In a snowy game dripping with Canadiana, the underdog Toronto Argonauts roared back with ten late-fourth quarter points to beat the Calgary Stampeders 27-24 in a dramatic Grey Cup.
After a night that featured snowy slips and wild fumbles, armies of snow plows, and a country star on a dog sleigh, the Stampeders had their Grey Cup hopes dashed in the dying moments for a second straight year – this time by a Toronto team on a worst-to-first mission following last year’s 5-13 season.
The Argos scored a touchdown and a field goal in the dying moments then Canadian defensive back Matt Black intercepted Bo Levi Mitchell’s attempt at a game-winning touchdown pass. It was the fourth Grey Cup win for 38-year-old Ricky Ray – who threw for 297 yards and a touchdown and became the winningest Grey Cup starting QB in CFL history.
In the locker room, Ray’s Argos cracked king cans, popped bottles of champagne and drank from the cup, they danced and hollered to Drake’s Rings and took a knee to pray quietly. They handed the Cup to Larry Tanenbaum. Ray stood at the centre of it all quietly smiling with his beer.
“I’m going to celebrate this one for a while, then ask myself the same questions I asked myself at the end of last year – do I feel like playing again?,” said Ray. “Last year it was yes, but we’ll see what the answer is this year.”
In the fourth-ever meeting between Calgary and Toronto in the Grey Cup, before a sellout crowd of 36,154, light flurries began in the hours before kickoff. There was plenty more coming.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in the house, making the rounds in a red and brown varsity leather jacket, topped off with a Grey Cup scarf. The snow intensified, but it didn’t stop Argos star running back James Wilder Jr. – CFL rookie of the year – from running shirtless pre-game laps around the field.
It created an idyllic wintry Canadian scene – reminiscent of the 1996 Grey Cup “Snow Bowl”, in which the Argos had beaten the Edmonton Eskimos. A white-covered field also created heaps of work for the crew, who scurried out in a mad frenzy of shovels, snow-blowers and ploughs to clear yard-markings, endzones and the painted logos of big-paying sponsors. It fell faster than they could remove it. Visibility was so bad, the traditional pre-game CF-18 flyover was called off.
With snow flying, winds howling, and the footing below them impossibly slick, Calgary struck first near the end of the first quarter. Mitchell faked to Jerome Messam then connected with Kamar Jorden on a 33-yard touchdown pass.
Toronto responded just inside the second, as Ray tossed a long ball to DeVier Posey (the game’s eventual Most Outstanding Player recipient), who turned it into a 100-yard touchdown and slid head-first into the endzone like a joyful kid on a snow day.
“I remember watching clips of when Flutie won with the Argos in the snow, and I thought ‘I wonder what it would be like to hoist the Cup with it snowng outside,” said Posey. “It was picturesque, one of those things you’ll never forget.”
The Stamps shot right back with a six-yard touchdown rumble from Canadian tailback Messam, and they made good on the two-point conversion.
Argos Coach Marc Trestman gambled huge by using a challenge early in the second. He was rewarded with an 10-year illegal contact penalty which extended Toronto’s drive a little, but it didn’t produce any points.
Shovelers crouched waiting on the sidelines like ball kids in a tennis match, scurrying onto the field at every stoppage to clear snow, weaving through players and cheerleaders.
Toronto picked up an extra point on a Calgary snap gone bad. It sailed way over punter Rob Maver’s head, who chose to kick it through his own endzone rather than scramble backwards to pick it up in the snow.
The Stamps added a field goal to close the half with a 17-8 lead.
The ultra-Canadian half-time show saw country star Shania Twain make her grand entrance on a sled pulled by snow dogs. Bedecked in sequins and red fur, she rocked away while a larger army of tractors and trucks affixed with plows assembled, waiting to tame the mounds of snow.
Wilder Jr. jumped the pile for a two-yard touchdown leap just inside the half, and the Argos went for two to make it a one-point game.
Messam then found the endzone a second time, this time hauling in a 37-yard pass from Mitchell to put Calgary ahead by one score again.
The Argos shot themselves in the foot twice with penalties on returns, costing them valuable yardage on offense. Then suddenly, the dramatic unfolded with 4:45 left in the game.
The Stamps were inches from scoring what might have been a game-sealing touchdown, when Jorden fumbled the ball, and Toronto’s Cassius Vaughn scooped it up and returned it 110 yards to tie the game.
“We’ve got Ricky Ray, and who doesn’t want to go on a last minute drive with that guy,” recalled Posey.
Ray drove them down the field, and the Argos added a field goal.
Toronto’s own Black leapt in front of Mitchell’s final attempt at a Calgary win, and the double blue spilled onto the field.
“Matt Black is a great story,” said Trestman afterward. “We cut him and he handled himself with class. Then when an opportunity came [due to an injury] we brought Matt back. He became a team leader, and he got what he deserved – a chance to make a play when we really needed it.”
It was the 17 Grey Cup for the Argonauts franchise.
The Globe and Mail, November 26, 2017