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January 4, 2018

Steinberg: 10 things we’ll remember about 2017

The Canadian Press

2017 is officially behind us, which in a way is really too bad. This past year gave us some incredible moments and outstanding storylines, culminating with an epic Grey Cup game in Ottawa.

My top 10 for this past year doesn’t have set criteria, per se, as it’s not the top plays, games, quotes, or players. Instead, it is a collection of my biggest takeaways from one of the most enjoyable seasons I can remember.

10. No fluke

2016 saw the Winnipeg Blue Bombers return to the playoffs after four dismal years of sub-.500 football. While I certainly wasn’t expecting them to fall off a cliff one year later, I wanted to see if they could follow up their success. 2017 did just that and proved the Bombers were no fluke and are here to stay.

In his first full year as starter, quarterback Matt Nichols was terrific and finished 2017 tied with Ricky Ray as the league’s most accurate passer (71.0% completion rate). Coupled with another strong season from Andrew Harris at tailback and the CFL’s top ball-hawking defence, Winnipeg followed up 2016 with another strong campaign.

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Andrew Harris and the Bombers continued their forward progress with an 11-win season in 2017 (The Canadian Press)

9. Dual disappointment

Both the BC Lions and Montreal Alouettes entered 2017 with justifiably high expectations. Unfortunately, both teams fell well short of those desired heights and missed the playoffs by large margins.

Under new GM Kavis Reed, the Alouttes added quarterback Darian Durant, receiver Ernest Jackson and offensive tackle Jovan Olafioye heading into this past season to revamp a struggling offence. It just didn’t come together as desired, though, as Montreal scored the league’s fewest points en route to a 3-15 finish.

The excitement was palpable for the Lions, too. The dynamic Chris Williams joined an already potent receiving group prior to the 2017 season and Jonathon Jennings looked poised to join the league’s elite group of quarterbacks. But, after a promising 4-1 start, BC only won three games between August and November and finished three games back of a playoff position.

8. Duron Carter

This dude was an absolute maniac in 2017. In his first season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Carter led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns and authored two moments that stick out more than anything else.

The first came on July 29 in a game against Toronto where Carter made one of the best catches I’ve ever seen at any level of football. The second was Carter’s 43-yard interception return touchdown while playing DB in Saskatchewan’s big win over Calgary on October 20th.

The guy was a human highlight reel in 2017.

Always in the headlines, Duron Carter was named CFL.ca’s Newsmaker of the Year (David Stobbe/CFL.ca)

7. Instant decision

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s August decision to alter the video review rules and procedures with immediate effect was bold and unprecedented, but it was also the right move. Because the CFL’s access to technology allows coaches a wide array of review options, it was being taken advantage of.

Ambrosie’s decision to allow just one challenge from each coach per game struck a really nice balance. Coaches still had access to technology to ensure important moments were called correctly, which was important. Limiting the frequency of those challenges, though, made them far more valuable.

6. Ticats’ turnaround

I know they didn’t make the playoffs, but the complete 180 we saw from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2017 was still pretty remarkable. This team was a complete and utter disaster as it entered its second bye week at 0-8. When they came back for Labour Day, though, the Ticats were a different group.

Kent Austin replaced himself at head coach with June Jones, who then replaced Zach Collaros with Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback. From that point on, the Ticats played at a playoff clip and won six of their final 10 games to turn a playoff spot from a pipe dream into a realistic possibility.

5. Tackle hungry

2017 really was the year of the linebacker. We saw three linebackers finish with 110 or more tackles, including a CFL record 144 from Solomon Elimimian of the Lions. Elimimian broke his own record of 143 set in 2014 and was one of the true bright spots in an otherwise tough season in BC.

Calgary’s Alex Singleton was named the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player as the quarterback of the league’s most dominant defensive unit. Singleton also set a new league record in September by recording 10 or more tackles in three straight games and was all over the field all season long.

And don’t forget Montreal’s Kyries Hebert, who got the nod as the East Division’s MODP. In his 11th CFL season, Hebert had a career season and led the East with 110 tackles in what was a banner year at the linebacker position.

Solomon Elimimian broke his own record for the most tackles in a single season (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

4. Dominant again

The final game didn’t go their way for a second straight year, but the Calgary Stampeders were still the head and shoulders best team in the league for a second straight season. In fact, I think you can make a solid argument the Stamps were better in the 2017 regular season than they were in 2016.

Calgary’s identity was based on a terrifying defensive unit led by elite performers like Singleton, Charleston Hughes, Micah Johnson, and Ciante Evans. Offensively they were well-rounded and efficient while Roy Finch, Rob Maver, and Rene Paredes made up the best special teams trio in the league.

3. Wilder-man

James Wilder only played six regular season games as Toronto’s starting running back in 2017, but that was enough for him to finish fifth in league rushing and earn Most Outstanding Rookie honours. The guy didn’t just burst onto the scene; Wilder exploded and dragged the Argos along with him.

In his six regular season starts, Wilder averaged 117 yards rushing yards and 190 yards of total offence per game. To go from being buried on the depth chart through the first half of the season to absolutely ravaging the league a few weeks later was something to behold.

2. Reunited and it felt so good

The timing was far less than ideal, but seeing Jim Popp and Marc Trestman’s reunion in Toronto was still pretty cool this past February. The Argonauts had said goodbye to their management group in January and were in scramble mode, so when the chance to reunite this dynamic duo, they pounced.

Popp had said goodbye to Montreal after more than two decades following the 2016 season while Trestman’s time with the Baltimore Ravens came to an end in October of 2016. Both were available for the Argos and the results, well, couldn’t have been any better.

The reunion of Jim Popp and Marc Trestman helped bring a Grey Cup back to Toronto (Johany Jutras/Argonauts.ca)

1. The 105th Grey Cup

What more can you say about the final game of 2017? Toronto’s 27-24 win over the Stampeders truly had everything and will be a game we remember for years down the road. From DeVier Posey’s 100-yard touchdown catch to Cassius Vaughn’s 109-yard fumble return, and finally Matt Black’s game-ending interception, the 2017 Grey Cup game definitely had the moments.

But it also had the storylines. Was that Ricky Ray’s final game and will he get the rare opportunity to truly go out on top? And on the other side, the Stampeders were left at a complete and utter loss as to what happened in a game they seemed so in control of.

Marquay McDaniel had harsh words for fellow receiver Kamar Jorden in the immediate aftermath, while quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell owned a bad throw while still defending his decision to go for the win in the fourth quarter. Was there any other choice for number one?