So, Greg Marshall, when you finally got to lift the Vanier Cup after nearly two decades of close calls and painful might’ve-beens, how did it feel?
“Feels good,” the coach of the Western Mustangs beamed.
“That’s it,” he responded. “Feels good.”
That post-game answer may have been succinct but it was somewhat superfluous anyway. Because from the kickoff of Saturday’s national championship until the final whistle, his team did all the talking it needed to with its play.
The 58-year-old and his Mustangs didn’t just win the Vanier Cup 39-17 in front of a much-better-than-last-year’s crowd at Tim Hortons Field – more on that in a minute – but they handed Laval the kind of beating the Quebec champions just never suffer.
The Rouge et Or, remember, had a 9-1 record in Vanier Cup games with their only loss coming in a double-overtime nailbiter to McMaster six years ago. They simply don’t get outmatched at this time of year. And they never have to stand there and listen to fans derisively serenade them with ‘Na Na Hey Hey’ for a good chunk of a fourth quarter.
A one-sided affair was not what most expected even though Mustangs quarterback Chris Merchant said his guys were exceedingly confident. While Western arrived in Hamilton as the most-terrifying offensive team in the country – its playoff eviscerations of Guelph, Laurier and Acadia in which it scored 222 points spoke to that – Laval had the best defence in the land. And you know what they say about defence and championships.
Yet on this day, the cliché was hollow.
Laval was never in this game. The Mustangs scored on their first drive and never trailed. Merchant was wonderful and full measure for his game MVP selection, the multi-headed rushing game was outstanding and the defence gave Laval nothing and nearly stole the show from the outfit’s headline-grabbing offence. It was simply a complete performance by a complete team.
Laval head coach Glen Constantin says Western did pretty much everything he expected. They just did it better than he might’ve thought.
“What we cannot measure on film is the intensity and physicality,” he said.
Those who see the perennially excellent Rouge et Or as Canadian university football’s Evil Empire – that name came up earlier in the week — would’ve loved this thorough beat down. Those in the stands wearing purple certainly did.
Ah yes, the crowd. The announced audience of 10,754 gave the place more of a big-game feel than last year. Of course, that bar wasn’t set particularly high since last year’s pitiful crowd could’ve fit into a phone booth.
But those improved figures only reinforce the need to re-evaluate where the game is played. Because had Western not been in this championship, it almost certainly would’ve been another attendance disaster. Having one of the teams based just 90 minutes away brought the numbers up to a reasonable level.
The most-obvious solution remains attaching the contest to the Grey Cup festivities. Holding it in a city where football fans and media have already gathered to celebrate the game makes all kinds of sense. For proof, go watch the replay of the 2011 Cup in Vancouver in which 24,000 people were in the building. Or 2012 when there were 37,000 in Toronto.
Failing that, the next best option is to make sure it’s played at the home – or close to the home – of one of the participants. But how do you do that if you don’t know who’s in it until the week before? The answer is relatively simple, if politically uncomfortable.
Since the Atlantic conference is now uncompetitive with the rest of the country, put the game at a stadium in the region that’s scheduled to face the AUS winner in the national semifinal. It won’t be popular with those out east but it would ensure a crowd.
Failing all that, just put it in Quebec permanently.
One way or another, the game deserves to be seen. The past seven Vanier Cups have all been terrific. A couple have been ever better than that. Last year’s contest was a gem watched by too few. This one wasn’t as tense yet it was a clinic to appreciate. Even Marshall called it a domination.
“To go undefeated and dominate the way we did in the playoffs, I’m really proud of this team,” Marshall said.
With 46 seconds left, a bunch of Western players gave their head coach the ceremonial Gatorade shower he’s been waiting so many years to receive. At least they tried to, missing him with most of it.
It was about the only thing they didn’t do perfectly all day.
All year, actually.