Sometimes I feel like an unofficial ambassador to Canada when I sit down and write a blog post. I kind of enjoy it. I get to share with you what life is like in this country, milk bags and all. Tonight will be no different.
I’m going to transition from pudgy bags of milk to football now, if that’s okay. I know some of you are disappointed by that, but don’t cry. I didn’t spill any.
Sunday night was the Grey Cup here in Canada.
If that statement is confusing you, I’ll make it simple. We have a league called the Canadian Football League. It has nine teams. Two teams eventually make it to the finals and play for the Grey Cup.
Some of you are probably thinking, “Oh, that’s their Super Bowl.” To which, I reply, “Nay! The Super Bowl is your Grey Cup!”
Get it? Because the Grey Cup has been around for 105 years and the Super Bowl has been around for about half that time. Which means we came first.
I’ve gone off on about four tangents and this post isn’t 200 words old yet.
The 105th Grey Cup presented by Shaw (darn, their marketing worked) featured the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders. Calgary was the favourite. They dominated the regular season (13-4-1) for the second year in a row, while the Argos finished with a 9-9 record.
Last year, though, Calgary made it all the way to the Grey Cup and lost to Ottawa. The game was played in Toronto.
Last year, though, Toronto was the worst team in the league and had management issues, while hosting “Dress as an empty seat night” at every home game. That’s my nice, Canadian way of saying not many people went to their games.
So, this Grey Cup, what’s the story, Wishbone? (If you got that reference, all the points to you).
Well, Calgary is out for redemption. You know, they didn’t quite focus as much as they should have last year. They’re out to right a wrong.
The Argos, well, who saw this coming? Not the empty seats, that’s for sure. Yes, they hired Jim Popp as the General Manager and he brought back his good friend Marc Trestman to coach the team. The two of them had found success before in Montreal. Why couldn’t they find it here?
I’ll tell you why they couldn’t! Because ownership didn’t hire them until deeper into the off-season than would’ve been desirable.
You know, they would get all the leftovers in free agency. How in the world would they turn this team around? *Insert more “woe is us” media storylines*
Well, they did. They had a quarterback named Ricky Ray, who is a legend. You want an NFL comparison? He is Tom Brady.
So Calgary and Toronto win their divisions and have a bye to the Division Final. That’s right. Here in Canada, there are only two playoff rounds before the final. Some teams only need to win one game to get to the Grey Cup.
Both teams won and met Sunday night in Ottawa.
Grey Cup Matchups
2016: Calgary vs. Ottawa in Toronto
2017: Calgary vs. Toronto in Ottawa
Oh, how the turn tables.
Before the game started, it started snowing. I liked seeing that. First off, if it’s snowing, that knocks the favourites (Calgary) down a notch. Second, football just looks cooler in the snow.
Then I pictured a bunch of sponsors getting on their cellphones and calling an executive who works at the CFL, complaining that their on-field logo was now covered in snow and they were spending all that money for nothing.
“WHY AREN’T THE SNOW PLOWS UNCOVERING MY LOGO?” is what I imagined was being yelled multiple times throughout the first half.
Keep reading for more of this juicy “logos covered with snow” storyline.
Two anthem singers came out, with a choir behind them, and all of a sudden thought they were at a summer camp. They tried to get the crowd cheering certain things and saying, “We’re all going to sing this together! Yeah Canada! Wooo!”
I had no clue what the hell I was watching.
I’ve said it a million times on this blog – years before anthems were even controversial – why can’t people just sing the anthem properly at sporting events?
I don’t need your spin on it. If you want to cover a song, go record yourself in your makeshift recording studio in your bedroom with an unmade bed, and post it to YouTube. Don’t stand in front of the country and look like a fool.
So, that happened.
The game finally started a good 90 minutes after I finished consuming my last slice of pizza. This is normally when I start to fall asleep. But I didn’t!
Calgary took the early lead. Toronto came right back and scored a 100-yard touchdown – the first ever 100+ yard play in Grey Cup history.
I should mention that a CFL field is 110 yards, not 100 yards. Also, each end zone is 20 yards deep. That means, yes, there have been punts and missed field goals returned 129 yards for touchdowns.
Anyway, the Argos did that.
Fast forward to half time and who comes out? Ms. Canada herself, Shania Twain.
She rode in on a dog sled and my initial thought was, “This would look awful if there weren’t any snow.” Fortunately, there was snow.
Maybe that’s why they didn’t shovel the snow on top of the sponsors’ logos? #ConspiracyTheory
Nah, too much snow was falling. They only had time to shovel the lines. #ConspiracyTheoryDebunked
Then she got off the sled and was greeted by a Mountie, who walked her on stage like a perfect gentleman.
At this point, I was throwing up maple syrup, Timbits, and a long list of compliments. It was way too much Canadiana for me.
Then she sang three songs and descended underneath her stage.
I don’t want to say I thought the performance was boring, but…
I guess I wasn’t expecting her to sing three songs in full. Maybe my vision of half time shows have been blurred since I saw Lady Gaga do a medley of songs.
Maybe that’s what I was expecting. A medley. But then again, that’s not very Canadian. We like things to be complete. So, yeah. Yay music!
We come back for the second half and the big story is that most of the Argos players changed their shoes at halftime.
Ohhhhh here we go! This is what documentaries are made of! If this wasn’t the modern day version of “Michael’s Secret Stuff” ala, I don’t know what is.
There is a short delay as they are clearing snow off the field…IN MORE PLACE THAN JUST WHERE THE LINES ARE.
I told you there were sponsors on the phone in that first half, complaining about the snow covering their logo! And wouldn’t you know, I could now see some logos. Not clearly, but more than I could before.
The third quarter happened, fine.
Fourth quarter. The Argos were trailing 24-16.
Calgary marches all the way down the field in their snow shoes to about the Argos 10-yard line. There are just over four minutes left.
I looked at this and I thought, “We need an interception.” Holding them to a field goal would be fine, since 11 points in 4 minutes of a CFL game isn’t that far-fetched. But it’s the Grey Cup. We need the ball back without giving up anything.
The Stampeders receiver makes a catch and starts running to the end zone instead of going down.
At this point, and I swear to you, I saw an Argo behind him and said to myself, “Punch the ball out.”
So, Mo Hero (not his actual name, just go with it) gets tackled by about four Argos and forgets to cover the ball with two hands. Oh no.
The ball is out! THE BALL IS OUT!
Cassius Vaughn picks up the ball on our 1-yard line and takes it 109 yards back the other way.
We need a two-point conversion.
We got it!
At this point, Calgary might as well have left the stadium because their souls were already boarding the bus.
Toronto gets the ball back and marches down the field and kicks a field goal.
They left 53 seconds on the clock for Calgary. In the CFL, that is a lot of time. The clock stops after each play in the final three minutes and starts again when the referee whistles the play in. Basically, a team could be ready at the line of scrimmage before a play is whistled in.
That’s what I love about the CFL. There isn’t a lot of wasted time.
So Calgary gets within field goal range in about 30 seconds. I quickly went from thinking we were going to overtime, to thinking we were going to give up a touchdown.
But no, there’s no way Calgary would risk an interception, right? There is absolutely no way…
Calgary’s quarterback, Bo Levi Mitchell, threw it to the end zone….
ARGOS WIN! ARGOS WIN! ARGOS WIN!
And for the second year in a row, the “best team in the regular season” blew it in the big one to a team without a winning record. (Ottawa had an 8-9-1 record last season).
I’ve found the CFL to be entertaining ever since I found a game while clicking around the TV in the late 90s. No one around me at school ever cared about the CFL. I remember wearing an Edmonton Eskimos jersey to school and everyone thought it was a Green Bay Packers jersey.
I had to show them the logo to prove it wasn’t.
Don’t ask me why I’m an Argos fan but had an Eskimos jersey. I’ll be here all day explaining it.
But still, the Argos were popular in the early 2000s. They would get between 26,000 – 30,000 at home games. To all the Americans reading this, don’t scoff. We don’t have big 70,000 seat stadiums.
30,000 at a football game is tremendous.
I don’t know what happened, but over the last 8-10 years the fans have gone away.
The Argos and the CFL are seen as “uncool” or “not as good as the NFL”. People complained that their stadium was the problem. They were right. Playing out of a baseball stadium wasn’t doing them any favours.
So what did they do? They moved down the road to share a stadium with Toronto FC – the soccer team in town.
Well, how dare they!?
Toronto FC has been terrible for their entire existence, except the last two years. Nevertheless, they’ve had a rabid fanbase since the beginning who strive to make the atmosphere something that Europe would be proud of.
When TFC fans heard they now had to share a stadium, they hated it. They still hate it.
“NO ARGOS AT BMO” is what the signs said. (BMO Field is the name of the stadium).
And the Argos assured them, “Don’t worry. Your precious little field won’t be ruined. You’ll never be able to tell.”
TFC fans continue to act like children about it, though.
The Argos didn’t have any logos (their own, and sponsors) on the field all season, which is custom in the CFL. They were all digitized on the television broadcast, as to not ruin the field.
Oh, but even that isn’t good enough. Because people who see the game on TV are wondering why the logos look strange.
Moral of the story: You can’t please people who don’t want to be pleased.
Attendance has been poor the last two years at BMO Field, when all this time, a different stadium was seen as part of the answer to solving the attendance woes.
Personally, I haven’t been to an Argos game at the new stadium. I have no one to go with. I don’t know anyone who is an Argos fan. I mean a real, legit Argos fan. And I’m not going to go and sit by myself. Sorry.
Toronto is very much a trendy city. No one cared about the Blue Jays or baseball until they started winning.
It was the same thing as the Argos.
“Oh, look how empty the stadium is. No one goes to games. They suck.”
Well, TFC was terrible forever and fans still showed up. It’s not like MLS is a high-quality soccer league either. So what was it? Atmosphere? The old high school mentality that “this is where the party is”? Probably.
It amazes me how many people here love the NFL and are devoted to their “team” in a different country, but don’t care about their local team in the CFL.
I’m not saying they have to go to games. Watch it on TV. You might find it’s way more entertaining than an NFL game. I sure do.
There, I think I let out all of my thoughts on football in Canada.
Bottom line, it’s a great league and it’s a great product. I’ve always found it to be entertaining and I hope more people do, too.
So for one final time, congratulations to the Toronto Argonauts, and a good ol’ fashioned “sorry” to the Calgary Stampeders. Maybe we can get them a gift card to Tim Hortons as a consolation prize.
Now then, about those milk bags we have…