TORONTO — Good, bad or indifferent, Duron Carter’s flare for dramatics has made him CFL.ca’s Newsmaker of the Year for 2017.
Whether it was his feud on the practice field, his pick-six against Bo Levi Mitchell or his movie theatre antics, Carter had an unforgettable first year in Rider green, constantly finding himself in the headlines.
“No one got fans across the league talking this year like Duron Carter,” said Chris O’Leary. “More often than not, he backed it up.”
Carter, of course, wasn’t the only one to make news in 2017. The year after Henry Burris was named CFL.ca’s Person of the Year and Chris Jones was the top newsmaker for 2016, there were plenty of inspiring storylines throughout the season.
As Monday ushers in a new year, CFL.ca’s writers and staff voted on year-end accolades for seven major categories: Newsmaker, Person, Story, Comeback, One-Game Performance, Game and Canadian.
Let’s look back on the best of 2017 (and even some honourable mentions) in the eyes of our writers:
NEWSMAKER OF THE YEAR:
DURON CARTER, REC / SSK
Few would have guessed that anyone could make more headlines than Chris Jones did in 2016, when Jones often drew the ire of Riders fans in his first season. Apparently, Duron Carter welcomed the challenge.
The Riders’ receiver couldn’t stay out of the news if he tried this season.
“Whether it was for some outstanding plays on the field or strange behavior off the field, Carter made headlines,” said Jim Morris. “They weren’t always good headlines, but he made news.
“It’s sort of like when Time Magazine named Donald Trump Newsmaker of the Year. It’s not always a good thing.”
But for Carter, 2017 was, for the most part, pretty good. Months after being run out of Montreal, Carter embraced being under the microscope in Regina, while Riders fans embraced having one of the league’s most gifted and outspoken players — usually the villain, elsewhere — on their side.
Writer Picks: Newsmaker of the Year
|Jim Morris||Duron Carter|
|Don Landry||Mike Reilly|
|Pat Steinberg||Duron Carter|
|Chris O’Leary||Duron Carter|
|Matthew Cauz||Marc Trestman/Jim Popp|
|Jamie Nye||Kent Austin|
|Max Rosenberg||Duron Carter|
|Jeff Krever||Duron Carter|
On the field, Carter ranked 10th in the league in yards (1,043) and third in touchdowns (8). He had the most memorable play of the season when he scored a defensive touchdown in his first career start at defensive back. And in a perfect trifecta, he likely had the biggest highlight of the season, his backhand, one-handed touchdown vs. the Argos in the summer.
Off the field, Carter was something else.
“It has to be DC Chillin’,” said Max Rosenberg, the CFL’s social media manager and co-host of #CFLThisWeek. “Whether he’s making the catch of the year or taking fans out to the movies before the Eastern Final, he made news in all ways this season. He scored on offence, returned a missed extra point for a touchdown and even scored on a pick-six after calling out the reigning MOP on Twitter.
“2017 will be remembered for a lot of things, and most of those things will be DC bein’ DC.”
A pending free agent, Carter could make plenty more headlines entering the new year.
Mike Reilly and the Argos’ duo of Jim Popp and Marc Trestman also drew consideration. Reilly won his first career Most Outstanding Player, while the Argos won the Grey Cup in their first year under new leadership.
For CFL.ca’s Don Landry, Mike Reilly’s hats, in particular, were a sticking point of an outstanding year.
“Week in and week out, haberdashery aficionados couldn’t wait to see what was next,” said Landry. “And Reilly… ahem… ‘capped’ it off with an outrageous and sublime top hat at the player awards.”
Another team always in the headlines was Hamilton.
“To me it’s Kent Austin,” said Jamie Nye. “From an 0-8 start and his resignation to the Briles story, Johnny Manziel and June Jones. It all surrounded Austin’s struggles as a coach this season and what has come since. There were a lot of headlines out of Hamilton in 2017.”
Last Year’s Winner: Chris Jones
PERSON OF THE YEAR:
RICKY RAY, QB / TOR
Henry Burris won this honour last year after answering his critics, winning the Grey Cup and then retiring on top of the world. That may sound familiar to Ricky Ray, although the Argos’ 38-year-old quarterback hasn’t determined his football future just yet.
Much like Smilin’ Hank, Ray had his share of detractors before he and his Argos shocked the world in an unlikely run to the 105th Grey Cup Championship. For that, Ray was voted as Person of the Year by CFL.ca Staff.
“The man is 38 years old and the only time he threw more passes was when he was 26 years old!” said Matthew Cauz.
In 2017, the Argos’ quarterback started 17 games while throwing for 5,546 yards, his fourth season of 5,000-plus yards. He also led the CFL with 668 passing attempts — the second-most in his career. All of that came after many questioned Ray’s durability and arm strength following an injury-plagued few seasons.
Writer Picks: Person of the Year
|Jim Morris||Mike Reilly|
|Don Landry||Adarius Bowman|
|Pat Steinberg||Ricky Ray|
|Chris O’Leary||Andrew Harris|
|Matthew Cauz||Ricky Ray|
|Jamie Nye||Ricky Ray|
|Max Rosenberg||13th Man (Riders fans)|
|Jeff Krever||Ricky Ray|
“While Marc Trestman and Ricky Ray deserve much of the credit, I think some people owe Jim Barker and Scott Milanovich an apology,” said Jeff Krever, the CFL’s deputy editor. “Those two were criticized often for their loyalty to Ray when they stuck with the veteran instead of up-and-comers Trevor Harris and Zach Collaros.
“When we count Grey Cup rings,” Krever added, “no one in the CFL stacks up to Ricky Ray. What was accomplished this year has to feel good for one of the all-time greats and a future Hall of Famer. Simply put, the Argos aren’t 105th Grey Cup Champs without No. 15.”
Adarius Bowman, Andrew Harris and the Riders’ fan base were also considerations among CFL staff. The league’s social media guru tipped his hat to Rider Nation.
“They’re back baby, and they couldn’t be happier,” said Rosenberg. “After a few down years, they were a fan base champing at the bit for a team to get behind — they got it.
“We heard them all season long on social, in the stands and pretty much anywhere they could be seen or heard,” he added. “It all started at Mark’s CFL Week in Regina and from there with an exciting team, a fiery Head Coach and GM, and the new stadium.”
Last Year’s Winner: Henry Burris
STORY OF THE YEAR:
STAMPS UPSET IN SECOND STRAIGHT GREY CUP
For the second year in a row, the Calgary Stampeders are left to wonder ‘what if’ in the wake of a devastating Grey Cup upset.
As good as the Argos’ Cinderella season was, it was the Stampeders’ misery that earns top billing for the story of the 2017 season.
“I’m sure in Toronto the story is the Argos’ win,” said Morris. “For the rest of the CFL, it’s a head-scratcher that a team as good as Calgary self-destructed again.”
The Stamps were the class of the league throughout 2017, riding the ‘one week at a time’ narrative as they looked to avenge a shocking upset loss to Ottawa the previous year. Losing that game never appeared to affect them, as Dave Dickenson’s team took care of business on the way to a second straight Grey Cup appearance.
Then, despite outplaying the Argos through most of the evening in Ottawa, two 100-plus-yard touchdowns left the Stamps in shock once again.
“It’s no 13th man, but this might be a close second in most devastating loss I’ve seen in the CFL,” said O’Leary.
Writer Picks: Story of the Year
|Jim Morris||Stamps’ Grey Cup loss|
|Don Landry||Matt Black’s Grey Cup INT|
|Pat Steinberg||Stamps’ Grey Cup loss|
|Chris O’Leary||Stamps’ Grey Cup loss|
|Matthew Cauz||New commissioner Randy Ambrosie|
|Jamie Nye||‘Diversity is Strength’|
|Max Rosenberg||Argos’ Grey Cup|
|Jeff Krever||Jim Popp/Argos’ Grey Cup|
While there were plenty of memorable storylines throughout 2017, from the arrival of new commissioner Randy Ambrosie to the inaugural CFL Week, it was that snowy night in November that registered the most with fans.
The Argos’ run to the Grey Cup was impressive, especially with the late arrival of a head coach and GM in Marc Trestman and Jim Popp.
“In February, people were asking who was in charge and they had an interim GM for free agency,” said Rosenberg. “Fast forward to a snowy November night and they’re Grey Cup Champions. From worst to first. There is no greater or more impressive story in 2017.”
Matt Black’s role as the Grey Cup hero — after being cut mid-season — also comes to mind.
“Matt Black is the epitome of a player who absolutely, unequivocally lives and dies with his team,” said Landry. “Black was gutted when released by the Argos in August. Brought back, he sealed the deal in his team’s Grey Cup win with an end zone pick.
“It doesn’t get much more storybook than that.”
Last Year’s Winner: REDBLACKS win 104th Grey Cup
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
S.J. GREEN, REC / TOR
A year after his playing career was in jeopardy following a season-ending knee injury, S.J. Green had the season of his life in 2017.
The Argos’ pass-catcher was a unanimous choice for Comeback Player of the Year among CFL.ca Staff, earning all seven votes after recording 1,462 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first season in Double Blue.
“Everyone wondered what he’d be able to do, especially after being traded,” said O’Leary. “He responded with a career year.”
“As good as he was before knee surgery?” asked Landry. “He might be even better, actually.”
Writer Picks: Comeback Player of the Year
|Jim Morris||S.J. Green|
|Don Landry||S.J. Green|
|Pat Steinberg||S.J. Green|
|Chris O’Leary||S.J. Green|
|Matthew Cauz||S.J. Green|
|Jamie Nye||S.J. Green|
|Max Rosenberg||S.J. Green|
|Jeff Krever||S.J. Green|
Green was a five-time East Division All-Star with the Alouettes, winning back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010 under Marc Trestman. The Alouettes traded their veteran pass-catcher, age 32, for a sixth-round pick to Toronto, where Green re-joined his former head coach in Trestman.
The reunion paid off for both sides. Green re-emerged as one of the CFL’s premiere receivers for the Argos, leading the league in targets (169) and ranking second in catches (104) and yards.
Green’s combination with the fourth all-time leading passer in Ricky Ray was one of the most prolific in the CFL this year, while his comeback tale is one for the ages.
“After a lost 2016 season I expected Green to play the role of veteran mentor who occasionally will catch a pass,” said Cauz. “Instead, he finished second in receiving yards!”
“Last year it was Solomon Elimimian, this year it was S.J. Green,” said Krever. “Doctors told S.J. he may never play football again. His story should inspire injured athletes anywhere that no obstacle is too difficult to overcome, and not to take no for an answer.”
Last Year’s Winner: Solomon Elimimian
ONE-GAME PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR:
ED GAINEY’S FIVE-TAKEAWAY GAME
Maybe Ed Gainey was just in the right place at the right time. If that’s the case, the Riders’ defensive back had a knack for knowing where to be throughout the 2017 season.
Gainey tripled his career interceptions total, adding 10 picks to his total this year. The height of it all came in Week 8, when he recorded four interceptions and a fumble recovery for a five-takeaway game, helping the Riders blow out the BC Lions.
“It was an unheard of performance that sparked his season and his team’s,” said O’Leary.
“Five takeaways is actually bonkers,” said Rosenberg. “You can see 200-plus-yard receiving games, but FIVE takeaways? Dude was all over the field and just had the instincts flowing that day (and all season).
“He had his family up for the game too which made it extra special. Definitely the performance of the year.”
Writer Picks: One-Game Performance of the Year
|Jim Morris||Cassius Vaughn in the Grey Cup|
|Don Landry||Diontae Spencer’s 496-yard game|
|Pat Steinberg||Ed Gainey’s five-takeaway game|
|Chris O’Leary||Ed Gainey’s five-takeaway game|
|Matthew Cauz||Duron Carter’s first start at corner|
|Jamie Nye||Diontae Spencer’s 496-yard game|
|Max Rosenberg||Ed Gainey’s five-takeaway game|
|Jeff Krever||Ed Gainey’s five-takeaway game|
His team 2-4 going into that game, Gainey’s big outing served as a jumping off point for the Riders’ season. The win over BC was part of an 8-4 run, not including a victory in the Eastern Semi-Final.
Meanwhile, Gainey’s four interceptions were a franchise record, and the most in a CFL game since 1986.
There were plenty of other noteworthy performances in 2017. Diontae Spencer set the single-game all-purpose yards record when he piled up 496 vs. the Ticats. Duron Carter recorded a pick-six and helped the Riders blow out the Stamps in his first career start at corner. And who could forget Cassius Vaughn’s big game in the Grey Cup?
“I’d love to see a Google Maps retracing of all those steps,” Landry said of Spencer’s record-breaking performance. “Incredible night.”
“My pick is Carter on defence,” said Cauz. “I’ve seen running backs put up huge yards, I’ve seen receivers surpass 200 yards but I’ve never seen a receiver intercept Bo Levi Mitchell and return it for a touchdown.”
Last Year’s Winner: Henry Burris in the 104th Grey Cup
GAME OF THE YEAR:
THE 105TH GREY CUP CHAMPIONSHIP
With time running out, the Stampeders up a touchdown and Rene Paredes warming up on the sideline, it looked like the writing was on the wall for the Argos and Stamps at the 105th Grey Cup.
The Stampeders could finally exorcise their Grey Cup demons of a year ago, making good on a league-best record of 14-3-1 while taking care of business in a game they were expected to win.
What happened next, no one was prepared for.
“I was heading down to the field for post-game celebrations and just assumed the Stamps had the game won,” recalled Rosenberg. “I missed just a couple minutes of game time and, well, a fumble and 109 yards later and the Argos had totally swung the game.
“I had no idea why the Argos were going for two when I got to the sideline,” he continued. “That is a something I’ll always remember. Game of the year and a reminder that no lead is safe.”
Writer Picks: Game of the Year
|Jim Morris||105th Grey Cup|
|Don Landry||BC vs. Winnipeg, Week 5|
|Pat Steinberg||105th Grey Cup|
|Chris O’Leary||105th Grey Cup|
|Matthew Cauz||Western Final|
|Jamie Nye||105th Grey Cup|
|Max Rosenberg||105th Grey Cup|
|Jeff Krever||105th Grey Cup|
TD Place was like a snow globe that night and the game, featuring two 100-plus-yard touchdowns, was decided by a last-minute interception. What more could you ask for in a championship?
For many, the Bombers’ comeback win over Montreal was a close second, while the Western Final and an early-season clash between the Bombers and Lions were also considered.
“The Western Final is my pick,” said Cauz. “Battle of the two best teams that saw Calgary withstand Edmonton’s quick two-touchdown lead, plus the mystery of that Jason Maas field goal call that still baffles me.”
“The Bombers had a better comeback but the stage was bigger at the Grey Cup and the ending was more dramatic,” said O’Leary.
For the second year in a row, the best was saved for last with a Grey Cup that won’t be forgotten.
Last Year’s Winner: 104th Grey Cup Championship
CANADIAN OF THE YEAR:
ANDREW HARRIS, RB / WPG
There were plenty of Canadians worthy of attention this year, but in the end, no one had a better year on the field than the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian.
Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris had another dominant season with his hometown team, combining for 1,892 yards and even threatening to become the first player in CFL history to reach 1,000 yards each through the air and on the ground.
He also had one of the most iconic moments of the season, capping an incredible comeback with a last-play touchdown to beat the Alouettes in Week 6.
“The chance for a Canadian to be the first 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving player in CFL history is truly an incredible achievement,” said Rosenberg. “I know he fell short, but for 80 per cent of the season he was the talk of the town, the no-brainer start every week as your fantasy RB and he had a season that was rewarded with the honour of becoming the Most Outstanding Canadian.”
Stampeders linebacker Alex Singleton was close runner-up, while Luc Brodeur-Jourdain and Brandon Bridge were also mentioned.
Writer Picks: Canadian of the Year
|Jim Morris||Andrew Harris|
|Don Landry||Luc Brodeur-Jourdain|
|Pat Steinberg||Alex Singleton|
|Chris O’Leary||Alex Singleton|
|Matthew Cauz||Andrew Harris|
|Jamie Nye||Andrew Harris|
|Max Rosenberg||Andrew Harris|
|Jeff Krever||Brandon Bridge|
“It felt like every time the Stamps’ defence made a play, Alex Singleton was involved in it,” said O’Leary.
“Luc Brodeur-Jordain gets my vote,” added Landry. “The Alouettes’ centre played all 18 games this season, running his consecutive games played streak to 97. And he is a tireless volunteer in the Als’ stay-in-school outreach program.”
One voter turned his attention to Riders quarterback Brandon Bridge.
“Fans have waited a long time for the next great Canadian quarterback, and Bridge has flashed the potential of becoming just that,” said Krever. “Bridge has proven he’s more than just a gimmick as a Canadian QB; he’s a legitimate prospect with the upside of a starting CFL quarterback.
“When you consider what it means for CFL fans and the league for a Canadian quarterback to succeed, Bridge’s accomplishments in 2017 are significant.”
Other Canadians that could have been considered are Commissioner Randy Ambrosie and Bombers battery mates Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea.
Last Year’s Winner: Mike O’Shea