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O’Leary: 2009 Als withstood, passed their biggest test

Unless you’re a member of the 2009 Montreal Alouettes or a die hard fan, the mistake made in the Grey Cup game that year is what will be remembered by most who think about it.

The city of Cleveland watched its pro sports teams suffer for 52 long, miserable years before its championship drought ended in 2016. Pins in the tragic roadmap of that journey include The Drive and The Fumble for the Browns; The Shot and The Decision for the Cavaliers and The Catch and a couple of curses for the baseball team. They’re the kinds of things that can haunt teams and cities, that worm their way into the psyche of fans and sometimes even the teams themselves.

A similar moment was created for Riders fans on Nov. 29, 2009. We’ll probably always think of The 13th Man when we look back to that game but when you look at it from the Alouettes’ perspective, that’s somewhat unfair.

As then-Als head coach Marc Trestman explained in the freshly-released Remote Reunion driven by Kubota series, there were 100 other moments in that classic of a game that helped shape the outcome. It wasn’t just the one that lives forever in highlight packs.

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Anthony Calvillo and the Montreal Alouettes rolled through the majority of the 2009 season before facing a big test in the Grey Cup from the Saskatchewan Roughriders (The Canadian Press)

“When you watch this game, literally every player on both sides of the ball and special teams…if Etienne Boulay doesn’t fall on that fumbled punt (in the fourth quarter) we’re not here today,” Trestman told host Brodie Lawson.

“When we needed to make a play, everybody seemed to make a play when it was needed. We call that competitive greatness. There are 100 moments. Any one play didn’t make a difference but every play did.”

Legendary Als QB Anthony Calvillo echoed that sentiment and pointed to the sizeable comeback that his team made. They trailed the Saskatchewan Roughriders 27-11 with under eight minutes left in the game and 27-19 with under two minutes to play. Boulay recovered the fumbled punt return that Trestman mentioned with just 40 seconds on the clock and the Als down 27-25. That let Calvillo and the offence get onto the field and get in position for Damon Duval’s field goal attempt. We know what happened from there.

“People talk about The 13th Man, but you forget what happened there, especially in that fourth quarter and how we were able to come back,” Calvillo said.

“I give Damon so much credit. Think about…missing a championship game (winning) kick and then getting another opportunity. I’m getting chills right now because I don’t know what kind of pressure a kicker goes through, but you’ve got to give him a lot of credit for putting that thing right through the middle.”

Between Duval’s initial attempt from 43-yards and the multitude of flags hitting the turf, Calvillo and receiver Jamel Richardson admitted that they’d thought they’d lost. With the yardage adjusted for Saskatchewan’s penalty, the kicker coolly put the ball through from 33 yards with zeroes on the clock to give the franchise its sixth Grey Cup.

“(Duval) punted too off the side of his foot in the game and missed a game-winning field goal and then he had the presence to step into that ball and put it right down the middle,” Trestman said. “We have a lot to be thankful for. That was a heck of a job.”

Perhaps also lost in one of the most dramatic Grey Cup games ever was just how dominant that Alouettes team was in 2009. The team went a league-best 15-3, with Calvillo being named the league’s Most Outstanding Player. Scott Flory was named Outstanding offensive lineman, Larry Taylor won the special teams award and Trestman was named coach of the year. The Als boasted four CFL All-Stars on offence, three on defence and the duo of Duval and Taylor swept the special teams selection, with Duval getting kicking and punting honours.

“This was really one of the great teams that I’ve ever been around,” Trestman said.

Riders fans were fortunate that they didn’t have to wait long to see The 13th Man avenged. They saw their team lift the Grey Cup four years later at Mosaic Stadium, a moment that let them put the scarring result of the ’09 finale behind them.

In that Grey Cup game, the Als were tested in a way that they hadn’t been all season. They withstood a ferocious attack from the Riders and a largely green crowd at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, and worked their way back into the game in its dying stages. The 13th Man may live on forever, but the resilience of a team that was loaded with hall of famers (present and future) found a way to prove its place in the league that year.