There were many very Canadian things about Sunday’s epic Grey Cup game in Ottawa but none more than this: in the CFL, no lead is safe.
That slogan, used by the league in its marketing once upon a time, should be carved into Lord Grey’s silver trophy – right next to the names of the 2017 Toronto Argonauts, who won 27-24 in spectacular fashion over the Calgary Stampeders.
And yes, a former Hamilton Tiger-Cat played a key role.
Behind by eight and set to surrender to some insurance points late in the fourth quarter, Toronto defensive back Cassius Vaughn scooped up a Kamar Jorden fumble and took it back 109 yards for a touchdown. A two-point conversion from former McMaster Marauder Declan Cross tied the game.
“I knew Hamilton was tripping when they released me. But it was the best thing for my career,” Vaughn said afterwards. “I’m happy. Can’t be a happier moment.”
The Argos went ahead on a field goal with under a minute to play but Calgary was in range to tie it with a kick of their own when veteran Canadian defensive back Matt Black intercepted Bo Levi Mitchell to seal it for Toronto.
The Toronto Argonauts, Grey Cup champions. At least the Ticats won on Labour Day.
Vaughn was released by Hamilton in the off-season and signed in Toronto in no small part so he could stick it to his old team. Another defensive back, Rico Murray, gets his first ring as does former Tiger-Cat offensive coordinator Tommy Condell, now an assistant in Toronto.
The theatrics on the field managed to overcome the night’s other big story: the snow.
Big, fluffy snowflakes fell for much of the night with kids in hockey jerseys and guys in big puffy jackets driving snow plows clearing the field at every opportunity. Halftime act Shania Twain arrived on a dog sled, was greeted by a Mountie and performed her set in a sequined red jumpsuit: it couldn’t have been more Canadian if she’d chugged a beer on stage.
It had been 21 years since the CFL had a true Snow Bowl for a Grey Cup, dating back to the 1996 game at old Ivor Wynne, the last time Hamilton hosted the championship game. That contest is iconic, known for Eskimo Eddie Brown’s remarkable catch – still cited as one of the memorable plays in history – and the brilliance of Edmonton returner Gizmo Williams.
And yet this game may have topped it.
Just as they were in ’96, the Argonauts were happy to row in the snow, while the Stampeders, the best team in the regular season the last two years, fell short when it mattered most once again.
At 38, Ray wins his third Grey Cup and further cements his legacy as one of the all-time greats. For the second straight week, Ray led his team on a game-winning drive: with the game on the line, he may very well be the best ever.
Mitchell, on the other hand, once again comes up short in the biggest of moments. He – along with the rest of this Stampeders team – will now wear the label of a squad that can’t get it done when it matters most.
There is about to be a debate in CFL circles about starting the season a little earlier so that more games are played in the relatively warm weather of May and June and less in the frigid cold of late fall. The football would be better and the fans more comfortable, or so the argument goes.
That’s exactly right. And so, so wrong. On a night when the CFL showed just how exciting and dramatic it can be, the snow put a perfect Canadian exclamation point on the whole affair.