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Abdul Kanneh had a little extra fuel in his tank when he made one of the biggest plays of a night jam-packed with them.
The Ottawa REDBLACKS defensive back, a five-foot-10, 185 pound field of human energy, balled it all up and let it loose at a key moment during the 104th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.
It was a play, with 40 seconds left in regulation time, that very likely meant the difference between the Ottawa REDBLACKS losing to a furious Calgary Stampeders’ comeback and having another shot to win in overtime.
On second and goal from the Ottawa two yard line, quarterback Andrew Buckley – Calgary’s goal line sneak artist – took the snap and headed to his right and to the daylight that he saw leading him to the end zone.
As Buckley darted, Kanneh came flying through a gap and lunged with everything he had, just barely nipping Buckley’s shoe tops and tumbling him down with a one yard loss. Calgary was forced to settle for a field goal instead of the touchdown that would almost certainly have cemented one of the greatest comebacks in Grey Cup history.
Receiver Ernest Jackson pulled in an adventurous 18-yard touchdown catch in overtime to give Ottawa a stunning, 39-33 victory, but the catch would not have happened had Kanneh not made his game-saving tackle.
“It’s all about the shoelaces, baby,” said an energetic Kanneh in the moments that followed Ottawa’s stunning victory. “It’s all about the shoelaces.”
Kanneh had extra incentive to make that play, not that you really need it when a championship is on the line and a big stop is needed to save the day. Just a few plays earlier, he’d been flagged for a pass interference infraction.
“I realized I messed up with the PI,” Kanneh said of the penalty he got painted with after grabbing a handful of receiver Kamar Jorden’s jersey as the Stampeders were driving deep in Ottawa territory, down by three points.
“But I’d rather get the PI than give the six points,” he said.
“Thinkin’ that Calgary gonna come in here and stomp on us. But we came in here and stampeded on the Stampeders.”
It is quite possible that Jorden would have hauled in an on-target strike from quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell – had Kanneh not held him up – and then romped into the end zone.
Still, Kanneh felt a debt to his teammates and was full of extra intention when Buckley tried his sneak around the end.
“After that (the penalty), time to put your heels back down, put your toes in the dirt and make another play to help your team out,” he said.
Asked to describe the play as he saw it unfold, Kanneh’s already Richter scale energy climbed another notch or two.
“They had an O-lineman in front of me, probably about a hundred pounds more than me,” he said, talking at about a million miles an hour. “I just said ‘forget it, go get his ass’ and I went and got him, pushed him back. I seen the quarterback scrambling, I said ‘dive. It’s all-or-nothing, game over and it’s gonna be on you. Either it’s on you or win the game for the team, give us another chance.”
With his remarkable, oh-so-close to being missed tackle, Kanneh gave his team the overtime life it needed to erase a forty-year Grey Cup drought for the nation’s capital.
Kanneh was not shy – not shy at all – about leaning into a camera and giving it to those who doubted the REDBLACKS could pull off the upset.
“It’s been a long road, ups and downs, adversity, a lot of people kickin’ us down, thinkin’ we suck. Thinkin’ we’re not good enough. Thinkin’ that Calgary gonna come in here and stomp on us. But we came in here and stampeded on the Stampeders,” he said, voice rising. “All day.”
After putting the naysayers in their place, Kanneh opened his heart to the city of Ottawa and the REDBLACKS fan base.
“We love y’all,” he shouted. “Y’all believed in us and only y’all did. And that’s why we got that ring for y’all, baby.”
They did. And a tackle that almost wasn’t played a rather large part in that.