Friday, November 8, 2013

Dealing With The Noise

Paul McCallum can kick a football and sell real estate anywhere in the Lower Mainland. He could use work on product association, however. He has a brother who has done a lot of work to help the B.C. Lions with potentially their biggest issue Sunday.

You won't get Rob McCallum's sibling to kick in the West Division semifinal against the Saskatchewan Roughriders wearing a pair of his killer earplugs, because after 23 CFL seasons on the job, you are not going to get into his headspace.

"The second the ball is snapped, I don't hear anybody," said the kicker who once had manure dumped in front of his Regina house after missing famously in the 2004 playoffs for the Riders against the Lions.
"There's no communication needed."

It's hard to suggest that the Lions' best chance of dealing with the crowd noise at Mosaic Stadium in Regina resides in a strip mall in Aldergrove, but that's the location of one of Rob McCallum's hearingaid clinics.
It's where McCallum starts to produce the sound-blocking devices he was commissioned to build at the start of the season by the Lions. If you've never had a gob of the silicone used to make a proper form in your ears, rest assured from firsthand experience they really, really work.

And the sound man said the Lions could really, really use them against Saskatchewan, as by his reckoning the crowds where his brother used to play home games are almost as loud as any in pro football.

McCallum was all ears when the Seattle Seahawks broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the loudest crowd earlier this season, only to have it broken at 137.5 decibels more recently by the Kansas City Chiefs.
"That's ridiculous. When I test you, we don't go by 125 decibels and you can hear it in the next room," he said. "Pain begins at 125. Players and fans alike are getting permanent hearing damage.

"I would like to test guys in the offseason. I really need to show them there's an advantage. But you can't just put them in and play."
The plugs have other uses that could be part of less violent, everyday life of course, and McCallum nearly has players lined up outside the locker-room door once they became apparent to the Lions.
Patrick Kabongo uses them when taking aim at one of his hobbies, target shooting. "Don't hear a thing," Kabongo said. Some players get fitted to listen to music. Others find them useful when working out and also talking to reporters.

There's been more than a few games in Regina over the years where a good set of plugs would have been useful for the Lions. See no evil. Hear no evil.

Though the Lions finished with the fewest flags in the league this season and played a rare penalty-free game last week, crowd noise still is an issue in Regina. Two of the three worst games this year for procedure, offside and time-count violations were road games in Saskatchewan for the Lions.

This week, however, most players left their plugs at the Surrey practice facility while working at B.C. Place Stadium with the mammoth speakers on the overhead scoreboard practically vibrating at times.

It might seem like an advantage to be a visiting player walking into hostile territory gleefully oblivious to the cacophony from a crowd that used to get its collective kicks tossing beer cups at visiting players.
But there's been a slow response.

Not due to possible ear damage, Paul McCallum said, noting the padding in helmets will absorb the impact of a hit. Players are creatures of habit.

"I didn't understand the ideology," lineman Ben Archibald said.

The complete absence of sound can also be disorienting. Football also hasn't quite yet become part of the smartphone generation, where nobody talks to each other anymore. Communication is actually still a good thing.
"(Ex-Lions lineman) Khalif Mitchell has a set, and said when he was with the San Francisco 49ers, they wore them in games," Rob McCallum said. "That made sense to me because on defence you only need vision.

"My recommendation is to wear them in training camp. You need to develop your other senses. It's purely conditioning. It's like lifting weights and running routes; you need to practice."

Snap after snap this week, that's the routine on the offensive line of the Lions, who started the season essentially with a rookie centre, Matt Norman, who has improved after a rocky start.

As veteran Angus Reid wrote this season in The Province, line play previously was a challenge. Reid used to initially look between his legs before snapping from centre, and when he tilted his head forward again discovered that the defensive alignment had often changed.

Part of the job directing traffic now falls to veteran Dean Valli, who sets off the snap by moving his head.
"There's a manual movement with the guard," said coach Mike Benevides.

It still doesn't always work, but by taking a more aggressive approach to blocking after the snap in the past month, the offensive front has improved. It will need to be better against a Riders front that has two division all-stars who are part of a group that combined for 12 sacks in games against B.C. "It's not the snap that's the issue; it's everything else," said Norman. "There's a lot more to football than people think. Communication takes place in different ways; it's not just auditory."

There also can be something deafening to the sound of silence if the Lions can somehow make all the noise go away in Regina on Sunday night.

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