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Grey-Cup-sunday centrespread

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Asking a CFL buff to pick the top 10 Grey Cup games of all time is like asking an Elvis Costello fan to rank the musician's best albums, or a Salvador Dali follower to choose the artist's greatest masterworks: tons of possibilities covering a wide range of eras, styles and esthetic qualities.

Even in its darkest days -- heck, especially in its darkest days -- the Canadian Football League could usually be counted on to deliver a thrilling spectacle in its championship game.

Sure, there have been a few clunkers over the years -- Winnipeg 50 Edmonton 11 in 1990, anyone? -- but far more often than not, the Grey Cup has been at least entertaining, if not downright amazing.

My (Grey) Cup runneth over, you might say.

Today, the championship of Canadian football will be decided for the 99th time when the B.C. Lions meet the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the newly renovated BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. The teams have met once before, a 22-21 thriller in 1988. Does that game rate inclusion in the top 10 of all time? Not quite, but it's not far off.

So here's one fan's subjective ranking of the top 10 from the first 98, taking into account historical significance as well as entertainment value, and saving the best for last.

1948: The Stampede is on

At Toronto: Calgary Stampeders 12

Ottawa Rough Riders 7

The Stampeders capped off the only perfect season in history, going 12-0 in the regular season before defeating Saskatchewan in the Western playoffs to get to the Grey Cup. This otherwise ho-hum game rates inclusion because of its massive cultural impact. Stampeders fans poured into Toronto by the hundreds, bringing their unique brand of western hospitality and creating a party atmosphere that established the championship final as the "grand national drunk." Nothing will ever top the spectacle of horses being ridden through the lobby of the Royal York Hotel.

1962: A foggy day in Hogtown

At Toronto: Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28

Hamilton Tiger-Cats 27

Where else but the CFL could a 60-minute championship game take more than 24 hours to complete? The Grey Cup has been played under challenging weather conditions -- rain in Vancouver and Toronto, frigid temperatures in Winnipeg and Calgary, wind in Ottawa, ice in Montreal and snow in Hamilton -- but the Fog Bowl was the ultimate test of the elements. Thick, damp clouds blanketed the field, making it impossible for spectators in the stadium or at home to see the action. With less than 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, referee Paul Dojack stopped play and commissioner G. Sydney Halter ordered the game suspended, to be resumed the following afternoon. Neither team scored on Day 2, an anti-climactic end to a tight, well-played game between the most bitter rivals of the 1960s.

2005: Not so fast, Danny boy

At Vancouver: Edmonton Eskimos 38

Montreal Alouettes 35 (OT)

The first overtime game played under the new "shootout" format will also be remembered for the premature celebration of Edmonton coach Danny Maciocia. In front by three points in OT, the Esks stopped the Als from getting a first down, touching off a goofy victory dance all over the field by Maciocia. Problem was, it was only second down and the Alouettes had another chance. Fortunately for the Montreal native, the Esks held firm on the next play and his celebration resumed.

1981: Greatest comeback ever

At Montreal: Edmonton Eskimos 26

Ottawa Rough Riders 23

Favoured by 20-plus points and in the midst of an unprecedented five consecutive championships, the Eskimos somehow fell behind Ottawa 20-1 at halftime. Making it more stunning was the Riders' mediocre 5-11 regular-season record and the fact they were led by a rookie quarterback, future U.S. congressman J.C. Watts. Showing resilience befitting the greatest dynasty in CFL history, the Eskimos fought back in the second half, helped immensely by a bizarre double-interference call late in the game. Dave Cutler, last of the old straight-on kickers, booted the winning field goal as the Eskimos won their fourth title in a row.

1996: Snowdown in Steeltown

At Hamilton: Toronto Argonauts 43

Edmonton Eskimos 37

A massive blizzard dropped piles of snow on the field before and during the game, creating a wintry wonderland that would have made the game memorable even if it wasn't one of the greatest offensive displays of all time. The two teams traded punch for punch, including kick-return touchdowns by Henry (Gizmo) Williams and Jimmy (the Jet) Cunningham. Eddie Brown of the Eskimos made one of the two greatest catches in Grey Cup history, somehow juggling the ball from his hand to his foot and back up into his hands for a touchdown. Argo QB Doug Flutie won the second of his three championships, thanks in part to an early whistle on what appeared to be a fumble.

1954: The rise of Spaghetti Legs

At Toronto: Edmonton Eskimos 26

Montreal Alouettes 25

Led by Sam (The Rifle) Etcheverry and receiver Red O'Quinn, the Alouettes were an offensive juggernaut, considered one of the strongest teams ever assembled in Canada. The game was surprisingly close, but the Alouettes led 25-20 late and appeared on their way to victory with the ball on Edmonton's 10-yard line. Then one of the most famous plays in history unfolded. Montreal's Chuck Hunsinger, facing heavy pressure from two defenders, tossed the ball, only to have it land in the arms of Jackie Parker, who raced 90 yards for the winning touchdown. The Alouettes claimed Hunsinger threw a forward pass, which would have made it a dead ball, but it was ruled a fumble and Parker, who came to be known as Spaghetti Legs, was off on a journey that led him to being declared one of the greatest players in the history of Canadian football.

1994: Oh, Canada!

At Vancouver: B.C. Lions 26

Baltimore Stallions 23

In the first game involving a team from south of the border, the expansion Stallions brought an all-American lineup stacked with size and talent. The hometown Lions featured the required (in Canada) mix of "imports" and "non-imports." With the stands at B.C. Place filled with Canadian flags, B.C.'s Canadian players came through, especially undersized defensive linemen Dave Chaytors, Doug Peterson and Andrew Stewart and running back Sean Millington. Aging kicker Lui Passaglia missed a potential winning field goal with a minute left, but got a second chance with no time on the clock. This time he was good from 38 yards, and Canadian pride swelled.

1958: Waffled all right

At Vancouver: Winnipeg Blue Bombers 35

Hamilton Tiger-Cats 28

The Blue Bombers and Ticats were THE rivalry of the day, meeting in the title game five times over six seasons between 1957 and 1962. The 1958 game was hailed for three decades -- until the shootouts of the late 1980s -- as the most thrilling Grey Cup ever played. Jim Trimble, coach of the defending champion Ticats, famously said before the game that his team would "waffle" the Bombers. But it was Winnipeg that pancaked Hamilton, coming from behind three times to upend the Tiger-Cats on the strength of 22 points by quarterback Jim Van Pelt and late interceptions by Norm Rauhaus and Kenny Ploen.

1989: "The catch" and "the kick"

At Toronto: Saskatchewan Roughriders 43

Hamilton Tiger-Cats 40

In the first Grey Cup game played at Toronto's (then) SkyDome, the Roughriders thrilled their legion of supporters by winning a wild game that featured many big plays and emotional twists and turns. It seemed the biggest play of all came in the final minute when Hamilton's Tony Champion, playing despite a painful rib injury, made a spectacular catch in the end zone, diving backward to grab a touchdown pass from Mike Kerrigan that tied the game at 40-40. But the Cats left a bit too much time on the clock (44 seconds, to be precise), and Kent Austin quickly drove the Riders down field, setting up Dave Ridgway's game-winning 35-yard field goal with two seconds left.

1987: Big names to the rescue

At Vancouver: Edmonton Eskimos 38

Toronto Argonauts 36

Never has the CFL needed a great championship game more than in 1987. The Montreal Alouettes folded on the eve of the season, and the Ottawa and Saskatchewan franchises appeared to be in deep financial trouble all year. Speculation abounded that the 75th Grey Cup might also be the last. But the two teams put on the most spectacular show in history, led by some of the league's most colourfully nicknamed stars. Henry (Gizmo) Williams scored a 115-yard TD on a missed field goal, Gill (the Thrill) Fenerty went up the sideline for a 61-yard score and Doug (Tank) Landry ran back a fumble 54 yards. The fourth quarter had seemingly endless fireworks, with no fewer than five lead changes. Backup QB Damon Allen led Edmonton to the victory, which was finally achieved on a last-play 49-yard field goal by Jerry Kauric.

Ten other memorable Grey Cups:

1909: The granddaddy of them all

University of Toronto 26 Parkdale 6

The kick-start to one of Canada's most enduring traditions.

1935: The West wants in

Winnipeg Winnipegs 18

Hamilton Tigers 12

Winnipeg becomes the first team from Western Canada to win the title.

1961: Putting in extra time

Winnipeg Blue Bombers 21 Hamilton Tiger-Cats 14 (OT)

First overtime game in history.

1971: Slippery Leon slips

Calgary 14 Toronto 11

First game on artificial turf; Argos' Leon McQuay fumbles away a seemingly sure win.

1976: Gabriel is open!

Ottawa Rough Riders 23

Sask. Roughriders 20

Roughrider fans' hearts are broken as obvious target Tony Gabriel somehow gets wide open in the end zone.

1977: Staples game

Montreal Alouettes 41

Edmonton Eskimos 6

Largest crowd in Grey Cup history (68,000-plus) sees Alouettes -- with staples in their cleats courtesy of phone installers -- dance around Eskimos on icy artificial turf in Olympic Stadium.

1983: The drought is over

Toronto Argonauts 18

B.C. Lions 17

Boatmen end 31 years of futility in first Grey Cup at B.C. Place Stadium.

1988: Punting to victory

Winnipeg Blue Bombers 22 B.C. Lions 21

Winnipeg punter Bob Cameron is spectacular kicking with and into a strong wind in Ottawa.

1991: The Rocket delivers

Toronto Argonauts 36

Calgary Stampeders 21

$18-million man Raghib (Rocket) Ismail scores on kickoff return, giving Grey Cup rings to co-owners John Candy and Wayne Gretzky.

2009: The 13th man comes back to haunt

Montreal Alouettes 28

Sask. Roughriders 27

Too-many-men penalty gives Als a second chance to win on last-minute field goal.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2011 A1

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