By Avry Lewis-McDougall
Wow. Canadian football has seen a lot in its 100+ year history but what went down at BMO Field on Sunday in Downtown Toronto with the Ottawa RedBlacks getting the 39-33 OT win over the Calgary Stampeders was incredible for so many reasons last night at the 104th Grey Cup and I want to get into a few of them that made this incredible along with points that have me jacked up already for next season.
A beatdown Almost Happened….For The RedBlacks…and then Calgary forced Overtime
On paper so many people said if this game got out of hand then it would turn into a route for Calgary, and guess what? This game was almost over in the first half, but because the RedBlacks came out and punched the 15 win Calgary crew in the mouth early and often.
Henry Burris was on fire in the first half as Ottawa converted 15 2nd downs and midway through the 2nd quarter they were up 27-7 and everyone at BMO was in sheer shock. Calgary did tie the game up early on a Bo Levi Mitchell TD pass to Jerome Messam but beyond that, the first two quarters were dominated by Ottawa getting it done on both sides of the ball as Mitchell struggled for much of the first half and Marquay McDaniel would leave the ball game with a shoulder injury.
And then the 2nd half happened.
In what was a literal flip of the script the Stamps would come back with 26 points after halftime including 10 in the final two minutes of regulation and saw Ottawa turnover the ball twice in the 2nd half.
To add to the drama if Abdul Kanneh didn’t make a shoe string tackle to bring down Andrew Buckley in the 4th as he was destined to scamper into the endzone on 2nd and goal we’d be talking about a Calgary victory. Holding your breath was mandatory late in this game.
Henry Burris Almost Didn’t Play
The story of Henry Burris becoming the oldest QB in CFL history to lead his team to a Grey Cup title almost didn’t happen due to Hank hurting his knee in pre game warm ups. According to the signal caller himself he said he heard a “popping sound and a crack” in his left knee followed by extreme pain and it locking up. For a while as he left to get his knee examined in looked as if back up Trevor Harris, who earlier this year took Burris’s job as the starter in the nation’s capital would have been getting the call vs the Stampeders.
With warm ups winding down though, Burris would return and as he said it himself as he limped into the post game presser “I felt almost like Willis Reed with the New York Knicks when he hurt his leg and all of a sudden limped back onto the court to lead his team (before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals)”.
Just like Reed’s Knicks Burris and Ottawa would find a way to get the win with all of the marbles on the line and it makes his stat-line of going 35/46 with 461 yards and three TDs through the air even more legendary.
The Shootout Format For OT Showed Why It’s The Best In Football
For the third time in Grey Cup history we witnessed overtime, the first time since the 2005 game between Edmonton and Montreal and once again it showed how much drama it can bring out of pigskin. The format is pretty straight forward with each team getting the ball at the opponent’s 35 yard line and attempt to score with the added caveat that you must attempt a two point convert if you get a touchdown. If the other team can’t match the score of the first team? Game over. They beat it? They win. No one scores on the first drives? We keep going until we get a winner.
To put both teams under the gun with the chance to match or win a ball game to ramps up the intensity, instead of other overtime formats in which one team doesn’t ever get the ball in overtime due to sudden death or “first to score a TD” wins.
Ernest Jackson bobbling the eventual game winning TD but hauling it in after not having a single drop in the regular season and then stopping the Quarterback who won the Most Outstanding Player of the Year award to seal it was something you’d see out of a Disney movie.
Pro Football In Ottawa Is The Real Deal Once Again
Since the Rough Riders folded in 1996 the pro football scene in Ottawa had been a mess, rumors of expansion falling through, the Renegade struggles, Frank Claire Stadium needing trillions of dollars worth of renovations, those days are long gone.
Football fans in the nation’s capital over the past two seasons have been treated to a playoff team and now the first Grey Cup title by any Ottawa CFL team in 40 years. The names of Tony Gabriel, JC Watts, Tom Clements and Russ Jackson will always be iconic in the city, but the current group of pros gave a new generation of fans a team to fall in love for a long time to come. The Grey Cup parade today in Ottawa with an estimated 40,000 fans in attendance truly showed that the RedBlacks are one of the sporting kings of the city.
Dave Dickinson And Company Will Be Back
I have to stand up and tip my fedora to the job that Coach Dickinson did in his first year as a head coach in the CFL, you have to respect 15 wins in your first season, and his core around him stepped up to be one of the best teams in league history in 2016. Look at the CFL Awards, it was a near Calgary sweep as five members of the franchise took home hardware.
Listening to guys on that Calgary roster talk about Dickinson it’s beyond clear that the players have love for him but also wanted this win for their fallen brother in the form of the late Mylan Hicks, a defensive back who was shot outside of a Calgary nightclub earlier this year.
I won’t expect much of a drop off in 2017 from Calgary, they’ll want redemption for what happened on Sunday night.
Plenty of CanCon In This Game
Jerome Messam, Andrew Buckley, Brad Sinopoli and Patrick Lavoie would find the endzone, and Sinopoli would be named Most Outstanding Canadian when it was all said and done. The quarterback turned wideout had six catches for 86 yards to go along with a touchdown in a year in which he became one of the biggest receiving threats not just on the RedBlacks but in the entire CFL.
The Canadian game truly had it’s moments with it’s homegrown players last night.
-While every seat wasn’t solid, kudos to the 33,251 strong in attendance, I spent the first quarter and apart of the 2nd before going into the auxiliary pressbox and it was absolutely rocking with not just Stampeder and Redblack fans but fans from all across the league. There were also people wearing jerseys of defunct franchises! If you were one of the few that had a CFL USA jersey on at the game I hope everyone gave you a slowclap. Long live the legacy of the Memphis Mad Dogs.
-As much as I hoped things would pick up in terms of atmosphere in Toronto in the days leading up to the game, things fell flat in the city aside from being at the team parties (shout out to the Spirit of Edmonton and The Shipyard aka the Argos party ). You could walk around most of the downtown Toronto core and hear zero chatter about the game. A real shame, you won’t have that flatness in Ottawa next year.
So now the question is as 2016 comes to a close on the football calendar in Canada, is it June yet?