HAMILTON – Mike O'Shea put it perfectly when he stepped up to the microphone following the West Division final, making a comment well before anyone could ask about the game that just finished.
"That should be good for TV ratings, eh?," O'Shea said, grinning.
Indeed, Sunday's divisional finals did not disappoint.
The Western final saw the O'Shea-led Winnipeg Blue Bombers do battle with their prairie rivals, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, with the Bombers edging out a 21-17 victory in a cold and snowy day at IG Field. The Bombers, who finished atop the West standings with an 11-3 record, survived committing six turnovers in the game, putting forth a strong four quarter where they outscored their opponent 7-0 to seal the win.
In the East, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats rallied from a 12-0 first-half deficit to knock off the Toronto Argonauts, 27-19, at BMO Field. The spark was provided by a change at quarterback, with the Tiger-Cats pulling Jeremiah Masoli in favour of Dane Evans, leading to Hamilton outscoring Toronto 27-7 through the final two quarters.
The result is a rematch of the 2019 Grey Cup, once again pinning the Bombers against the Tiger-Cats, with a few notable exceptions. Hamilton won't be the heavy favourites this year but will get a boost from the fact they'll be the home team, playing in their own stadium.
The Bombers won't be trying to end a long championship drought this time around. Instead, they'll look to become the first team to repeat as Grey Cup winners since the Montreal Alouettes won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
But before we look too far ahead in what should be a stellar week leading up to the 108th Grey Cup at Tim Hortons Field, let's take a look back at the week that was in the three-down game with the latest edition of CFL Rundown.
1) Speaking of TV ratings, the East final drew an average audience of 846,000 and the West final came in at 1,346,000, for an average audience of 1,096,000. That's down a total of 15.4 per cent from 2019 and an 11 per cent increase from 2018.
2) Legendary TV sports broadcaster Brian Williams is calling it a career after more than 50 years. What a run for Mr. Williams, who seemed to be present for all the country's greatest sports moments, from football to figure skating. There will be a brief celebration of Williams' career during TSN's Grey Cup pre-game show.
3) Congrats to the Western University Mustangs for claiming the 56th Vanier Cup with a thrilling 27-20 victory over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in Quebec City. I hope next season is the year they finally put the Vanier Cup back on Grey Cup weekend; it only makes the most sense.
4) Ottawa's search for a new GM continues, with TSN's Dave Naylor reporting there is a list of as many as 10 candidates. Some names have surfaced, including CFL on TSN analyst Duane Forde and a trio of front-office staff from the B.C. Lions -- Geroy Simon, Ryan Rigmaiden and Neil McEvoy. All good men, but I wonder if the Redblacks don't look west to Winnipeg, with Bombers assistant general managers Ted Goveia and Danny McManus also possible options.
5) Calgary president and general manager John Hufnagel had this to say when asked about the possibility of having unvaccinated players under contract for the 2022 CFL season: "I'm not going to sign a player that can only play home games." Nothing is official yet, but you can bank on the CFL fighting to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all players next year.
6) We got a good look this week at just how clueless the Argonauts leadership is when it comes to the league's COVID-19 protocols after the team asked quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson to attend a Toronto Raptors game and do a live interview to help promote the East final. Attending large-scale gatherings, of course, is a no-no under the league's safety protocols, leading the CFL to force Bethel-Thompson into quarantine. What's the most egregious part of all this is no one seemed to know how or why Bethel-Thompson was there.
7) Argonauts GM Michael "Pinball" Clemons was informed of the event but figured it had already been cleared by the CFL. Head coach Ryan Dinwiddie had no idea his QB was there and found out about the requirement to quarantine at the same time as everyone else. Like, seriously?
8) The whole situation put the CFL between a rock and a hard place, having to choose between following their own protocols and allowing a key player to suit up for his team's biggest game of the season. The league created some middle ground, forcing Bethel-Thompson to quarantine in the two days leading up to kickoff and having him pass several COVID-19 tests before he was cleared.
9) Toronto lost that game because of some poor play calling in the first quarter. Twice the Argonauts got within Hamilton's five-yard line and twice they opted to kick field goals on third down. Attempting to score touchdowns with the risk of giving the ball back deep inside Hamilton territory, isn't all that gutsy, especially when you have a good defence such as the Argonauts.
10) I wasn't surprised by the decision from Tiger-Cats head coach Orlondo Steinauer to pull Masoli for Evans, but the timing of it threw me off a bit. Evans took over early in the second quarter, in what Steinauer described as a gut feeling given the flow of the game. And, man, did it ever work, with Evans finishing the day a perfect 16-for-16 for 249 passing yards, one throwing touchdown and two rushing scores.
11) Steinauer seemed miffed when asked post-game about who would start at QB in Sunday's Grey Cup. You must think he's going to go with the hot hand of Evans, but I'll remind you it was Evans under centre when the Bombers absolutely dominated the Tiger-Cats, 33-12, in the 2019 Grey Cup.
12) Things went from bad to worse for Toronto after the game, with fights breaking out between Argonauts players and a member of the team's front office. Apparently, some Hamilton fans who had travelled to Toronto for the game showered some players with beer as they were exciting the field, leading to several players climbing onto the concourse, with some verbal and physical jabs thrown.
13) Punches were exchanged by strong-side linebacker Chris Edwards, with Canadian receiver Dejon Brissett also there, but Brissett looked to be trying to de-escalate the situation. In a separate incident, this one occurring in the Argonauts walkway to their dressing room, Toronto VP of player personnel, John Murphy, can be seen slapping a male fan before appearing to call him a homophobic slur. Murphy ended up getting punched twice, with the first blow landing squarely on his head.
14) It was a horrible scene for all involved and a black eye on a league that should have been celebrating two great games. A police investigation has been launched to figure out the mess. While the Tiger-Cats fans should be held accountable for their actions, it's hard to imagine Murphy will be able to spare himself from strict punishment. Ditto for Edwards.
15) If Bethel-Thompson wants to be a CFL QB, he's going to have to get some thicker skin. After the loss, he was seen pushing away a camera man multiple times and then no-showing for the post-game media availability. That's just not acceptable at this or any level, and certainly not the behaviour of a professional.
16) The Bombers didn't look like their dominant selves against the Roughriders, but the game never seemed to be in too much doubt, even with Saskatchewan leading heading into the fourth. Six turnovers should provide a wake-up call for Winnipeg, which prides itself in playing clean football. They won't be able to catch lightning in a bottle twice against the Tiger-Cats.
17) Craig Dickenson had a hilarious sound bite after the loss when asked about running back Andrew Harris being a game-time decision, with the head coach of the Roughriders suggesting the only game-time decision was how many yards Harris would get. Harris returned from a seven-week absence because of a knee injury and with just one full practice under his belt, he finished with 23 carries for 136 rushing yards and one touchdown.
18) The CFL was saved from another disaster after they completely botched a booth review in the dying moments of the game following a perceived catch from Saskatchewan receiver Duke Williams. There was a clear view of the ball hitting the turf in one of the replays, but the CFL upheld the call, which makes you wonder what angles they had at their disposal. Had the play been overturned, Winnipeg would have sealed its win, but instead the Roughriders had a new set of downs and a chance for a comeback. Thankfully for the CFL, they came up short.
19) Shoutout to the crowd at IG Field for battling the harsh climates. Temperatures dipped to well below zero, with the windchill making it -24. Yet there was a sea of blue, most of which were on their feet and dancing during the game to stay warm, playing a crucial role at the end by disrupting the Roughriders offence on their final drive. Something tells me this week is going to be a bit different.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.