The Canadian Press
If you’re a Canadian sports fan (and if you are reading this I’m going to assume that you are), I imagine you view the Grey Cup as this annual wonderful opportunity to celebrate “Canadianity” (Copyright: Jonathan Torrens and Jeremy Taggart) to revel in what it means for many to be Canadian as we get set to crown just who is the lord of all things three down football.
While it might not have the same corporate presence as some other leagues, we sometimes get to see Shania Twain on a dog sled and everyone shares their favourite chilli recipe. Basically, the Grey Cup represents all the best parts of nationalistic pride, skip the manifest destiny but go heavy on the kidney beans.
Well, in 1994, any sense of nationalism that we derive from our unique brand of football hit an all-time high when the final two teams left standing were the BC Lions and the Baltimore Colts/Football Club/Stallions/CFLs. (From this point forward I will just be referring to them as Baltimore because I have no idea legally what name I am supposed to use).
We couldn’t allow the upstart American team in its first year of existence just stroll up to Canada and take away our precious Grey Cup!
Listen to what Grey Cup hero, Lions kicker Lui Passaglia, had to say about some of the underlying tensions going into this game: “We knew this was more than a Grey Cup. You concentrate on the game, not the politics, but you knew there was politics in this one.”
With all that was at stake leading up to this particular Grey Cup what better game to do a deep dive on in honour of CFL.ca releasing all the Grey Cups from the 1990s on the “Grey Cup on Demand Portal” than the 26-23 BC Lions win over Baltimore?
For people who don’t have time to watch the whole game, let me be your guide to the biggest moments. So, grab your Canadian flag, maple syrup and crack open your favourite adult beverage and let’s all stand on guard for thee!
1:51 — This is our first of many close-up shots of Lui Passaglia and his no-nonsense moustache. Good on the CBC producers for focusing on Lui early and often. As the oldest player on the field, Lui made for a great pre-game storyline. Also, Lui looks like the cop who does in fact play by the rules in every 1990s buddy-cop film.
3:18 — Yup, it always jarring to see a current coach/executive that you have covered in the past five years barking signals as a player. Watching Kent Austin the quarterback and not the coach on the sidelines just makes me feel old.
6:45 — “How will he cope with the noise?” The “he” is Baltimore quarterback Tracy Ham and this is the first time the announcers bring up the crowd noise. There have been many examples of a team benefitting from playing in the Grey Cup in their own home town but I don’t think any got as much of a home field boost as the 1994 BC Lions. BC Place is just rocking
6:50 — If you are looking for a Grey Cup filled with aerial dominance with two brilliant quarterbacks trading touchdowns, you may want to stop reading now. But if you want legitimate great defensive plays and well-coordinated running attacks then please stick around. On this play, Lions defensive back James Jefferson had what is probably the most athletic play of the night, as he makes a stunning leaping interception, knocking Tracy Ham’s first pass down with one hand and somehow corralling it with his other.
9:00 — This is the first time I have picked up on the fact that Kent Austin is under centre for most plays. Tracy Ham is as well. I estimate it was 75/25 snaps under centre versus the quarterback opening up in the shotgun. How old does it make me that I wistfully miss the good ole’ days of watching a quarterback drop back? You don’t need to answer that.
9:00 — On the same play, Baltimore’s Karl Anthony comes up with the second impressive interception of the night. This time he fought through Ray Alexander in the end zone for the ball and managed to keep his feet inbounds. On a more important note, the announcers are calling Baltimore the “CFLers” so I shall work that name in for the remainder of this column.
9:31 — My first Mike Pringle sighting! It’s an explosive run to his left behind his pulling left guard. Oh the patience, the vision, the speed! Hey, I watch quarterbacks throw the ball 40+ times a game in nowadays, let me have my fun. Pringle has a couple of these runs early and you wonder, can the Lions smaller defensive front handle the man giants Baltimore has on the offensive line? (Spoiler Alert: Yes.)
13:15 — Lions defensive back Charles Gordon drops an easy Ham interception. This would not be the last time Tracy is saved by a dropped pass by a Lions defender.
14:15 — In case you have forgotten, Darren Flutie is small! He just made a nine-yard catch finding the hole in the CFLers zone and every time he gets hit I am amazed he gets back up again.
20:05 — I have no idea how Kent Austin is still in the game. The announcers were commenting about his injured left shoulder and the impact it is having on his throwing motion. It is plain to see that it must have been shot up as it looks oddly frozen as Austin completes a short pass to Yo Murphy. At the 20:35 mark they show a close up replay of Austin trying to pass and it literally does not move at any point during Austin’s pass.
22:30 — Who needs the passing game when there’s Corey Philpot ripping off a 20-yard run behind his pulling right guard? That’s right, I’m reaching the highest level of football nerdom when I’m transfixed on interior line play.
23:50 — If you need a physical example of why it was harder to throw back in the 1990s, this is the play for you. Darren Flutie gets popped by Charles Anthony in the chest and there is no call on this incomplete pass. Not only do the refs not throw a flag, the announcers don’t even speculate if a penalty is about to be called. They just praise the physical play of Anthony.
25:10 — Remember when I said this is the greatest home field advantage a team has ever had in the Grey Cup and you thought I was being hyperbolic? Well this is the moment we are informed that Baltimore’s offensive line were given specially designed ear plugs to deal with the crowd noise but they have got rid of them after the first series because they couldn’t hear Tracy Ham. Yeah, it’s loud.
32:55 — This is our first Robert Drummond sighting and the beginning of one of the overlooked themes from this game, Baltimore’s inability to get the ball to this dynamic player, who is relatively unknown at this time. The play is an incomplete pass to Drummond but the commentary is about how he is a world class sprinter who can beat most defensive backs on his pass routes. The CFLers are so stacked at running back that Drummond did not have a carry during the 1994 regular season. Late in the second quarter he would have a 32-yard catch and run on a quick screen. Even if you didn’t know who he was you could see this guy has skills. More on him later.
39:47 — One of the many long isolation shots of coach Don Matthews and that full head of glorious brown hair hidden behind that ball cap. Yes, it is a mullet and no, Matthews does not care what you think of it.
40:15 — There’s nothing better than when a quarterback fakes out an entire defence, the TV camera and the people calling the game. On this play Tracy Ham and his great sleight of hand fake to Pringle on the goal line creates all the space Ham will need to saunter into the end zone as the announcer is praising the Lions defence for stopping Pringle.
42:05 — This is the lowest moment for BC. A wobbly Kent Austin (7 of 15 for 72 yards and two interceptions at this point) is picked off by Alvin Walton who smartly laterals it to Karl Anthony for the touchdown. The Lions went from dominating Baltimore statically in the first quarter to trailing 14-3.
47:40 — If you want to sound smart around your friends just casually drop that it was a Lui Passaglia punt that dropped on the six-yard line that was one of the most important plays of the game. You will be the belle of the ball by recounting that two plays later Ham would throw an awful interception to Charles Gordon who would return it for a touchdown, getting the Lions back in the game. Tracy had a brilliant game running with the ball but his decision making, especially with pass rushers in his face, was one of the main reasons Baltimore lost this game.
56:30 — And that is it for Kent Auston, whose hanging out pattern is picked off and he is withering on the ground in pain. Top marks for him trying to tough it out but it’s Danny McManus time for the second half.
1:01:10 — He may get lost in all the Lui love but wow, what a game for defensive lineman Andrew Stewart! His pressure led to the Gordon interception and on this play, he stops Pringle for no gain.
1:08:28 — Sean Millington with one decisive cut and one broken tackle rumbles for 31 yards. Millington puts up 85 yards on the ground while his partner Cory Philpot would finish the day with 109 yards on 17 carries. This Grey Cup was all about the running attacks and special teams.
1:10:33 — Speaking of special teams, after OJ Brigance sacked Danny McManus on second down, the Lions were forced to punt the ball until Darren Flutie took the snap, correctly read the aggressive punt block by Baltimore and easily ran for the first down on the fake punt. McManus would score soon after and the Lions suddenly have all the momentum.
1:28:52 — This game easily could have been the Robert Drummond game. On this play, Ham throws behind an open Drummond near the goal line for what should have been an easy touchdown. The next play Ham fumbles the ball while trying to reach for the end zone and the Lions record.
1:39:10 — Continuing on this theme, Ham this time over throws a wide-open Drummond on the right sideline for what should have been a massive chunk play.
1:42:59 — The Lions defence continues to get the job done. This time it’s Angelo Snipe blowing past Guy Earl (real name) not only sacking Ham but injuring his shoulder in the process. John Congemi has to come in and on the next play he is also taken down.
1:47:30 — Here’s a classic announcer jinx as Lui Passaglia lines up for the game winning kick. We hear a lot of commentary about how this is Lui’s moment, he’s 40 years old, the Lions are 40 years old and yup, he misses the 37 yarder.
1:50:40 — There is redemption for Lui here, who boots the game winning 38-yard field goal! There’s Lions head coach Dave Ritchie with the slowest victory sprint to the huddle ever. Don Matthews looks less than thrilled, and you have the iconic shot of the Lions hugging Lui, coaches crying and Austin’s shoulder clearly in pain but that does not stop him from holding his daughter. Not going to lie, it’s getting emotional re-watching this game.
As I said off the top this was not the best Grey Cup in terms of offensive execution. But when you combine so many impressive individual defensive plays with the historical importance of this game, mixed with a game-winning, no-time-left-on-the-clock winning field goal from a 40-year-old folk hero, this game more than lives up to the hype.
Hope you enjoy all the Grey Cups from the 1990s.