Photo courtesy Alex Lupul/AlexLupul.com

That was ugly.

Very, very ugly.

The 33-12 beatdown the Winnipeg Blue Bombers put on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Sunday’s Grey Cup actually flattered the losing side.

The game was never really that close.

Whether it was the seven turnovers, the two third-and-short failures, losing nearly every 50-50 ball thrown, the lack of big plays on offence or an inability to stop the run, the Ticats played their worst game of the season on the league’s largest stage.

People will look for a player or two to place the blame on, but this was a total team collapse. No one played well and the Ticats played like they forgot how to play the game. This wasn’t a case of cockiness or thinking they had the game won just by showing up; they just got outplayed, plain and simple.

And that happens sometimes. We have seen numerous all-time great regular season teams get dummied in the playoffs. The Anthony Calvillo-led Montreal Alouettes lost in the Grey Cup five times in eight tries over an 11-year period. The Calgary Stampeders, owners of the best regular season record over the last 11 years, have lost to two 9-9 teams and one 8-9-1 team in their six Grey Cup appearances.

Good teams sometimes lose, good teams sometimes kicked their asses kicked. The Ticats in 2019 were a very good team, but like the Als and Stamps before them, they met a team that was just better than them on the day that ultimately matters.

The Ticats lost the Grey Cup because they didn’t play Ticats football, at least as we came to know it in 2019. They lost the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball, badly. The Bombers had their way with both the offensive and defensive lines of the Ticats, and even on the rare occasion when Hamilton’s front four would get some pressure, Zach Collaros would sidestep it and find an open receiver down field or throw up a 50-50 ball that his receiver would come down with.

The turnovers didn’t help either, as the Ticats gave the ball away seven times, even if the last two were essentially insignificant since the outcome was no longer in doubt. I don’t care how good a team is, if you turn the ball over seven times you are going to lose.

You can make excuses about injuries, and how losing Brandon Banks midway through the game hurt, but the Ticats weren’t playing well with Banks in there. I highly doubt his participation would have made much of a difference.

The big plays just weren’t there. They had one chance, really, all game to get something big and it ended with a Mike Jones drop. Maybe if Jones catches that pass and the Ticats punch it in the outcome is different, but it didn’t feel like it would have mattered.

The Bombers scored on seven of eight drives in the middle of the game, sacked Dane Evans six times and were plus-six in the turnover department. Game over.

So the Ticats enter their 20th consecutive offseason saying “Wait ’til next year,” but for the first time in a long time that doesn’t ring nearly as hollow as in past years. The Ticats are a well-coached, well-run outfit that feels like a team at the beginning of a run instead of at the end one.

You don’t get to 15-3 by accident; you don’t lead the league in scoring, both offensively and defensively, by accident; and you don’t stumble upon a potential franchise-level quarterback on a three-year, team-friendly deal every year. Thinking the Ticats will go 15-3 every year is a pipe dream, but there is no reason to not think this team can become to the 2020s what the Stamps were to the 2010s and the Alouettes were to the 2000s.

This team has proven they know how to scout Canadian talent in the draft, can find young Americans on rookie deals to contribute, and make shrewd free agent acquisitions. They also have a young head coach who has proven adept at making the changes necessary to lead this team to the promised land.

So while they didn’t finish it off this year, you have to like their chances of being able to do it in the not-too-distant future.

It is a dark day in Hamilton now, and losing in the Grey Cup is never fun, but that future looks bright for the black and gold. This may not have been the Ticats year, but the Tabbies look poised to be one the league’s marquee teams for a very long time.

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Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.