There are people who think I covered the 1950 Grey Cup, the last time the Toronto Argos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers met (I didn’t), and some who think I remember it (I don’t). If I had, it would’ve been my second-best memory of the year, the first being the birth of my wife-to-be, which I also don’t remember.
Like every true Canadian sports fan, I grew up glued to television every last weekend of November. It would be 21 years before I made it to the Grey Cup in person for the first of 17 visits, enough that I can compile my own list of “greatest Grey Cup games.”
A few weeks ago, TSN made that the subject for one of those countdown features…10th-best, ninth-best, etc. It’s a subject that’s subjective. TSN was politically correct enough to include every CFL team and six of the nine host cities. The network also picked three Grey Cups decided by field goals on the last play, and two of the three all-time overtime games.
Drama sells on TV.
Five of TSN’s top ten are Grey Cups I attended, and three of those five are my gold-silver-bronze winners, including No. 1. Here they are, listed in the spirit of countdowns…
Bronze: Big plays made the 1976 Grey Cup special, climaxed by Tony Gabriel’s game-winning touchdown of a Tom Clements pass, 20 seconds before the final gun (yes, a gun), a play forever framed as Canada’s version of “The Catch.” Unlikely Ottawa big-play stars Bill Hatanaka (a record 79-yard punt return) and punter Gerry Organ (52-yard fake kick) set the stage for Gabriel. The 23-20 victory was the last Cup for the Rough Riders who played in Ottawa, and their last match-up with the Roughriders who played in Saskatchewan. A game never to be forgotten.
Silver: Vanity rules. Old newspapermen always made predictions. The 1981 game defied them: Edmonton was favoured to beat Ottawa by three touchdowns. I was the lone football writer to predict overtime, and missed it by three seconds, thanks to Dave Cutler’s winning field goal (26-23) as time ran out. The game was this memorable because it was a shocker. The Riders led 20-1 at half time — 41 points ahead of the spread — and had both the game’s MVPs, rookie quarterback J.C. Watts on offence and linebacker John Glassford on defence.
Gold: Of all the Grey Cups decided by a late field goal, 1989 was the best. Saskatchewan and Hamilton ran up 83 points in Toronto’s Skydome, 49 of them in the first half. My most vivid replay isn’t Dave Ridgway’s winning kick for Saskatchewan, nor quarterback Kent Austin’s passing magic that set it up. It was the “back-flip” catch by Hamilton wide receiver Tony Champion for a touchdown that tied the score 40-40 with 44 seconds left. I’d never seen a Grey Cup play like it before, nor since.
Upon reflection, it’s surprising for someone who always equates bad weather with “real” football, that the “bottom three” Grey Cups on my list are 1971 (driving rain), 1977 (biting cold and snow) and 1982 (driving rain, biting cold without the snow).
Sunday’s game is in Regina, and it is November, so I’ll be happy to watch it on TV.