Every football game boils down to a few pivotal decisions. Some will be clear, some will be debatable, but few have ever left a nation scratching their collective heads quite like the Hamilton Tiger-Cats choice to concede a single point on their final kickoff return of the 108th Grey Cup.
After the Winnipeg Blue Bombers marched the field to score a go-ahead field goal with less than two minutes left, Hamilton needed only a field goal to win the game and walk away with their first Grey Cup trophy since 1999. Instead, returner Tim White knelt in the end zone and conceded a single, making it a three-point contest.
The Ticats did march the field to tie the game, but Michael Domagala’s chip shot field goal could have been the winner instead of forcing overtime. As a result of the single, the Bombers got a chance to complete their comeback in the extra frame.
After the game, Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer explained that the bizarre game strategy wasn’t a fluke, but rather an option freely given to White.
“We gave him the option that he could bring it out or not,” Steinauer said. “I’m okay with the decision.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone else who felt the same way, with many considering the play the pivotal turning point in the contest, but Hamilton’s special teams’ play-calling does have at least one unlikely defender. That would be the Grey Cup-winning head coach Mike O’Shea, who didn’t see the conceded single as a contributing factor to his team’s victory, but rather as a savvy chess move by an opponent.
“The field position they gained from that was very important. Now the plays after dictated or showed that they got down and they might have been inside the red zone [regardless], but all those yards would’ve been very important for their field goal kicker,” O’Shea noted post-game. “I thought it was really smart.”
Many others disagree, citing the fact that Hamilton cut its potential paths to victory in half in exchange for a few yards which turned out to be irrelevant as the offence moved downfield with efficiency. O’Shea believes that point of view simply ignores the nature of the situation, with the Ticats about to advance into winds gusting upwards of 50 kilometers per hour.
“They could go for the win, but they’d have a really bad field position,” he emphasized. “It’s a smart decision, I believe. It obviously worked out for them.”
An overtime loss is not considered by most to be the marker of something that worked out, but O’Shea was visibly agitated in his defence of an opponent he had just trampled over on his way to back-to-back Grey Cup glory.
The impassioned argument in favour of the decision likely stems from his own close personal relationship with Steinauer and their shared understanding of just how cruel media hindsight can be,
“Everybody in here would say it was a bad decision if it didn’t work out, but put this in the memory bank and understand that there are multiple decisions you could make on any of those single plays and just because the outcome doesn’t work out, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good decision at the time,” O’Shea said, losing patience.
“I think a lot of coaches get skewered because people have the benefit of time to mull things over. There’s a pile of different decisions you can make in all those situations and most of ’em are really good decisions at the time. You guys judge things on outcomes, not in the moment. That’s my lecture, I’m sorry.”
Fortunately for O’Shea, he’ll be able to slip off his soap box and back into a locker room with champagne and cigars. Steinauer will not be so lucky, with public opinion around that head-scratching single certain to colour his legacy in Tigertown.