In a word, – no. Happy Returners is definitely what we meant. Especially as the league must be full of them right now. After all, 2019 is turning into the Year of the Return.
From week 1 onward we have been treated to a cavalcade of kick return scoring plays. That week we saw a 68 yard punt return touchdown by Frankie Williams combined with Brandon Rutley returning a kickoff 108 yards for a score.
Little did we know that they were just the h’orderves whetting our appetite before the banquet of kick return success that would follow.
A record setting pace
There have been a total of 18 kick return TDs this year. Of those, nine have come from kickoffs which is already a new CFL season record.
Those 18 kick return touchdowns have been spread over 35 games. To get some idea of the ridiculous pace of success here, just four more returns would tie the all-time CFL record of 22 which was set in an 81-game season in 2004.
The league’s all-time high to this point is 24 set in 1995 when the now fabled US expansion took place and there were 117 games in the season.
Another way to look at it is that the league average this season is a return TD every 1.9 games! For comparison, the previous record after 35 games was 12 return touchdowns in 1999.
In the past six games alone there have been seven return touchdowns.
The dominance of the return game goes even deeper than that too. There have been 50 kick returns that could be considered ‘game breakers’ so far. That is returns of 30+ yards on punts and 40+ yards on kickoffs. At the same stage last season we had seen 36.
Perhaps it is unsurprising then that the current average punt return (11.8 yards) and kickoff return (23.5 yards) are the highest seen in league history.
The CFL loves the return game
There is no fair catch in the CFL. The returner gets a five-yard ‘halo’ or buffer zone when catching the ball. So there are far more punt returns in the CFL, hence more opportunities to score.
Allied to this the league tinkers with the rules to make special teams play more exciting. In 2014 it was decided you couldn’t punt out of bounds for example.
Why now though? Why the sudden explosion. Is it poor blocking? The gunners are there and as we’ve seen they are talented too.
Could it be the rules taking effect? surely that would’ve happened already though? Some might argue that the refs are being more lenient when it comes to illegal blocking. That’s not the players issue however.
Maybe we should just credit the return men with speed to burn who are evading the tackles in the open field.
Whatever it is, let’s just sit back and enjoy. There are few better, more momentum changing plays than the big return, so lets enjoy them and see just how many happy returners we have by seasons’ end.
Banner Image: Frankie Williams of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is one of the return men having an incredible year. Image from cfl.ca