Alouettes defend the nest for the first time in 2021

“I’m coming home, I’m coming home
Tell the world I’m coming home
Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits and they’ve forgiven my mistakes
I’m coming home, I’m coming home
Tell the world that I’m coming…..” — Skylar Grey

Alouettes Nation, welcome home.

It’s been 655 days since a CFL game was played at Percival Molson Stadium. A lot has happened to this world since that cool November day when we last saw the Montreal Alouettes in action. New ownership, new front office, an interim head coach becoming official plus many players coming/going from the roster were among the numerous changes that have taken place.

Oh, and there was this global pandemic that completely flipped this planet on its collective ear, forever altering the course of our daily lives in ways that we couldn’t have possibly begun to imagine all those days ago. But I digress.

On Friday night, the city of Montreal takes another step towards the return of normalcy with the first Alouettes home game of the 2021 CFL season. To say that it’ll be different from the last time a home game was held at Percival Molson Stadium is a vast understatement. Current CFL and provincial protocols for Covid-19 will make this game look and feel a lot different than that raucous Eastern Semi-Final game of November 2019.

Don’t expect a full house on Friday; the Quebec government has allowed for a max of 15,000 spectators at any major outdoor spectacle or event. The Alouettes themselves have capped themselves at 12,500 seats to ensure that all social distancing will be done correctly. A face covering will be required to enter the stadium and while you move around in the concourses (you will be allowed to remove it once seated if you so choose). Proof of vaccination is not required for this game but will be for subsequent home games as the province rolls out their vaccine passport program on September 1st.

Every CFL team has been handling this pandemic and how it relates to their home games in their own manner. The Alouettes have committed themselves to following the guidelines as mandated by heath officials in order to provide the safest atmosphere possible for football fans. While it may not be the football atmosphere that we are accustomed in the 514, I’d rather focus on the positive fact that there will be football being played in this city.

And I, for one, cannot wait.

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The Alouettes will be hosting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who will be desperately avoiding an 0-3 start to their season. After an incredible 2019 season that saw the Tabbies take an impressive 15-3 season to the Grey Cup only to lose the big game, the pressure to keep raising the bar grew with each passing day. Hamilton started this 2021 campaign with losses to Winnipeg and Saskatchewan and now take on an Alouettes squad that has looked hot and cold so far this season.

Montreal will be eager to show that they are more like the team that punched the Elks in the face in Week Two rather than the team that came up short in Calgary. For that to happen, Vernon Adams has to find that form that allowed him to carve up the Elks with surgical precision. He stated on social media that he knew he had to be better than he was versus the Stampeders. To do that, I expect him to make better use of the weapons in his arsenal.

Montreal got away from the ground game versus Calgary and hopefully they realized that they must feed William Stanback carries. It was against these Tiger-Cats in 2019 where Stanback became a household name, posting 200+ yards on the ground and notching three rushing touchdowns. As much as you try to game-plan for Stanback, doing that just leaves this Alouettes’ receiving corps open all night like a McDonald’s drive-thru. Don’t think Adams doesn’t realize that, as he is surely salivating at the idea of lighting up this Hamilton secondary.

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The Cats will counter with Dane Evans, who had to ride the pine the first two weeks of the season while Jeremiah Masoli struggled to get this offense going. Evans is certainly no slouch, having led Hamilton to its Grey Cup appearance with his stellar play. He’ll need to get himself and Brandon Banks going as this Alouettes defense took it on the chin last week and will be playing some angry football. Hamilton is missing some of their star players like Chris Van Zeyl, Dylan Wynn and Ja’Gared Davis, who’s out due to violating Covid protocols.

If Montreal wants to get back to their winning ways, they are going to have to put some serious heat on Evans. We’ve seen what Antonio Simmons and Nick Usher can do to quarterbacks so far this season. With Hamilton’s O-Line looking dicey at best, I can see the entire front seven getting right in Dane’s kitchen and forcing a lot of quick throws. Like Adams with Stanback, I expect to see Evans lean heavily on running back Sean Thomas-Erlington to help lighten the load and move the chains.

Brandon Banks is the defending CFL Most Outstanding Player, but lately the only outstanding thing about him is how average he has looked. He’ll have guys like Patrick Levels and Money Hunter getting in his business Friday evening and I know for a fact that he’s not looking for that kind of attention. However, Banks has always played his best football against the Alouettes, so ignoring him will not be an option.

This game could very well come down to special teams, as both Mario Alford and Frankie Williams each have that game-breaking ability to return one to the house for their respective squads. Should Super Mario take a kick back for six, that Alouettes-heavy crowd of 12,500 spectators is going to sound absolutely bonkers.

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Not being able to watch football live last year was an incredibly bitter pill to swallow for CFL fans and Montreal is no different. While Alouettes football may not permeate through this province in the same way that other teams do theirs, there’s no denying that this city fell back in love with football in 2019. With a cancelled season and the incredible Stanley Cup run of the Canadiens, many couldn’t help but wonder if the Alouettes would revert back to irrelevancy again.

This Friday’s game will be the first test of that desire that this city has for its football team. With such a strong showing in the ratings for last week’s game on both TSN and RDS, I’d say that the love for football in Quebec hasn’t wavered. The Alouettes showed flashes last week of that gutsy 2019 team that never gave up and despite the loss, perhaps reminded some fans why they need to see this team live in person. I’m not expecting massive crowds this season, but I definitely hope that this city remembers what they had and can possibly have again.

Many people expect these Alouettes to be among the league’s elite. They see the moves made to strengthen this team and you cannot deny that this franchise was built to win now and win often. There’s no more circuses to be had at Percival Molson Stadium. This team has its coach, its quarterback and come Friday night, they will have their fanbase back, ready to light up this weathered barn on the mountain.

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That’s all for now. If you haven’t already, check out the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast where Tim Capper and myself break down every game played and welcome exciting guests to talk football with us. You can find the Flightdeck on all major podcast platforms and also on Youtube by using the key words “Alouettes Flightdeck”.

Be sure to follow along on Twitter for live thoughts and analysis from Percival Molson Stadium. If you’re planning on attending the game itself, make sure you arrive early in order to have all the space you need to stay safe as we embark on live football in the Covid-19 era.

I’ve been writing this blog for 10 years now and while that first home game of the season is always exciting, I am not feeling at all prepared for what will be coming as I walk through the gates to take my rightful place among Alouettes Nation. But one thing I know for sure: I will enjoy every single moment that I spend inside that stadium doing something I haven’t been able to do in well over 600 days; watch some dang football live in person.

Montreal….Alouettes Nation…..CFL football fans….Once again, welcome home.

Enjoy the game this Friday evening, regardless of where you are watching. As always, thanks for reading.

GO ALS GO!!!