The Canadian Press
Hopefully everyone had a great holiday weekend and a very Merry Christmas if you celebrated. It’s our last column of the calendar year on a Tuesday that feels like a Monday, so I thought we’d look back at some of the stories and people that defined 2022 in the CFL.
Talk to you in 2023!
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The Story: Dynasty Quest
Could the Blue Bombers threepeat and cement a dynasty? It was the underlying theme throughout the regular season as Winnipeg was steamrolling the rest of the league. They came agonizingly close to making that happen, thwarted only be a herculean Toronto effort in the 109th Grey Cup. But that doesn’t mean the Bombers didn’t accomplish something special.
Winnipeg set a franchise record with 15 wins. They then beat the upstart BC Lions in the West Division Final before falling one point short of a third straight Grey Cup a week later. Zach Collaros became the first player since Anthony Calvillo to earn back-to-back Most Outstanding Player nods, while head coach Mike O’Shea took home his second straight Coach of the Year award.
The dynasty dream came up just short, but it was unquestionably the top story of 2022.
The Team: Toronto Argonauts
They were the dynasty deniers, of course, but the 2022 Argos were also a darn good football team. While perhaps lurking more in the shadows compared to Winnipeg or even the other West Division heavies like Calgary and BC, this Toronto team built to a crescendo throughout the season.
Very quietly, the Argonauts led the CFL in defensive turnovers, which would prove to be strong foreshadowing for their final game of the year. Toronto forced a pair of interceptions at the 109th Grey Cup to go along with four sacks and a game-winning blocked field goal. No one was looking at them as underdogs after their performance against the Bombers.
The Comeback Player: Larry Dean
After missing an entire season in 2020 due to a worldwide pandemic, not being able to play a single snap in 2021 must have been devastating for Dean. Dean sustained an Achilles injury as the Roughriders were getting their 2021 training camp underway, which sidelined him for the entire 14-game campaign. After an injury so severe, you just never know how a player is going to bounce back.
For Dean, though, he returned in 2022 exactly as we remembered: as a rangy, tackle-hungry linebacker. In 18 games with Saskatchewan and despite being moved to the Will position from his more familiar Mike role, Dean finished with 101 defensive tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Always one of my personal favourites to watch ply his craft, it was awesome seeing Dean back as devastating as ever.
The Breakout Player: Dalton Schoen
With respect to many other candidates, what Schoen did in his rookie season with Winnipeg is still hard to wrap your head around. Let’s just get this straight: Schoen led the league with 1,441 receiving yards, 16 touchdowns, and a 20.6-yard average per catch. And somehow, despite the rest of the league catching on to his game breaking talent, he got BETTER as the year went on.
Schoen’s story is easy to identify with. While a relative unknown upon his signing prior to the 2022 season, it wasn’t uncharted territory. Schoen was a walk-on at Kansas State and redshirted his first year before becoming one of the most prolific receivers in school history. But, again, he ran into bumps on the road starting as a pro and spent time on three NFL practice rosters before heading north.
The Bombers couldn’t be happier with the way things turned out.
The Coach(es): Mike O’Shea and Ryan Dinwiddie (tie)
I just couldn’t lean one way on this one, so I copped out and went with both. I can live with my decision.
O’Shea won his second straight Coach of the Year award as he guided Winnipeg to a commanding 15-3 season and a third straight appearance in the Grey Cup. But what always strikes me about O’Shea is what he means to the Bombers organization and locker room. He has set a culture and a standard and commands respect in an understated way. There are many reasons players keep coming back to Winnipeg, and O’Shea is one of the biggest.
Dinwiddie’s rise to prominence, and now a championship, needs to be highlighted too. The progression has been rapid, and clearly deserved. Dinwiddie started his coaching career in an offensive quality control role in Montreal before jumping to Calgary as quarterbacks coach for four years. General manager Pinball Clemons raised eyebrows when he chose Dinwiddie as his guy in late 2019, but he clearly knew what he was doing. Some big, fancy rings will be testament to that.