For all that it lacked in drama, the 100th Grey Cup will be remembered, by those loyal to championship-starved Toronto teams, as a win.
Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station was where it all began. A train, covered in images of Grey Cup championships past, loaded the Canadian Football League’s famous trophy aboard and headed out for Toronto by way of St. John’s. The brainchild of CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, the train tour made scheduled stops in 100 different communities over the course of its 70-day journey, sharing the cup with all Canadians to celebrate the fact that this year it was to be awarded, amazingly, for the 100th time. The trophy arrived at the Rogers Centre on Sunday, November 25, where it was carried onto the pre-game field by a procession of 15 Mounties as Scottish-Canadian crooner Johnny Reid, on a stage near the 30-yard line, urged the roughly 53,000 fans in attendance to “fire it up.” Four short hours later, the Grey Cup was being filled, emptied, and passed around a euphoric, chaotic Argos locker room that was covered with protective plastic sheets, and that smelled overwhelmingly of booze and body odour.
If the 100th Grey Cup contest is to be remembered, it will be remembered for the surrounding fanfare and the hoopla, for the sentimental train tours and the music-industry star power. The football game itself was entirely forgettable. Slow starters in both of their other two play-off games this year, the Argos appeared in danger of falling behind again early in this game when veteran quarterback Ricky Ray was intercepted by the Stampeders’ Quincy Butler on the very first play from scrimmage. But the Argos quickly got the ball back and, some six minutes later, scored a touchdown for a 6–0 lead they would never relinquish. Two more Toronto touchdowns and a field goal stretched that margin to 24–6 by half-time.
The end of the second quarter imposed a 39-minute break in game action, during which the field was transformed into a concert venue for a four-act line-up that began with Gordon Lightfoot and ended with Justin Bieber, the former a far better choice than the latter for appealing to the aging, rural population that forms the bedrock of CFL fandom. Those fans had shown up in droves, wearing the colours of their various far-flung home teams. Bieber’s performance, augmented by a garish laser light show, was periodically booed.
But then, almost nothing in this game went exactly as planned. Ray had trouble hitting his receivers all night and seemed increasingly reluctant to throw the ball downfield. His counterpart, Calgary quarterback Kevin Glenn, was under constant pressure in the pocket, and the Stampeders’ celebrated receiving corps struggled to find holes in the Argos’ secondary. Calgary’s Jon Cornish and Toronto’s Chad Owens, the league’s two finalists for Most Outstanding Player, were non-factors. Instead, it was a different Chad who carried the day for the Argos, and who turned out to be easily the best player on either side: Chad Kackert, the club’s mid-season replacement for the exiled Cory Boyd. Kackert’s 195 yards from scrimmage—helped immensely by terrific blocking on the part of the Argo offensive line—earned him the game’s MVP award. The final score, 35–22, suggests the game was closer than it was.
Although Owens did not end up playing up to his usual outrageously high standard, he did make at least one noteworthy move. In the relative calm of the pre-game warm-ups, he appeared on the field wearing the jersey of another versatile, undersized Argos standout receiver and kick returner very much like himself, but from a different era: Michael “Pinball” Clemons. “He’s been a mentor; he’s been a supporter; he’s been everything,” Owens said of Pinball, standing at his locker amid the rising tide of spilled beer and champagne on the floor. “He’s been my biggest fan, and vice versa.”
Owens’ tribute to Pinball is not out of place in Toronto. Celebrating the memories of sporadic sporting-glory days gone by is popular here. For once, we did not have to content ourselves with this exercise in nostalgia.
“It’s a shame that we haven’t had more success on the sports side of things,” said Argos defensive back Jordan Younger as he stood on a post-game field littered with confetti and crowded with people. “Toronto is a city of champions. We can claim that and mean it.” On this day, at least, he is right.