Grey Cup’s gonna be grand

OK, Blue never had a chance, but Burris & Redblacks a riveting story


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The local dream-case scenario -- the one that was to feature the end of a Grey Cup drought a quarter-century long and capped with statues being commissioned for everyone from the team president to the backup long snapper -- never had a chance.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/11/2015 (2570 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The local dream-case scenario — the one that was to feature the end of a Grey Cup drought a quarter-century long and capped with statues being commissioned for everyone from the team president to the backup long snapper — never had a chance.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were long shots to be in the 103rd Grey Cup discussion when the curtain lifted on 2015 and disappeared completely the day quarterback Drew Willy’s season ended in August. Couple that with the Saskatchewan Roughriders going 0-for-the-summer and any notion of a buzz building in these parts for the Canadian Football League’s marquee event had fizzled out completely before Labour Day.

Then along came the upstart Ottawa Redblacks and what they pulled off in Sunday’s East final.

Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press Calgary Stampeders' Eric Rogers, left, is tackled by Edmonton Eskimos' Patrick Watkins during the first half in Edmonton on Sunday.

Yes, these Cinderfellas — in Year 2 of their existence — might just save this Grey Cup game and this Grey Cup week. They are exactly what the marketers ordered: a feel-good story, led by an ageless quarterback who has posted some of the best numbers in his career after being punted to the curb by the last two teams he suited up for — one he led to a championship (Calgary Stampeders); the other, to a Grey Cup berth (Hamilton Tiger-Cats).

It’s not that the Edmonton Eskimos aren’t without their own juicy subplots, but a championship game is only as good as its combatants and Ottawa’s return to the Grey Cup will be the story of the next few days. That should make the week, a rematch of the 1981 title game, compelling theatre.

With all that in mind, here’s a look at three of the juicier Grey Cup storylines certain to play out this week in our own backyard:

Shots to be fired

First things first, lets get this out of the way ASAP: Brace yourself, Winnipeg, because we’re going to hear/read/see a ton of moaning and groaning about the lowest Grey Cup crowd count in eons, about the bitter cold, about the Bombers’ ongoing woes, about this game being outdoors versus being showcased indoors at BC Place or Rogers Centre or Olympic Stadium and blah, de-blah, blah.

Haters are going to hate, and there is plenty of fuel here to start a raging inferno of criticism.

But let’s rewind a bit as we work to defend our good ol’ hometown. This will be the fourth Grey Cup in Winnipeg and it hasn’t been an easy sell in any of them. The first one, in 1991, had a certain novelty as the Bombers set the template for a franchise buying the rights to the Grey Cup and then returning it to the prominence as one of the must-see events on the national sporting calendar.

That was also the last time the Bombers fielded a team that had a shot at the thing, although the ’91 club — which entered the post-season as the defending Grey Cup champs — was walloped 42-3 by Toronto in the East Division final. Consider that when evaluating this town’s ability to throw a decent Grey Cup party, because the Bombers’ ineptitude is a mammoth factor. How about these numbers? The Bombers were a combined 26-46 in the four years Winnipeg has hosted the championship — 9-9 in 1991 and 2006, 3-15 in ’98, and 5-13 this season. Ugh.

For the record, the long-range forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of -8 C Sunday. That will be positively balmy compared to the -17 C at kickoff in ’91. Still, expect this to be one of the most Googled subjects over the next week: “Hot toddy.”

The 40-year-old surgeon

This has the potential to be a spectacular week for Redblacks quarterback Henry Burris, the man they call “Smilin’ Hank.” Not only has he helped guide his team to the championship — his play to pull down a high snap before delivering the game-winning strike to Greg Ellingson in Sunday’s East final win over the Ticats was brilliant — but he’s also the heavy favourite to win the league’s Most Outstanding Player award.

Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press Ottawa Redblacks' Brandyn Thompson, middle, along with teammates tries to tackle Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Andy Fantuz, middle, during the first half of football action during the CFL East final in Ottawa on Sunday.

The man has had his critics over the years, but this is the third team he’s taken to the Grey Cup and the leadership he’s shown through last season’s 2-16 Redblacks’ debut to now can’t be overstated. This Sunday won’t be his swan song, as he figures he’s got a couple more years in his right arm, but it would solidify his place among the CFL quarterback legends.

Odell & Co.

It is both interesting and ironic — maybe “painful” is a better word — that the Eskimos will roll into town after rebuilding their franchise with a handful of ex-Bombers playing prominent roles.

Among them is the former mayor of Swaggerville — remember 2011, Bombers fans? — defensive end Odell Willis. Forget that since being cast adrift by the Bombers, Willis has registered 37 sacks in four years. He’s a character who loves the camera. And while some of the interviews he does in his thick Mississippi accent require subtitles, he’s fun, engaging and will absolutely, positively enjoy ever nanosecond of his Grey Cup experience.

Get this: the West champion Eskimos starting lineup Sunday featured six former Bombers in Willis, Adarius Bowman, Cory Watson, Chris Greaves, Justin Sorensen and Cauchy Muamba.

Sorry for opening up another old wound, Bomber faithful. But don’t let it spoil the week ahead.

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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