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As I sit here having the best meal of the year (the leftovers from Thanksgiving) giving thanks for stretchable pants, I started to think about all things I am thankful for in the world of sports. For the purpose of this column I will stick with the CFL and not include important things like being able to make fun of Eugene Melnyk.
The best place to start is I’m thankful for Wayne Gretzky, John Candy, Rocket Ismail and busted up Matt Dunigan for turning me onto the CFL back in 1991. I’ve written about it before but my devotion to ‘SCTV’ and burgeoning interest in football meshed at the just the right time for a 16-year-old Matt Cauz.
Move forward to the late 1990’s and I’m thankful for Canadian college football. I got to cover the McMaster Marauders first for the University newspaper and then later as the play-by-play broadcaster for the radio station. I witnessed grown men who barely knew each other hug after a last second 76-yard touchdown pass from Ben Chapdelaine to Ryan Janzen lifted McMaster to their first win of the season, beating Windsor 31-25.
I am thankful that I got to call just about every game of Jesse Lumsden’s brilliant career. Injuries would derail his CFL career but when healthy he was a threat to score on every play. I got to watch so many young Canadians go from freshman to long time standouts in the CFL. I will always be thankful of those years in Hamilton.
All right, enough about me, what about the current product? I’m thankful for Vernon Adams Jr. breathing life into the Montreal Alouettes. It feels like a lifetime ago since Montreal has felt so relevant. I would be remiss not to credit such players like William Stanback, Henoc Muamba and Tommie Campbell and the work they’ve done to elevate Montreal into the post-season.
Sticking with the quarterback theme, I’m thankful for Cody Fajardo and everyone around him that has elevated his play. Only Mike Reilly and Trevor Harris have more passing yards. Not bad for a player who is on his third team in four years with just over 400 career passing yards to his name. Fajardo is far from a finished product but he has kept his team in the race for the Western Division.
Over to the East, I’m thankful to everyone responsible for the wonder that is Dane Evans. From the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ coaching staff to Evans himself to Brandon Banks and Bralon Addison, it takes a village to raise a quarterback with less than 50 career pass attempts to the guy (with the help of the offensive line and stars like Devin Breaux and Ja’Gared Davis) who has led the Tabbies to the best record in the league.
On the defensive side of the ball I’m thankful for CFL sacks leader Charleston Hughes for proving that age is just a number. I’m thrilled that Solomon Elimimian is still getting it done, that Winston Rose and the Bombers defence is as opportunistic as ever, and that you can take away as many all-stars as you want and the Stampeders will still roll out a defence that can stop any opposing offence.
Now, if you will indulge me for a moment when I’m filled with gratitude, I can’t help but reminisce. I’m thankful that the Ottawa Rough Riders beat the Sacramento Gold Miners 32-23 on July 7, 1993. This was the first ever game between a Canadian and an American franchise. The Gold Miners were not under the same Canadian ratio rules as all other Canadian teams so their squad was made up of 100 per cent American players. This game was a sneaky big deal with all Canadians wanting to prove to our big bad neighbour to the south that they did not have a monopoly on football excellence. Tom Burgess threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns while the Riders defence sacked Gold Miners quarterback David Archer seven times. It was the first and only time I rooted for any team owned by the Gliebermans.
I’m thankful I got to witness 1994 Allen Pitts destroy secondaries, 1998 Mike Pringle run over everyone and 2002 Milt Steagall put up the kind of season that when you back at his statistics, you swear it must be a misprint. For fans new to the game, spend a night Googling and find as many YouTube clips as you can of these three special players. My suggestion is open up a bottle of wine and enjoy what true Hall of Fame talent looks like. While you’re at it, type in “Gizmo” or “Pinball” + “return touchdown” + “CFL” and make a full night of glorious CFL nostalgia.
I am thankful for all the wonderful and crazy celebrations I’ve witnessed over the past 30 years from a league that has always embraced having fun. I’m thankful for the Calgary Stampeders receivers doing their bobsled touchdown celebration just like I cherish Arland Bruce III and his Spider-Man routine. Okay, maybe it took Bruce a wee bit too long to pull out his Spider-Man mask after scoring a touchdown with the Argonauts in a Labour Day win over Hamilton, but it was hilarious nonetheless.
I’m thankful I never wore any Argonauts gear at old Ivor Wynne Stadium on Sept. 1, 1997 when Doug Flutie and company whipped up on Hamilton 46-3. I’m not saying anything would have happened, but the crowd that day was less than pleased. Speaking of games in Hamilton, I’m thankful for the 1996 Snow Bowl, and not just because of my Toronto allegiances. All of Canada got to see Eddie Brown somehow make that juggling shoestring catch in the middle of all that snow for a 64-yard touchdown. Toronto won 43-37 in game that no one will forget.
I’m thankful I was so wrong that Calgary wold defeat Ottawa in the 2016 Grey Cup. Everyone picked the Stamps to win but instead we were all treated to Henry Burris putting on a passing day for the ages in the REDBLACKS’ 39-33 Grey Cup upset win.
Finally, on the topic of Grey Cups, I am thankful that I am not a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan. It’s been a decade since Montreal was given a second chance to kick the GAME winning field goal after the Roughriders were penalized for having too many men on the field. What should have been a Saskatchewan 27-25 win turned into a heartbreaking 28-27 loss. The Alouettes were a hell of a team littered with stars but I can’t think of a bigger gut punch loss than that one.
And finally, I am thankful that I can watch this coming Grey Cup with my father, who just celebrated his 87th birthday. I could have gone to the game as I will be in Calgary for TSN Radio but I’d rather be at home watching the game with a man whose first Grey Cup was in 1943 when the Hamilton Flying Wildcats beat the Winnipeg RCAF Bombers 23-14.