They didn’t want to go in to the record books as the first Canadian Football League team to lose in three straight Grey Cup games since the 1954-56 Montreal Alouettes. And thanks to solid, if not spectacular, team play on both sides of the ball, and the inability of the Ottawa Redblacks to capitalize on their opportunities, the Calgary Stampeders avoided that fate, and are the 2018 Grey Cup Champions.
Meaning the Horsemen finally did what they couldn’t do the past two seasons; win the Big Game after being The Best Team in the CFL for the entire season. Somewhat beleaguered quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell had already piloted the team to a championship (2014), but all anybody wanted to talk about were the near misses against first Ottawa, then Toronto, the past two Novembers.
Mitchell will be inducted into the CFL Hall-of-Fame upon retirement, due to his overwhelming impressive regular season numbers, two Grey Cups championships (and counting), and he added to his glittering resume Sunday by being named the game’s most valuable player.
Arguably the big play of the contest occurred very late in the first half, when the Redblacks punted, and Terry Williams handled the ball deep in the Stamps end. The slippery Commonwealth Stadium field had everybody running at three quarters speed, and when Williams slightly slipped as he surveyed the incoming defenders, that may have been enough to throw the coverage off. Williams managed to motor his way into the end zone for a momentum changing touchdown with a second remaining in the first half.
That 97-yard punt return touchdown set a new Grey Cup record, and the Redblacks headed into the dressing room suddenly down 10 points, instead of 3.
The Stampeders win their 8th Grey Cup, which moves them into a tie with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for 4th highest total (for the record, Toronto, Edmonton, and Winnipeg lead the way).
A salute here to the Ottawa Redblacks, who just finished their 5th season in the league, and during that half decade, have finished first three times, played in three Grey Cup games, including winning it all over Mitchell and the Stamps back in 2016.
The CFL has some nagging problems in Toronto, and Montreal, but the manner in which professional football has been integrated back into the nation’s capital has been impressive, and is probably the template for the soon-to-be Atlantic Schooners, hopefully the 10th CFL team.
Ottawa won their Grey Cup in Toronto, and Toronto won last year’s Grey Cup in Ottawa. Calgary did it in Edmonton, and if there’s a pattern to this, pencil in the Edmonton Eskimos to win the 2019 Grey Cup.
For a nine team league, it’s somewhat surprising that the “home team” has rarely won the Grey Cup in front of the faithful. Next year, the big game will be held in Calgary, and the odds are the Stampeders won’t be hoisting the sacred mug again. Only six CFL teams have managed to pull off that feat…the 1972 Tiger-Cats, the 1977 Alouettes, the 1994 Lions, the 2011 Lions, the 2012 Argonauts, and the 2013 Roughriders. Okay, three of the six have done so in the past few years, so maybe Calgary can pull off the repeat.
Then again, there are rumbling that QB Mitchell will take a shot at the NFL. He’s 28 year old, and has accomplished pretty much all he can north of the border. That would be a huge loss for the Stampeders, who survived a myriad of injuries to their receiving corps this season. Other players on the team may also be headed to the NFL. The consensus is that this Calgary roster went out on top, and they may have to enter a rebuild in order to return to the summit.
There will be a number of story lines to follow as the winter months crawl by. The aforementioned changes in Calgary, a new head coach in Toronto, how will the Eskimos get things back on course, Johnny Football in Montreal, and the ongoing saga of CFL football in Halifax.
Until then, the Calgary Stampeders can relax, knowing they won‘t have to answer that most annoying of questions…why can’t you win the big one. Because they did.