The ALSternative: 104th Grey Cup edition, Part Two

In case you missed it, Part One of my Grey Cup weekend can be found here.

This Grey Cup weekend had plenty of lowlights and moments that many people would like a do-over for (and while I don’t mean drunken shenanigans, I suppose you can include those as well). But there were many feel-good moments that I’d like to discuss and share those with you all right now.

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In addition to all the parties and shindigs going on during Grey Cup weekend, the one that is an absolute must-attend is the CFL Fans Fight Cancer event. This year’s event was held at Shoeless Joe’s in downtown Toronto and drew a great crowd of CFL fans from every single team.

The event is put together by a group of football fans that work tirelessly to raise funds and awareness for cancer. This event has taken place on Grey Cup weekend and they always ensure that a local charity in the host city receives all of the funds raised. There are silent auctions as well as 50-50 draws and 100% of the proceeds gets thrown into the kitty. Thanks to donations by CFL players, teams and fans together, the opportunity to walk away with a neat prize while helping others is a win-win all day long.

This year’s charities were Wellspirng and the Never Alone Foundation, both dedicated to helping those with cancer live longer and better lives. Thanks to the generosity of CFL fans league-wide, a check of over 10000 dollars was handed over to this worthwhile cause. As the host of this event put it, “Cancer doesn’t care if you are young or old, male or female or even which CFL team you cheer for. It doesn’t discriminate.” Seeing CFL fans of all nine teams step up and raise this much money does wonders in restoring your faith in humanity, if only for a little while.

For more information on this wonderful event and group, follow @CFLFFC for more info.

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A lot of fans assumed that the Montreal Alouettes were not having a themed party this year for Grey Cup. But they were wrong; The team itself didn’t organize anything, but the same great group of Alouettes fans who brought the tailgate experience home to Percival Molson Stadium decided to pack up their silver trailer and bring their show to the 104th Grey Cup!

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If you’ve been following this blog from the start, you’ll always hear me talk about Les Gars Qui Vivent (French translation for The Guys Who Live) and their incredible tailgate party before every Montreal Alouettes home game. When word got out that there was no Alouettes team party last year for the 103rd Grey Cup in Winnipeg, these folks decided that this would not stand.

So these fun-loving fans brought their portable show to Toronto and turned a downtown church into a tailgate/art gallery/concert hall. There was plenty of hot dogs, chili and hot chocolate to keep folks in attendance well looked after. All for free, I might add. While a church seems like a highly unlikely place to do a football tailgate party, these guys managed to make it into a one of a kind experience for all.

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There was live music being played, a slew of great local artists showing off their Alouettes-themed masterpieces and even the Grey Cup trophy was on display! Funds were also being raised and these Alouettes fanatics didn’t want any money for themselves.

Rather, all monies donated went right back to the church! While the Montreal Tailgate Party doesn’t have nearly the same cachet as Spirit of Edmonton or Riderville, you can’t help but admire the effort to go out and try something a little unusual. After all, isn’t that what the Canadian Football League is all about?

I urge you all to show these great fans the love next year in Ottawa. Help make this party one of the premier events; for the fans, by the fans! I’ve told them that they need to up their internet game, so be sure to visit www.lesgarsquivivent.com and be sure to swing by their tailgate party not just in Montreal, but in other CFL cities as well! Don’t let the Quebecois tone fool you; football is a universal language and we are all very fluent in it!

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Perhaps the coolest event at Grey Cup doesn’t revolve around drinking alcohol or caters to one specific team. Rather, it’s the unifying force that brought so many of us together: Twitter! Since 2010, the CFL’s digital media team has sought to unite the fans once a year to celebrate the finest medium to meet and discuss this great Canadian game of ours. That event is the CFL Tweetup and simply a must-attend if you’re a CFL fan that wants to share your voice.

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Every year, CFL tweeters meet up and are finally able to put faces to the Twitter handles they see on every game day. Whether you all cheer for the same team or engage in friendly rivalries on this social media platform, there’s something for everyone at this event. CFL players and personalities will also stop by as they too are very much engaged and a part of the CFL discussion.

A great way to increase your followers count as well as connect with people you never knew before is easily done here. Twitter Canada has helped make this party a success year in and year out. They see how CFL fans come together like nothing else in Canadian sports and as CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge stated in his league address, Twitter use among CFL fans is growing at an incredible rate every single year.

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A couple of Grey Cup beauties; @MarciaOnTheGo and the @GCFunPolice!

This speaks volumes to how this medium has evolved and how the CFL was very wise to capitalize on it. Their digital media people are always exploring new ways to augment the Twitter experience for CFL fans and this party was the catalyst. The current head of the CFL social media team is Max Rosenberg and he has done an incredible job continuing this grand tradition as well as making the CFL the premier sports league online.

You’ll never make everyone happy on Twitter. But I defy you to find one single CFL fan who went to this party and said afterwards that it was a waste of their time. I know I was excited to not only see old Twitter friends, but make some new ones as well. There’s not a cooler feeling than when someone sees you and goes, “Oh my God, YOU’RE @CliffyD!”

And by that same token, it’s awesome to see a lot of new Twitter peeps and welcome them into this great fraternity. Props to this league for bringing us all together!

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A lot of people are calling this past Sunday’s tilt one of the greatest Grey Cup games ever played. Indeed, there were no shortage of storylines going into this. It was your classic matchup of David vs Goliath, or even Rocky vs. Apollo. The cream of the crop Calgary Stampeders versus the emotional underdog Ottawa RedBlacks. On paper, this wasn’t even a fair fight.

But these games are not played on paper but rather on a field of 110 yards in length and on this day, in front of a packed BMO Field crowd. And while 33,000+ doesn’t seem like much for a championship match, I promise that every single fan sitting in the stands was riveted to and invested in the action.

Ottawa played with purpose in the first half, roaring out to a 20 point lead and looking like they would cruise to an upset win over a Calgary team that had seemed to take them too lightly. Everyone who predicted a Calgary romp sat in utter shock while the RNation fans were at a frenzied pace, them also a bit shocked. Despite those fans being the only ones who believed that the RedBlacks could hang with this 15-2-1 juggernaut of a Calgary team.

But Ottawa only awoke the angry beast within, as Bo Levi Mitchell finally started to show his MOP form and led Calgary back into this game, chipping away at the RedBlacks lead one score at a time. As the fourth quarter rolled along, there was almost an ease coming back over the Stampeder faithful, as though this team was like a cat playing with a mouse.

Calgary had the perfect opportunity to ice this game once and for all, dashing the hopes of the crowd favourites and sending Ottawa back home with another Grey Cup L on the ledger. Having just scored a touchdown to make the score 33-30, the Stampeders pulled off the incredible feat of recovering an onside kick and getting the ball back on offense. 1:38 is plenty of time to put together a winning drive in the Canadian Football League and the league’s most powerful offense was back on the field. Saddle up.

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Bo Levi then marched the Stamps down the field with a picture perfect drive, each completed pass a dagger in the heart of RNation. But the biggest came by way of an incomplete pass, broken up by Abdul Kanneh. That itself wasn’t the dagger per se, but rather the yellow piece of cloth thrown onto the field by Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson.

He believed that there was defensive pass interference. The CFL Command Centre agreed with the coach after a review of the tape. Calgary was now deep in the red zone and seem poised to drive that final nail in the coffin. The hammer was Jerome Messam, who drove his massive frame six yards to the 2 yard line. Another such run would give the big man his second scored touchdown and Calgary would take its first lead of the game.

Instead, Coach Dickenson curiously sent out another Canadian in backup QB Andrew Buckley, who had scored earlier on a two yard romp. So either the youngster was going to plow through the crowd to score or once again, make that tidy little scamper to paydirt.

Buckley read the field and defense in a heartbeat and went for a touchdown-scoring run. He likely would have made it, had someone not gotten a hold of his shoelaces and tripped him. Buckley fell short of the goal and the chance for taking the lead was squandered. And who was it that made the shoestring tackle, much to Ottawa fans’ delight?

That’s right, the guy who was the goat thanks to that errant play earlier that got Calgary within sniffing distance, #14 Abdul Kanneh. Thanks to his heads-up play, Calgary could only tie the game and send it into overtime, the first such occurence in the Grey Cup since 2005.

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In OT, Calgary won the coin toss and opted to play defence first, so they knew what they needed to score in order to win. Did Henry Burris have one more touchdown left in his grizzled 41-year-old body? Or could Calgary’s monster D snuff out the Redblacks when it was needed the most?

As it turns out, Smiling Hank was able to find Eastern MOP nominee Ernest Jackson for a touchdown that will forever live in Ottawa lore; if not for its effectiveness, then for its style or lack thereof. Jackson played hot potato with the ball, nearly dropping it before composing himself and maintaining a grip on it for the score. Already, RNation has been calling the play “The Jackson Juggle”.

Now down by six, Bo Levi’s task was a simple one: Score a touchdown and actually make the two point convert that Ottawa didn’t to win your second Grey Cup in three years. For 2016’s Most Outstanding Player and the best quarterback that the league has seen in years, this should be a cakewalk.

But then the noise started. The earth started to tremble thanks to the crowd who suddenly became pro-Ottawa, as they could taste the upset in the air and wanted to be a part of history. Mitchell heaved a bomb towards the end zone; no dice. Second down, he tries to connect again with a pass and fails.

The noise level is now deafening. Ottawa fans had to have been besides themselves, one play away from shocking the Canadian football world and slaying the biggest dragon of the league. Bo Levi only needed ten yards to keep the drive and Calgary dream alive. He takes the snap and launches the ball to Bakari Grant, one of the steadiest pairs of hands all night.

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Pass incomplete. No flags. Ball game over.

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And just like that, the Ottawa RedBlacks stunned the CFL and defeated the league’s best team by a 39-33 score to win the Grey Cup in only their third season of existence. Gone was the image of last year’s six point Grey Cup defeat in Winnipeg. Gone was the “Good Hank/Bad Hank” idiom. Gone was the 2-16 inaugural season. Gone was the stink of the Ottawa Renegades and the Glieberman family, who managed to put not one but TWO Ottawa-based CFL teams in the toilet then pushed down the handle.

It took extra time to do it, but the city of Ottawa now has their first professional sports championship in over 40 years to call their own. All that Calgary has to show for their record-breaking 2016 season is some nice league hardware and the lingering questions of what if when it came to giving the ball to Andrew Buckley instead of Jerome Messam or Bo Levi Mitchell.

Was this the greatest Grey Cup game played? Only time will decide that. But it was certainly the most excitement that BMO Field had ever seen up to that point.

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With that championship being handed out and the parade down Ottawa’s Bank Street completed, this 2016 CFL season is officially over. It’s been a ride like no other. The Grey Cup weekend is finished, the hangovers have passed and the gear has been washed and put away until we start it all over again next June.

I want to thank the Canadian Football League for allowing me the access to take in this memorable weekend and allowing me to report it all for you to enjoy. I also want to thank every single person that I encountered this weekend, whether it’s for the first time or the thirty-first time. You all make this league what it is and without you, we’d just be watching a bunch of dudes smacking pads for a few hours.

Last but not least, thanks very much to you, the readers of this blog. You inspire me to do better and write more for you all to read. I feel very blessed to be able to share my thoughts with you all and as I always tell people, “If you keep reading it, I’ll keep writing it”.

Well, you all seem to keep reading it. So I’ll take a bit of a break to wind down from this season but I’ll be back to recap the 2016 season for the Montreal Alouettes. They are not done making news yet this year, so I’ll be ready for when they make their biggest announcement yet; starting a new era in Alouettes football by naming a general manager to lead them into 2017 and beyond.

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Once again, thank you all for reading this Grey Cup journal of mine. What a ride indeed.

GO ALS GO!!!

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Posted in CFL