TORONTO—Ending the longest title drought in the league isn’t easy.
The Ottawa Redblacks led the Calgary Stampeders 27–7 in the third quarter and 33–23 with less than two minutes to play in the fourth quarter at BMO Field on Sunday, Nov. 27.
But the Stamps showed their class in sending the Grey Cup into overtime for the third time in its 104-year history. The Redblacks found out, as did the Chicago Cubs, that a historic title drought wants to extend itself for as long as possible.
With Ernest Jackson’s juggling 18-yard touchdown catch in overtime, the Redblacks ended a 40-year Grey Cup drought for Ottawa winning 39–33. Quarterback Henry Burris, 41, became the oldest quarterback to win the Grey Cup.
Named game MVP, Burris was firing accurate passes and his 119.9 pass efficiency rating was second highest in Grey Cup history. Burris also ran for two touchdowns on a knee that locked up before the game, briefly putting his start in doubt.
“It was a never-say-die attitude,” Burris said in his press conference. “I had nothing to lose.”
Ottawa’s win was truly an upset of epic proportions. Had Calgary won, the 2016 Stampeders would have gone down as one of the greatest teams in CFL history. They had the league’s best offense and defense. They finished with a 15–2–1 record—seven more regular season wins than Ottawa. Individually, Stampeders picked up five awards including Most Outstanding Player (QB Bo Levi Mitchell).
“We should’ve blown them out. Period,” Ottawa running back Kienan Lafrance told Epoch Times. Despite Calgary’s stellar regular season, he was convinced his team was the superior one. “It should never have been that close, but it was, and the better team won.”
“We’ve got such good players on this team, as long as we understand that, that was the only thing that mattered,” said Redblacks receiver Brad Sinopoli.
Ottawa was beating Calgary in the categories they weren’t expected to. After the first half, Ottawa was winning the turnover battle 3–1. The Redblacks ranked seventh out of nine teams in turnover ratio, while the Stampeders were second.
Calgary turned the ball over five times in the game. Mitchell, who threw just eight interceptions in 17 regular season starts, threw three in the Grey Cup.
“They played some of their zones deeper than we anticipated. We weren’t able to get behind them like I thought we could,” Mitchell told TSN.
Instead, Calgary is left with wondering what could have been.
“Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve doesn’t work in real life,” said Ottawa’s Juron Criner. The receiver said that playing without pressure allowed his team to just have fun and do their jobs—something Mitchell could not.
Ottawa’s championship win represents overcoming the largest differential in regular season wins—seven—between two Grey Cup participants. The Redblacks also became just the third team to win the Grey Cup with a losing regular season record (8–9–1).
It goes to show that the regular season just serves as a stepping-stone to the playoffs. Once you’re in, anything can happen on any given Sunday.
“People just say who the favourites are, they don’t talk about the playmakers,” said Sinopoli. “Somebody’s gotta be the underdog and that’s just what it was.”
What the Redblacks have done for Canadian football in Ottawa is remarkable. The franchise’s first season in 2014 ended 2–16. Last year, they won the East division, but lost in the Grey Cup.
“Anything can happen. A lot can happen in two minutes in the CFL,” Sinopoli said.
“That’s just the way it is. If you play in this game, you understand that.”
Championship games aren’t won on paper and by pundits and prognosticators. A game as thrilling as the 104th Grey Cup is a testament that the CFL has something special. Those ardent followers of the league never had any doubts. And while the game languishes in Toronto given competition from other pro sports, an instant classic ending with a historic result might breathe new life into the sport for Toronto.
However, the rest of Canada doesn’t need to worry about that. The Grey Cup is a celebration across the country and the Redblacks played out a script everybody can appreciate.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports