EDMONTON – Here’s a big-picture take on the 106th Grey Cup week from just about all those who ventured to the Alberta capital from around this great country:
Helluva party, capped by a decent-not-spectacular championship game in which the Calgary Stampeders cemented their legacy as a dominant franchise with a 27-16 win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
And the big-picture take on the 106th Grey Cup by all those with Eskimos allegiances smack dab in the heart of Green & Gold country?
Helluva party, &%$##% horrible ending.
This is ABC country, after all – ‘Anybody But Calgary’ – and as the minutes ticked away in the fourth quarter Sunday night with the Stampeders in command, many of the capacity crowd of 58,819 at Commonwealth Stadium quickly headed for the exits rather than watch their arch-rivals celebrate at centre field.
Yes, it was tough enough on the locals that the Eskimos never even qualified for the Grey Cup derby – having been eliminated by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the second-last game of the regular season – but to have the Stamps celebrate on their turf was the ultimate spit-in-your-face moments.
— CFL (@CFL) November 26, 2018
Still, from this perch the first star during the Canadian Football League’s marquee event was the city of Edmonton itself. The venues were packed, the downtown was abuzz all week, and once again, the week proved that despite all its warts, the three-down game still has a healthy and vibrant following in this country. There were familiar faces in the crowd, to be sure. But what was also noticeable was the younger demographic at every event, too.
A tip of the hat to the Stampeders, who exorcised some demons with their 9th Grey Cup win and second in the last five years after what has been a decade of regular season dominance. But take a bow Edmonton… this whole week was excellent, again.
But for a Winnipeg/Bombers take on the Grey Cup week that was, settle in for our recap of the week in Edmonton…
THERE WAS A TON OF ANGER AND VITRIOL… on social media on Sunday – when isn’t there? – about the playing conditions at Commonwealth Stadium. And after watching players slip-slide all over the place for all four quarters, it’s clearly fair comment.
Still, this is what happens when the championship is played on the last Sunday in November, in a league that has given us the Mud Bowl, Wind Bowl and Ice Bowl; in which games have been staged in Arctic-like conditions (see: Winnipeg, 1991) and on snow-covered surfaces (Hamilton, 1996), to name just a few.
Two other thoughts:
First, if the game is best played in perfect conditions, then the Grey Cup will be played in only Vancouver and Montreal (now that Rogers Centre in Toronto can’t accommodate football). That would get old in a hurry, and it would cheat all the other franchises and fan bases from having a shot at enjoying the Grey Cup spectacle in person.
And second, while many see Sunday’s game as a perfect advertisement for moving the season up, there are hardly any guarantees in this country that the conditions would be any better anywhere a week earlier, two weeks earlier or even a month earlier.
Were the players handcuffed by the conditions and fans ‘cheated’ of seeing this league’s best athletes do their thing? Well, OK sure. But it’s not a new storyline either. Welcome to Canada in November.
IT’S ABOUT LEGACIES AND ICONS… there had been a ton of discussion this week – heck, over the last two seasons – about the Stampeders whiffing in the previous two Grey Cups after going 28-6-2 combined over 2016-17 before losing to the 8-9-1 REDBLACKS in ‘16 and to the 9-9 Toronto Argonauts in ‘17.
And that theory certainly filtered down to Bo Levi Mitchell, who was 69-15-2 in the regular season as a starter but was 1-2 in Grey Cups before Sunday night.
Mitchell, named the game’s MVP after completing 24 of 36 for 253 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, is now 2-2 in his four Grey Cup starts. There are quarterbacks all over football’s professional map who would kill for four cracks at a title, let alone going .500 in them.
But it got yours truly thinking again about the age-old debate on how winning a championship can ‘validate’ a career – and as it applies specifically to the Bombers and their quarterbacks over the years. Consider this: the last two quarterbacks to lead the Bombers to a championship were Tom Burgess in 1990 and Sean Salisbury in 1988, neither of whom is in the club’s hall of fame.
In fact, of the Top 10 passers in Bomber history only three – Ken Ploen, Tom Clements and Burgess – have led teams to a title. The other seven, based on yardage, are Dieter Brock (1st- 29,623), Khari Jones (2nd-20,175), Kevin Glenn (3rd-18,116), Matt Nichols, (6th-13,041), Don Jonas (7th-12,291), Matt Dunigan (8th-11,504) and Jack Jacobs (9th- 11,094). Five of those men – Brock, Jones, Jonas, Dunigan and Jacobs are in the Bombers Hall of Fame.
And just guessing here, but probably every single one of them would trade their place in the Top 10 for one Grey Cup ring.
A QUICK LOOK AT THE CANADIAN CONTENT… on the Stamps and REDBLACKS as it compares to the Bombers.
Calgary: All seven of the starters listed on their depth chart – DL Derek Wiggan, LB Alex Singleton, S Adam Berger, OL Shane Bergman and Brad Erdos, receivers Lemar Durant and Juwan Brescacin are Stampeder draft picks. Of the 22 Canadians listed on their 46-man roster, 18 in total were Stampeder draft picks with another four signed as free agents.
Ottawa: Four of the REDBLACKS seven Canadian starters are their own draft picks – S Antoine Pruneau, OL Evan Johnson, Alex Mateas and Nolan MacMillan. Seven other Canadians on Ottawa’s roster are draft picks, two came via trades, one from the expansion draft and eight are free agents.
Winnipeg: Four of their seven Canadian starters are Canadian – S Taylor Loffler, OL Matthias Goossen, Sukh Chungh and WR Drew Wolitarsky. In total, 12 of their 22 Canadian listed on the roster for the West Final were Bombers draft picks.
Discuss among yourselves, but it hammers home how well Calgary has done at the draft table over the last few years.
QUICK THOUGHTS AND THREE DOTS…
- Many are asking about the fan-made ‘Canadian Mafia’ T-shirts that first appeared at Touchdown Manitoba on Friday after the comments made by Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson in the West Final. The Bomber Store will soon have a version…
- As someone who lived in Nova Scotia for a spell as a youngster after moving from Winnipeg, the idea of a CFL team – officially to be named the Atlantic Schooners after that announcement Friday night in Edmonton – in the Maritimes has long had support from this perch. But there will also be a degree of skepticism until the shovels are in the ground on a new stadium…
- Not sure what to make of the CFL’s partnership with Mexico’s Liga de Futbol Americano Professional. No argument about growing the game globally, which seems to be main thrust behind this deal. But there are still so many unanswered questions at this point, the most-significant – at least from these eyes – is how that might impact what rosters might look like in the future.
And how would the CFL Players’ Association sign off on any arrangement that would see a Mexican player added to the roster or practice roster, possibly at the expense of Canadians or Americans?…
- Bo Levi Mitchell likely echoed the sentiments of every CFL fan when, during his acceptance speech Thursday night while being awarded the league’s Most Outstanding Player Award he said: “I think I can speak for every single person here. To the CFL, to the CFLPA: Get the damn thing signed.”
- One more: f I had a Loonie for every selfie Mike O’Shea, Andrew Harris, Adam Bighill, Stanley Bryant and Patrick Neufeld posed for this week all over Edmonton, I could retire tomorrow to an estate anywhere on Wellington Crescent.
AND, FINALLY… not sure it will help at all, but standing near Bighill during the Touchdown Manitoba celebration Friday afternoon and seeing the long lineup of fans wishing to pose for photos with the league’s top defensive player, it was impossible not to think it might influence – even a teeny-tiny bit – a big decision looming in his future.
Bighill, as you know, is a pending free agent and Bombers faithful clearly want him to return. Here’s the evidence: a couple of diehards, both of whom have been at the Grey Cup likely back to the days of leather helmets, vowed to quit drinking if Bighill re-signed with the Bombers. Of course, that might have been the beer talking.