One of the reasons millions of fans around the world love football is because of its unpredictability. Not only is the old adage about any given team winning on any given day routinely proven true, but each game offers the potential for an individual performance that leaves fans shaking their heads in disbelief.
As the list below proves, it’s often top-tier players who rise up and deliver historic single-game performances, but occasionally it’s a lesser-known guy. Maybe it’s someone finally given a chance to shine or someone who takes advantage of a mismatch to blow everyone’s expectations away.
That’s the beauty of football. There are guys expected to make plays every time they take the field and there’s others who are expected to do unnoticed and not screw up. But on any given day, anybody can deliver a performance for the ages. That’s what the list below reminds us.
Bob Simpson vs. the Toronto Argonauts, September 29th, 1956
Over the course of his 13 Hall of Fame seasons with the Rough Riders, Simpson played on both sides of the ball and turned in numerous huge performances. One of those stands above the rest.
In the eighth game of the 1956 season, Simpson found himself lining up at wide receiver against Argo defensive back Jim Hagerty. Unfortunately for Hagerty, the ample time provided to Ottawa quarterback Halo Ledyard meant a long day at the office.
Simpson dominated the match-up, averaging 32.2 yards per catch, finishing the day with eight catches for 258 yards. 64 years later, no receiver in Ottawa history has ever recorded more receiving yards in a game.
Simpson’s efforts were a large part of the 43-22 win, which improved the Rough Riders’ record to 4-4.
Dave Thelen vs. the Toronto Argonauts, September 16th, 1959
On a day that Ottawa’s offensive line bullied the Argos’ front seven to the tune of 334 rushing yards, it’s no surprise Thelen — one of the best running backs to ever don an Ottawa uniform — set records for the most touchdowns (four) and points in a game (24).
Thelen carried the ball 23 times for 171 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. His massive game resulted in a 28-1 victory and snapped a five-game losing streak to give the Rough Riders their first win of the 1959 season.
Ron Stewart vs. the Montreal Alouettes, October 10th, 1960
In 1960 Stewart was 25 years old and in his prime. Often ridiculed for his small stature (five-foot-six, 175 pounds), Stewart’s outing against the Alouettes silenced any doubters.
His efforts were only outdone by the blocking his offensive line (led by Kaye Vaughan) provided. The Rough Riders crushed Montreal 51-21 as they controlled the clock with a devastating rushing attack.
As a team, Ottawa rushed for 468 yards on the ground, a team record that stands to this day. Stewart’s 15 carries turned into 287 yards and featured touchdown runs of 37, 52, 51 and 59 yards. Not only did Stewart set Ottawa’s single game rushing record, he also tied Thelen for most touchdowns in a game (four) and most points (with 24).
Russ Jackson vs. Saskatchewan, November 30th, 1969 (57th Grey Cup)
Not many get to go out on top, but Jackson closed the book on a storied 12-year career with a legendary performance on the game’s biggest stage.
With the Rough Riders looking to repeat, Ottawa took on a Saskatchewan team led by Ron Lancaster and George Reed in front of 33,172 fans at Montreal’s Autostade.
In an effort to rattle Jackson, Saskatchewan relied on a blitz-heavy defence. Although he only completed 13 of 22 passes for 254 yards, four of those thirteen completions were good for touchdowns — two went to Stewart and Jim Nakins and Jay Roberts each caught one. Jackson also scrambled for 31 yards on five rushing attempts.
Jackson’s efforts resulted in MVP honours and his four passing touchdowns continues to be a Grey Cup record. Talk about ending a career on a high note!
Chris Sigler vs. the Montreal Alouettes, June 27th, 1986
In the Rough Riders’ 1986 regular season opener, a sloppy offence that turned the ball over three times was bailed out by a stout defensive effort. Although they possessed the ball for over 38 minutes, Montreal scored just one touchdown and failed to earn the win. Leading the way to Ottawa’s victory was an unlikely hero.
Trailing 11-7 at half-time, Sigler, an Owensboro, Kentucky native, took matters into his own hands. Despite typically playing safety, Sigler spent the entire game at the halfback position after mid-week practice injuries forced a roster shuffle.
After becoming accustomed to his new spot on the field, Sigler managed to pick off four Montreal passes over the course of the game’s final thirty minutes. His 70-yard pick-six in the third quarter gave Ottawa a 14-11 lead which they would never relinquish, as they hung on to clinch a 20-11 victory.
An interesting note about this game is that Sigler’s interception total could have been even bigger, as he got his hands on pass in the first quarter, but ultimately dropped a catchable ball.
Mark Barousse vs. the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, July 3rd, 1986
The five-foot-nine, 175-pound Barousse only spent two seasons in the CFL, but that was enough time for him to earn a spot in Ottawa record books for most receptions in a game.
His 13 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown against the Ticats helped the Rough Riders earn their first regular season win in Hamilton in eight seasons, an 18-2 victory. Barousse’s longest reception of the day was 29 yards and his record is even more impressive given that he briefly exited the game in the first half with a rib injury before returning after half-time.
Bruce Holmes vs. Edmonton, October 15th, 1989
The 1989 Rough Rider defence was the worst in the CFL, allowing opposing teams to run up 630 points. At the time, that was a league record (although now that defence isn’t among the top five in terms of points conceded).
While giving up so many points isn’t conducive to winning many games, what it does allow is plenty of opportunities for defensive players to make plays.
Nobody took better advantage of that than linebacker Bruce Holmes. In a 55-11 blowout loss at Commonwealth, Holmes set the Ottawa record for most tackles in a game with 14. The circumstances weren’t ideal, but they shouldn’t overshadow a monster defensive effort that saw Holmes fly around the field, making his presence felt all game long.
Darren Joseph vs. the Toronto Argonauts, October 13th, 2003
36-year-olds rarely set records in football, especially on special teams. But that’s exactly what Jospeh did during his second stint in the nation’s capital. After being used as a running back/fullback with the Rough Riders early in his career, as a 12-year veteran with the Renegades, Joseph never carried the ball. Instead he featured exclusively on special teams where he thrived.
With the Renegades pushing for a playoff spot, Joseph’s CFL record seven special teams tackles were instrumental in allowing the Renegades to eke out a 21-15 Thanksgiving Day win over their division rivals.
Anthony Collier vs. the B.C. Lions, July 8th, 2005
Even though his team wound up losing 37-29, the defeat certainly wasn’t because Collier left anything on the field. In fact, if any of his teammates had come close to his effort, it’s likely the Renegades would have left the West Coast with a win.
Not only did the second-year pro set an Ottawa record with five sacks on Lions’ quarterback Dave Dickenson, Collier also notched a tackle and tipped a pass that wound up being intercepted by teammate Jason Kralt. Few players have ever dominated a game so thoroughly.
Henry Burris vs. the Montreal Alouettes, October 1st, 2015
If you ask people in R-Nation about memorable Burris performances, the conversation immediately turns to his Grey Cup swan song, and we’ll get to that. But this outing against the Alouettes should not be overlooked.
Not only did Burris set a CFL record with 45 completions, he also set an Ottawa record with 504 passing yards. Working primarily out of a no-huddle attack, Burris was surgical against a hapless Montreal defence as he carved it to shreds with ease. Burris hit seven different receivers, completed 85 percent of his passes and at one point strung together 17 consecutive completions.
The 39-17 win improved the Redblacks’ record to 8-5 and ultimately helped Ottawa win the East division and finish the season with a record above .500 for the first time in 22 years.
Henry Burris vs. the Calgary Stampeders, November 27th, 2016 (104th Grey Cup)
51 years after Russ Jackson went out with a Grey Cup win, Burris cemented his legacy among the pantheon of Ottawa’s greatest with a championship MVP performance of his own.
After tweaking his knee in warmups, Burris returned to the field and exploded for a five touchdown night, ensuring the Redblacks ended Ottawa’s four-decade championship drought.
Burris put an exclamation point on his Hall of Fame career by completing 76 percent of his passes for 461 yards and three touchdowns in the air, while rushing for another two majors on the ground. The last pass of his career turned out to be the game-winning toss, an 18-yard touchdown strike to Ernest Jackson in overtime.
Diontae Spencer vs. the Hamilton Ticats, October 27th, 2017
It’s fitting that Spencer’s 496 all-purpose yards cemented a division win for the Redblacks. Spencer weaved, sprinted and slashed his way into the history books, carving up the Ticats with 133 receiving yards and 363 return yards (165 from kickoffs, 169 from punts and 29 from a missed field goal).
It wasn’t exactly a one-man show (quarterback Trevor Harris passed for 300-plus yards and running back William Powell had 100-plus yards on the ground), but without Spencer, the Redblacks certainly don’t win 41-36 and clinch the division.
Trevor Harris vs. the Hamilton Ticats, November 18th, 2018 (East Final)
It’s not every day fans are treated to watching real players put up video game-like numbers, which is what made Harris’ performance in the East Final so special.
No. 7 was in the zone against Hamilton and largely responsible for punching Ottawa’s ticket to their third Grey Cup appearance in four years. Harris went 29 of 32 for 367 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. He spread the ball around to ten different receivers, completed 14 consecutive passes at one point and his 90.6 completion percentage is a CFL playoff record.
Given how the Grey Cup went and his subsequent departure from the team, the 2018 East Final will go down as the highlight of Harris’ time in Ottawa.
Honourable mention (because kickers are people too!)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize the kickers who have earned themselves a spot in Ottawa history. The record for most successful field goals in a single game is seven and has happened four times over the course of Ottawa’s 131 years of pro football history.
Dean Dorsey did it first against Saskatchewan on September 24th, 1989 and Terry Baker did it next against Edmonton on July 20th, 1994. Lewis Ward has done it twice; once against Hamilton on July 28th, 2018 and again later that season against the Edmonton Eskimos on September 22nd, 2018.