Going to the Grey Cup was an unbelievable sporting moment. I haven’t experienced an atmosphere like this since WHAMCO was beating up on the Phillies.
As a fan of all forms of football it was great to see the city embrace not only the Grey Cup but the Vanier Cup as well. I loved walking around Toronto, touring all the different events, seeing people clad in every different jersey. Listen we all understand the narrative about this game on a bigger picture.
The Argonauts and the league have been working so hard to help increase the profile of this team. This past weekend, the past week has been a great step in brining back legitimate and sustainable passion for football beyond the die hard fans who have always supported the Argos and the league.
Now as this was my first Grey Cup I wanted to share what it was like to be on the sidelines for the first time. I won’t go into long X’s and O’s about why Toronto won. In fact let’s keep it to one relatively short paragraph.
Calgary lost because they were dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Toronto’s offensive line gave Ricky Ray more than enough time to throw while paving the way for game MVP Chad Kackert, who outplayed his counterpart in Jon Cornish. Speaking of Cornish, beyond a 21-yard run at the end of the half (empty calorie yardage) Cornish was not a factor, thanks to Toronto’s defensive line.
What worked for Calgary offensively against the Lions, the deep pass, was taken away. Beyond one 61-yard catch-and-run by Nik Lewis the Stamps generated zero big plays. That in a nutshell is why Toronto won the 100th Grey Cup.
(1) It was surreal to see Doug Flutie on the field tossing the ball with members of the Stampeders coaching staff a couple hours before kickoff. The guy is in great shape, seriously he is shaming every 50 year old to hit the gym. Doug is one of those guys that just has “it”. Players, coaches and just about every Skydome employee were flocking to him asking for autographs, getting him to sign an assortment of objects and Doug obliged every time.
The strangest part of stalking/watching Flutie was how alone he looked as game time approached. As the rest of the coaching staff and players were getting ready for kickoff Doug stepped away from the team and sat by himself on the bench. Just so odd to see the greatest player in the history of the league sitting on his own, isolated from the rest of the action.
(2) One of the unintended consequences of a sold out stadium is the kaleidoscope of signs. I’m not sure what the exact mathematical formula is but I’m fairly sure for every 10,000 fans in one arena the level of cleverness goes up ten fold. My two favourite sign weas: “Justin Bieber was the 13th Man”.
Haven’t Roughrider fans suffered enough to have to be reminded of that faithful penalty in snarky sign form?
(3) Speaking of Bieber one of the funniest subplots of the Grey Cup involved the age old question: How would fans react to the 18-year old pop singer? Throughout the first half the jumbotron would flash that Bieber would be performing at half time, like any one needed to be reminded. It looked like disaster was looming. My first thought was he should come out and play Neil Young and Tragically Hip covers, you know try to win over the hearts and minds of a crowd that had never listened to ‘Boyfriend’.
My second thought was the organizers should suspend Gordon Lightfoot above the roof of the Skydome in a dunk tank that would only open if the booing decibel level got too high. I loved this idea. You could sell it to the crowd that they literally had the fate of Lightfoot in their hands. Is that idea a little over the top? Is it a wee bit unfair to Mr. Lightfoot? Yes, but you had to be there, the fans sounded like they were after popstar blood.
But of course this is Canada, and we’re polite, so when Bieber Fever (There is no cure!) started to run wild the crowd actually stayed in their seats, listened to him sing and were, all and all, quite polite.
(4) For people who worry the game is getting too soft I am here to bring you some good news, it isn’t! Now this will of course sound like a wildly obvious point but it needs to be reiterated, the game is so much more violent up close that it is on TV. One routine special teams tackle by Jason Pottinger spilled over right next to where your intrepid reporter was standing. It was the sound that surprised me. I never expected the collision of two specials players to create such a visceral sound.
(5) I have a new found respect for cheerleaders, especially the ones cheering for a losing team. It has to be uncomfortable spouting out goofy messages, clad in bathing suits as hunreds of men stare at you, all the while you have to maintain a Stepford Wives smile.
(6) Nik Lewis in person was everything I could have imagined. He’s under six feet, he’s the slowest guy on the field and I’m betting his body fat count is north of 3.5 per cent. That said you can’t take your eyes off of him. I spent at least half the time watching him run pass patterns even when the ball didn’t come his way. Nik is more power forward than he is wide receiver yet I swear he was open on every play. I imagine he must have felt the same way.
(7) Have I mentioned how loud it was at Skydome? I would say the crowd was about 70 per cent pro-Argonaut. What a lovely novelty it was to see so many Double Blue jerseys. Except for the six year old wearing a Michael Bishop jersey. Quick message to all the fathers out there, if you want your son to root for the Argonauts pick a better jersey.
(8) I felt bad for the Stampeders near the end of the game, knowing they are 100 seconds away from losing the ultimate prize, all the while staring into the lens’ of a pack of photographers who are only doing their jobs. I didn’t want to look any of the players in the eyes during those closing moments. They looked like they wanted to be left alone.
(9) A touching moment before the game was Chad Owens coming out to warm up wearing Pinball Clemons’ #31. A fitting tribute that brought the four-Time Grey Cup champ to tears.
(10) If you ever want to know what 100 per cent pure uncut joy and excitement looks and feels like just go hang out on the field after the final gun wiith the winning team spilling all over the field. Every cliché that pertains to men acting like boys was evident all over midfield at Skydome. The culmination of an entire season’s worth of hard work and sacrifice was finally rewarded, it was an honour to be in arms length of all that happiness.
I just hope I get invited to do it again some time soon.