October 31, 2008

The Story of the 1989 Grey Cup

Special to CFL.ca

The highly-charged atmosphere was threatening to blow the lid off the SkyDome in Toronto as Saskatchewan Roughrider placekicker Dave Ridgway trotted out onto the field.

Two seconds remained on the scoreboard clock. A sensational catch by Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ Tony Champion, who had contorted his body into a human pretzel 42 seconds earlier, had tied the score, 40-40.

The game, it seemed, would have to go into overtime to produce the 1989 Grey Cup champion.

But in that short space of time following the ensuing kick-off, quarterback Kent Austin had driven the Riders to the Hamilton 28-yard line. Now it was up to Ridgway.

As the crowd of 54,086 screamed in anticipation, the tension reached incredible heights as the Ticats called a time out to “ice” Ridgway.

“All week long I was saying ‘I hope it doesn’t come down to a last-minute field goal,” Ridgway said after the game. “I went over to (holder) Glen Suitor and told him to talk to be about anything other than the upcoming kick.”

Suitor, who is now a highly-regarded colour commentator on TSN’s telecast of CFL games, recalled those final seconds.

When the time out was called he had gone over to the sidelines to confer with head coach John Gregory, who at first wanted to use a plan known as a “shift down” in an attempt to draw the Ticats offside.

“The holder, me, would call the signals and the linemen would go into their three-point stance hoping that would draw the other team offside,” explained Suitor. “That way if we missed the field goal we’d get another crack at it.”

Suitor, however, argued that they should simply go for the field goal and Gregory finally agreed.

Returning to the huddle, Suitor found the offensive lineman all yakking at Ridgway.

“They had suddenly become kicking coaches,” he said. “They were all telling Dave to ‘keep your head down’ and ‘kick through the ball.’  I told them to leave him alone and get away from my kicker.”

As they waited for the time out to expire Ridgway begged to talk about anything but the kick. That’s when Suitor remembered a woman sitting in the stands behind the Ticat bench, who had made herself clearly visible as the teams went through their pre-game warm-ups.

“She had the same physical proportions as the famous “kissing bandit” girl who used to run out onto the field during games in the U.S.,” he said.

“When Dave said ‘let’s talk about something other than the kick,’ I remembered the girl. I said to Dave ‘look behind the Hamilton bench. See that blonde?’

“Dave looked over and started laughing. He still had a smile on his face as we lined up for the kick.”

The dependable Ridgway calmly stepped up and booted the ball squarely through the uprights to give the Riders a 43-40 victory and their first Grey Cup in 23 years. 

Suitor still remembers with a smile that after the game, when the Hamilton players came over to congratulate the Riders, Ticat linebacker Frank Robinson saying to him: “It wasn’t nice of you guys to laugh at us while you were kicking the winning field goal.”

“I started to laugh and said to Robinson: ‘we weren’t laughing at you, I was pointing out the girl behind your bench to Dave.’ Robinson laughed. ‘Oh, that girl, he said. ‘I saw her, too.’”

Suitor’s quick thinking broke the ice for Ridgway, but he admits today that he might have still been nervous himself.

Like all good holders, once he caught the snap from centre and put the ball on the tee, Suitor kept his eyes on the ball until the kicker’s foot had made contact and the ball was in the air.

“But I remember looking at the tape of the game afterward and seeing that I caught the back half of the ball,” he said. “I almost dropped it. It gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach.

“When I held the ball I always just looked at the tee and the ball. I kept my head down. But on that occasion I saw that as the ball came off Dave’s foot I looking up towards the goal posts. I was taking a peek. By lifting my head too soon I could have missed the tee (with the ball).”

The Riders had fallen behind 13-1 in the first quarter, but had battled back by halftime to narrow the Ticats’ lead to 27-22 as the game developed into an aerial show featuring Austin and Hamilton quarterback Mike Kerrigan. The two strong armed pivots threw for a total of 907 yards.

What many felt was the turning point of the game came in the second quarter when Austin hit Jeff Fairholm up the middle with a short pass which in the slotback turned into a 75-yard touchdown that cut Hamilton’s lead to 20-15.

Saskatchewan, which had never led, finally moved out in front late in the third quarter and with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter led 40-33.

However, the Ticats weren’t done. A pass interference penalty against the Riders put them at the Saskatchewan 11-yard line. That set the stage for Champion’s incredible catch.

“Ás a player you don’t normally cheer something an opposing player does,” said Suitor. “But on that catch. I said ‘Oh, my God, what a catch. Then I added ‘oh, s–t.’”

Paul Osbaldiston’s convert tied the game to bring the show down to the Riders’ final drive and Ridgway’s dramatic ending to what many believe was the greatest Grey Cup game ever played.