The absurdity that night reached a peak, or so Paul McCallum thought, when one of his kicks landed behind him.
“If I remember it right, I kicked an extra point, the ball went up and landed probably 25 yards behind me because the wind was so bad,” he said.
It was Sept. 28, 1997, the night McCallum entered the Canadian Football League record book for most field goal attempts (13) and most misses (six) in a game.
The wind howled through Taylor Field, seemingly intent on sending great swaths of Saskatchewan farmland home with the visitors from Alberta, the Edmonton Eskimos.
“There was no way you could punt the ball,” said McCallum, then a member of the Riders. “First of all, catching the snap, the wind was accelerating it, moving it. That was hard. And then trying to punt it out of your hands was near impossible. So it was line up in field goal formation and kick the ball as far as you could and get it to the sideline. And keep it low.”
They were field goal attempts in name only. So, when McCallum pored over the stats sheet post-game and saw that he had been saddled with an unruly seven-for-13 outing, the absurdity reached a new height.
“I was like ‘are you kidding me?’ So I called the league at the time, whoever was in charge of the rules or the stats, I can’t remember, and I said to him, I notice that you counted these as field goals. He said ‘yes we did; they were.’
“I said, ‘well, I know you weren’t at the game, but I tried them from our 20 and not only that, I had no wind at my back, it was in my face. Could we not get these reversed?’ He says no. I said the officials were lined up in punt formation, not field goal formation. He said I’m sorry, it is what it is.”
Twenty-one years later, it finally and actually is what it was. Head statistician Steve Daniel reclassified five of McCallum’s attempts that night — from 56, 63, 76, 79 and 84 yards — as onside kicks, meaning he went a rather sterling seven-for-eight in the Rider victory. His season-long percentage in 1997 also increases from 70.2 per cent to 76.9, making him the most accurate field goal kicker in the CFL that year, supplanting Sean Fleming of the Eskimos who finished at 73.2. And McCallum’s career percentage was nudged from 80.3 percent to 80.4.
McCallum, who retired in 2016 and is now 48, appreciates the effort.
“Steve has been very, very diligent in looking at doing these types of things,” he said. “He’s doing the best he can to change the rulings to make sense.”
That said, the statistical revision would have been literally more valuable in real time.
“I think it was that year, I can’t remember, that I was told, so sorry, you didn’t get the statistics you needed,” McCallum said. “It made a difference. If you had bonuses to finish in the top two or tops in percentage, that’s how you got paid.”
McCallum’s foray into the CFL Guide and Record book had been adorned with an asterisk in previous years, but CFL coaches in 2017 asked Daniel to amend the book in fairness to kickers who had been tasked with booting the ball purely for field position.
In the 2018 edition of the colossal compendium for which Daniel is responsible and quite proud, he has made a successful attempt to, ahem, upright the wrong.
“My motivation, as the person who decides these things, is that I think the rule should work for the players, not against them,” Daniel said. “And that, as a fundamental principle, statistics are meant to portray their performance, but to avoid negatives when we can. It’s a level of thought that I’m trying to add to the tradition of our game. Not change the tradition too much, but refine it a little bit.”
The statistical revision also affects seven attempts by Noel Prefontaine, two each by Paul Osbaldiston and Mark McLoughlin and one apiece from Lui Passaglia, Justin Medlock and Fleming. Prefontaine’s career percentage increases from 75.9 to 77.1, and he also surrenders his CFL record for the longest field goal attempt, which had been erroneously calculated at 104 yards.
Daniel was able to comb the records only back as far as 1994, the last year for which there are printed play-by-play sheets in the league’s possession. He still examined 375,000 plays, looking for suspicious field goal attempts, and corroborated his findings when he could with newspaper accounts.
“That’s how I found the longest legitimate field goal attempt of 71 yards by Dave Cutler,” Daniel said. “And he grazed the goal post, apparently.”
The job was done as well as humanly possible, but it’s incomplete and that part still bothers Daniel, whose degrees in anthropology and archaeology help explain his dogged pursuit of discovery.
“When I do something, I do it to the point where it’s exhaustive,” Daniel said, “or it doesn’t satisfy my own need for accuracy and thoroughness.”
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