Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/11/2015 (2128 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The sign of a really good party — so we’re told — is whether it gets talked about afterward for weeks, if not months. It can also be judged by how many participants call in sick the next morning and, in this day and age, how many selfies are snapped until the pin is pulled at the end of the night.
And so, with those rather wide-ranging parameters established, we ask one question: how will the 103rd Grey Cup — including the week of parties leading up to Sunday’s championship game — be remembered?
One word from this vantage point to describe the whole thing: meh.
Look, the easy play here is to get up on a soapbox and pander to the local masses by declaring the whole week — and the months of build up to it — as a rousing success. But it says here Sunday’s game simply mirrored the local hype leading up to the championship and, for that matter, the entire Canadian Football League season.
The Ottawa Redblacks jumped out to a 13-0 lead only to have the Edmonton Eskimos storm back to a 17-16 advantage at the intermission. And then the two squads did their damndest to put the 36,634 in attendance at Investors Group Field completely to sleep in the final 30 minutes.
The fact the game-winning score was set up by a pass-interference call — after a coach’s challenge, to boot — and featured a one-yard plunge by Eskimo backup quarterback Jordan Lynch perfectly sums up a CFL season in which penalties were up, attendance was down and TV ratings were falling.
As for local interest, that storyline essentially had the life strangled out of it by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders — the two Prairie fan bases that would have driven this game’s economic engine — combining to go 8-28 this season. That was the No. 1 factor in the game not selling out until Friday afternoon, courtesy of some major-league sponsors stepping up to buy what tickets remained to help fill the seats.
And so, given all that, it wasn’t surprising to get this common question from the casual fan this week: "Oh yeah, the Grey Cup is on Sunday. Who’s in it again?"
That says a lot about how things have changed since 1991 and the first of the four Grey Cups staged in these parts. Back then, the Bombers and Winnipeg Jets managed to coexist. But losing the NHL and then getting it back has been the sporting story in this town over the past five years. And let’s face it, the vibe that engulfed this burg last spring when the Jets made their first playoff appearance in their rebirth — as brief as it was — was nonexistent during the Bombers season and through the CFL playoffs leading up to Sunday.
All of this isn’t meant to pooh-pooh what we saw in the last few days. Winnipeg did its best, with the high-rollers in town gobbling up tickets to all the pricey events and with Joe and Jill Fan still getting out to make the rest of the events work. The stadium looked great, the weather was passable for late November. No less an authority than Edmonton’s legendary radio man Bryan Hall, a guy who was spinning yarns Sunday morning about Don Getty and the first Grey Cup he covered in 1956, raved about the week in Winnipeg. That’s fair, and we’re certainly not going to argue, but it’s a take that doesn’t represent the local indifference we’ve chronicled in this space since the wheels started falling off another Bomber season dating back to August.
Here’s the thing that’s both disappointing and disturbing after growing up loving this game and being lucky enough to have covered 23 Grey Cup games now: the last Sunday in November has always served as a cosy blanket for fans in this country, with the game often masking the warts of this glorious institution.
The Grey Cups in Winnipeg long represented that sentiment. In 1991 — two years before that awful foray into the United States — the Grey Cup at Winnipeg Stadium gave us Wayne Gretzky and John Candy, Bruce McNall, Matt Dunigan’s brave heroics and Rocket Ismail’s kick-return score, including the flying beer can that landed at his feet as he neared the end zone.
The 1998 game, again held in a season in which the Bombers were positively horrific, provided a late game-winning kick by the Calgary Stampeders’ Mark McLoughlin, a guy who grew up in Winnipeg.
And in 2006, Dave Dickenson led the B.C. Lions to a title and, while celebrating on the field immediately after, promptly broke the Grey Cup into two pieces.
Those are defining moments. Those are images that still stick.
And what did Sunday give us to match, to make us remember the 2015 Grey Cup? A backup QB scoring the game-winning TD after a pass-interference penalty in a town that lost interest in football before Labour Day. That cosy blanket wasn’t there today. And it left us cold.