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As we approach the end of December, it’s time for that annual tradition that involves Santa Claus, Jimmy Stewart and of course ‘Die Hard’. No, I’m not talking about Christmas but rather my annual Christmas movie column where I do my best to compare players and moments from this past CFL season with either famous Christmas films or specific characters from such treasured classics like ‘Christmas Vacation’.
I’ll be honest, I spend way too much time trying to come up with the most accurate similarities. It may not seem like it and I bet you will disagree with some of my examples, but trust me, this column is always a ridiculous and often misguided labour of love. Oh, I am doing a slight twist this year by only using players and coaches involved in the Grey Cup. Apologies to the other seven teams who I have excluded and specifically to Mike Reilly, who I can easily compare to Emma Thompson’s character from ‘Love Actually’.
Dane Evans = Vince Vaughn from ‘Fred Claus’
I’ve written about this underrated 2007 Christmas movie in the past and it works so well with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback. In ‘Fred Claus’, Vince Vaughn’s character Fred is Santa’s brother and is thrust into saving Christmas after Santa is physically unable to travel the globe delivering presents to all the good children on Earth. Fred is as unlikely a saviour as he is a grifter/con man who early in the film has to get his famous older brother to bail him out of jail.
On the CFL side, Dane at one point was behind both Jeremiah Masoli and Johnny Manziel on the depth chart. He had just 42 career passes to his name and was a relative unknown when he was suddenly Hamilton’s starter after the Week 7 injury to Masoli. Evans would go 11-3 in both the regular season and the post-season, throwing for over 4,300 yards and helping get the Tiger-Cats to the Grey Cup. Yes, you can quibble that Vaughn completed his goal while Evans was a game short, but you can’t argue that both exceeded all expectations when they were called upon to lead.
Willie Jefferson = Macaulay Culkin from ‘Home Alone’
Am I doing this because I want to be the first writer in history to compare a 10-year-old Macaulay Culkin with Willie Jefferson? Maybe. But in both cases we are talking about the biggest star whenever they were on the screen, and both individuals cause utter havoc. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern had plans on robbing the McCallister family but Macaulay had other plans. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats planned on ending their 20 year Grey Cup drought but Jefferson thwarted the Tabbies’ ambitions early and often.
Kevin McCallister absolutely tortured and abused every time Harry and Marv attempted to enter Kevin’s home, while Jefferson abused Hamilton’s offensive line every time Dane Evans dropped back to pass, sacking Evans three times and forcing two fumbles in Winnipeg’s 33-12 Grey Cup victory.
Mike O’Shea = The movie ‘Miracle on 34th Street’
The main character in Miracle is Santa Claus. With his giant beard, Coach O’Shea is a shoe-in to play Santa at any and all Christmas parties that O’Shea is a part of. Considering his hearty laugh and how well he connects with fans, O’Shea was born to lead any and all Santa Claus parades.
‘Miracle on 34th Street’ is all about imagination and believing in something that may be hard to accept. Well, is there a coach with more imagination than O’Shea? And how hard was it to imagine that Winnipeg could go through Calgary, Saskatchewan and Hamilton to win the Grey Cup with the unorthodox quarterback deployment that the Bombers used on their way to a championship? Trust me, I’ve seen our Grey Cup picks. Not a belief around these parts!
Simoni Lawrence = Willie from ‘Bad Santa’
Please, no one show Simoni this article ’cause I don’t want him angry at me!! If Simoni is reading this, just hear me out. Billy Bob Thornton’s character was both loveable and evil. He was sometimes hard to root for but by the end of the movie you hoped he would evade the police and would be able to live a happy life with “The Kid” and his girlfriend Sue. The reason the movie works is that even when Willie is doing some heinous things, we are still giggling and hoping he gets away with robbing the mall.
In 2019 Lawrence started the year with a suspension for his helmet to helmet hit on Collaros and later fined for his head/neck shot on Logan Kilgore in Week 15. I understand why there are people who are not fans of Lawrence, but I will always be, even if sometimes he makes it hard for me to root for one of the best linebackers in the game.
Brandon Banks = John McClane from ‘Die Hard’
We are not going to get into a debate about whether or not ‘Die Hard’ is or is not a Christmas movie. It is — the evidence is all over the place, from the Christmas music played throughout to the use of “Now I have a machine gun ho-ho-ho.” John McClane can be dropped into any geographical location and lay havoc on to whoever is in his way. Meanwhile, the 2019 CFL MOP can be fielding missed field goals, punts or catching short crossing patterns and he was always a threat to score.
Like Willie Jefferson on defence, Banks laughs at opposing game plans to slow him down. No matter where he was on the field, whenever the ball was in his hand Banks consistently struck fear into the hearts of all defenders in front of him.
Andrew Harris = Clark Griswold from ‘Christmas Vacation’
Clark was at his best when he was filled with rage; the seminal moment of ‘Christmas Vacation’ was his rant after the Christmas tree is destroyed. That speech would set into motion Cousin Eddie kidnapping Clark’s boss. As for the Bombers running back, he is at his best when he is running with an edge, running with rage. We saw that throughout the Grey Cup. Also, Harris had plenty of anger towards all the “haters” out there who doubted him.
I hope Andrew can let go of that negativity and realize that though it may be unfair, it is just so difficult to believe any athlete who claims they had no idea what they were putting into their body. You can call it cynicism if you want, but we have all been burned many times in the past. Just like I was happy at the end of ‘Christmas Vacation’ that Clark got his work bonus so he could build a pool for his family, I was happy that Harris rightfully won both Most Valuable Canadian and Most Valuable Player for his dominant play in the Grey Cup.
The Winnipeg Bombers Grey Cup celebration = ‘The Night Before’
If you haven’t seen ‘The Night Before’, it is mostly about three friends played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie getting into trouble and partying on Christmas Eve. Judging by the shots I have seen of half-naked Chris Streveler, I imagine the Bombers have also been engaged in many nights of glorious decadence. Hey, when you end a nearly 30-year Grey Cup drought, I ain’t gonna judge however you choose to celebrate. The team deserves it.
Zach Collaros = Jimmy Stewart from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
Do you really think I wasn’t going to include the greatest Christmas movie of all time? I always save the best for last. George Bailey went on an unbelievable journey where he is befriended by an angel who thwarts a possible suicide attempt, shows George what life would be like in Bedford Falls if he had never existed and, in the end, is saved by his town that raises well over the $8,000 he owes to that evil Henry F. Potter.
Zach Collaros started the year with a concussion, was traded twice and then beat three elite teams on the road to win the Grey Cup. I’m not sure which storyline is harder to believe. I do know that both Bailey and Collaros deserved all the good fortune at the end and in both cases I imagine many people watching were brought to tears.