets the yardage slightly wrong (121 yards versus the actual 119), that's very tough to estimate on the fly given the lack of yard lines in the end zones.
Anyway, while Williams' return was certainly notable, it's far from the only remarkable play in the CFL this season. The league's YouTube channel has plenty of crazy stuff, including other missed field goal returns, ridiculous catches and big hits. The CFL doesn't currently have a U.S. broadcast deal, as NFL Network opted not to renew last year's arrangement, so games are only available on ESPN3 stateside at the moment. That's unfortunate for U.S. viewers, as these kinds of plays show some of the great action they're missing, and the CFL can certainly help to alleviate the monotony of the slow sporting days of summer.