TORONTO (Nov. 28) — Two nights after enduring one of the most excruciating losses in its professional sports history, the city of Calgary welcomes a team from… Toronto. That’s right, the Maple Leafs invade the Scotiabank Saddledome later tonight, 48 hours after the Argos’ Grey Cup shocker against the Stampeders.
Kind of like piling on, isn’t it?
Were it not for the multitudes that dig out their Frank Mahovlich sweaters every time the Leafs venture west, this might be seen as cruelty of fate. The last reminder Calgary sports fans need right now is of a team from Ontario wearing blue and white. Even if it isn’t double–blue. But, the 2017–18 National Hockey League schedule arrived a couple of weeks before the Argonauts or Stampeders opened the Canadian Football League season. When Calgary annihilated Hamilton 60–1 (July 29) and Montreal 59–11 (Sep. 29), no one figured a Leafs visit to the Saddledome on Nov. 28 would have any “ring” to it. In fact, no one suspected a haunting refrain with five minutes left in the Grey Cup on Sunday; the Stampeders holding an eight–point edge and looking to salt away their much–expected win by punching the ball into the Toronto end zone from five yards out. Thirty seconds and 109 yards later, the football worm had turned (more on that, below).
As such, Calgarians will schlep to their antiquated arena this evening with nightmarish visions of Cassius Vaughan and Lirim Hajrullahu prancing through their minds. Better, I’m certain, that some abstract opponent — Arizona, Dallas, New Jersey — should be in town. Instead, it’s the annual hockey dose of Toronto, so achingly soon after a poisonous football dose of… Toronto. Pity the poor Cow–towner’s. One might suspect that even a Flames victory over the Maple Leafs — hardly a lock given that Calgary is just 6–5–0 at home this season; Toronto 7–4–0 on the road — will mitigate Sunday’s dismay. Though time does heal, 48 hours is not nearly enough time. If the Leafs emerge triumphant, with the arena turncoats cheering madly, Calgary sports fans may settle for a week of Netflix. Anything to sway the mind from defeat… and that horror–filled reversal in the snow on Sunday night in Ottawa. Oh no, not Toronto… again!
GRAPES LOVES THE BIG DANE
According to Don Cherry, the Leafs have the NHL’s best player nearing the one–third mark of the schedule. Though scuffling a bit in the past week with losses to Arizona, Florida and Washington, and sitting eighth in the overall standings, Toronto is 15–9–1 after 25 games chiefly because of goalie Frederik Andersen.
“This guy is unbelievable,” Cherry told Ron MacLean on Saturday while TV viewers were watching highlights of Toronto’s victory at Carolina the previous night. “To me, he’s the most valuable player in the league. He sees more rubber than anybody and is tied for the [NHL] lead in shutouts. He holds Toronto in every game and is what [Cam] Talbot was for Edmonton last year. The Oilers weren’t that good. And, the Leafs aren’t that good. Andersen stops more shots than anyone. He’s fantastic, as far as I’m concerned.”
Donald S. has a point.
Though Andersen started slowly for the second time in as many years with the Blue and White, he is conjuring visions of Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour — the two best Toronto goalies (with honorable mentions to Mike Palmateer and Felix Potvin) of the post–1967 era. The good Leaf teams under Pat Quinn (1998–2004) also played run–and–gun hockey most games and required bailing out from between the pipes. Cujo, in particular, provided such rescue innumerably during his four–season stint (1998–99 to 2001–02) with the hockey club. Andersen, since the beginning of November (and including the Leafs opener, at Winnipeg, Oct. 4), has similarly stolen points. He may not be in the early Hart Trophy conversation (goalies rarely are), but he has performed quite remarkably on many nights.
KARMA FLIP — 46 YEARS LATER
To an enduring generation of football fans in Toronto, the afternoon of Nov. 28, 1971 is still remembered for “the fumble”. Sure–handed rookie Leon McQuay, who had lost the ball only once during the regular season, slipped on the drenched astro–turf at Empire Stadium in Vancouver and guaranteed the Calgary Stampeders would knock off Leo Cahilll’s Toronto Argonauts in the Grey Cup game. Perhaps 46 years from today — in 2063 — football fans in Calgary may remember Nov. 26, 2017 for… “the fumble”. In this case, a startling 109–yard return for a touchdown by Cassius Vaughan of the Argos with 4:35 remaining that completely reversed Sunday night’s CFL championship at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa.
Karma is both a wonderful ally and a dreaded adversary. It required nearly a half–century of football meetings between the Argos and Stampeders for the worm to finally turn, though no Toronto fan watching the 1971 Grey Cup (I was 12 years old) will fully recover from the McQuay fumble and the aftermath of that bitter defeat. The Argos could win 20 Grey Cups between now and the end of my life… and 1971 would still hurt. Something about the innocence of youth and the unwavering popularity of Canadian football in our city at the time. But Sunday night’s redemption came close to assuaging the interminable pain.
LEON McQUAY OF THE ARGOS LOSES GRIP ON THE FOOTBALL (CIRCLED) IN THE DYING MOMENTS OF THE 1971 GREY CUP IN VANCOUVER. TORONTO TRAILED CALGARY, 14–11, AND HAD THE BALL ON THE STAMPEDERS’ 11–YARD LINE. BUT, IT SMPLY WASN’T MEANT TO BE. AND, THE PAIN ENDURES.
The Argos are the lone professional sports team to which I still have an emotional attachment. It evolves, I’m certain, from the torment that began late in the 1971 Grey Cup and continued, unabated, throughout the decade. Best example was in 1975. In order to miss the playoffs, the Argos had to merely avoid losing by 16 or more points at Hamilton in their season finale. The Tiger–Cats prevailed, 26–10. Not long afterward, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, which many claim is brought on by emotional distress. The Argonaut connection was too obvious. As such, Sunday night’s victory over Calgary — so highly unexpected by even the most dyed–in–the–wool Argo fans — ranked second on my personal satisfaction meter to the first–such triumph in my life: the 1983 comeback win over the B.C. Lions in Vancouver. I was 24 years old and attending the match on behalf of the company that published the league’s game programs. Argos were down 17–7 at halftime. Toronto trailed 17–8 at the half on Sunday night. Such delicious symmetry.
HOW IT LOOKED ON TV…
The Toronto–Calgary football karma finally turned — 46 years later — when Cassius Vaughan scooped up a fumble by the Stampeders’ Kamar Jordan and raced 109 yards for a touchdown. With an eight–point lead, Calgary was inches from cementing the CFL title. Instead, the fumble return, and subsequent two–point convert, deadlocked the match, 24–24, with 4:35 left on the clock. Lirim Hajrullahu capped Toronto’s next possession by kicking a 32–yard field goal at 14:11 of the fourth quarter.
Here’s how the turning–point fumble looked on TSN:
THE LOCAL PAGES — MONDAY
GREY CUP PROGRAMS (1959—2004)
The stunning victory over Calgary Sunday night provided the Argos their third Grey Cup triumph in four meetings with the Stampeders — Calgary prevailing in 1971 (at Vancouver); Toronto in 1991 (at Winnipeg), 2012 (at Rogers Centre) and 2017 (at Ottawa). From my collection, here are the contents of 24 Grey Cup programs over the span of 45 years, beginning with the first match to be held at the old CNE Stadium here in Toronto. The 1959 program (below) includes a Canadian Press story on the Argonauts’ move from Varsity Stadium to the Canadian National Exhibition, where the club played its home games for 41 seasons.
Nov. 28, 1959 at Toronto: Winnipeg 21, Hamilton 7
Dec. 1–2, 1962 at Toronto: Winnipeg 28, Hamilton 27
The 36th Grey Cup became known as the “Fog Bowl” and had to be contested over two days. A blinding–thick cover of fog rolled in off Lake Ontario in the second half on Saturday afternoon. CFL commissioner G. Sydney Halter chose to suspend play with 9:29 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The game was completed beneath a clear sky on Sunday.
Nov. 27, 1965 at Toronto: Hamilton 22, Winnipeg 16
Same teams, same location, three years later. And this time, the “Wind Bowl”. A strong breeze, gusting to 40 miles–per–hour from the west end of CNE Stadium, prompted Winnipeg coach Bud Grant to concede three safety–touches. Ultimately, the Blue Bombers lost by the six points yielded as a result of the wind.
Dec. 2, 1967 at Ottawa: Hamilton 24, Saskatchewan 1
The Centennial Grey Cup was the first played at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa since 1940. Hamilton routed defending–champion Saskatchewan, limiting the Roughriders to a single point. This was hardly a shock given the Tiger–Cats had yielded a combined 16 points in their previous five matches — sweeping Ottawa by scores of 11–3 and 26–0 in the two–game, total–points Eastern Conference final.
Nov. 30, 1969 at Montreal: Ottawa 29, Saskatchewan 11
The only Grey Cup held at the Autostade in Montreal — built for Expo 67 and home of the Alouettes from 1968 to 1976. Ottawa defended its ’68 title in the final game of quarterback Russ Jackson’s storied career. It was also the first Grey Cup played in its entirety on a Sunday, a custom that continues to today.
Nov. 28, 1970 at Toronto: Montreal 23, Calgary 10
Rebounding from a last–place finish (2–10–2) in 1969, the Alouettes won for only the second time in their history — the first since beating Calgary in 1949. The game was played on a terribly chopped–up field at CNE Stadium; the grass never recovering from having a monstrous stage rolled out for “grandstand” concerts during the Canadian National Exhibition in August and early–September.
Dec. 3, 1972 at Hamilton: Hamilton 13, Saskatchewan 10
The first Grey Cup played at renovated Ivor Wynne Stadium; the facility known as Civic Stadium through 1970 (and site of the 1944 Grey Cup). The Tiger–Cats became the first home team to appear in (and win) the CFL championship since the Toronto Argonauts prevailed at Varsity Stadium in 1952. The decisive points were provided by kicker Ian Sunter on a last–play field goal.
Nov. 24, 1974 at Vancouver: Montreal 20, Edmonton 7
The seventh Grey Cup at Empire Stadium was played in a driving rainstorm, as per the previous title match in Vancouver: Calgary defeating Toronto in 1971. Montreal’s Don Sweet kicked five field goals.
Nov. 28, 1976 at Toronto: Ottawa 23, Saskatchewan 20
The first Grey Cup held at the expanded and re–named Exhibition Stadium; the facility was still being renovated for the arrival of baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays (in 1977). A then–record Cup audience of 53,467 looked on during a cold, windy afternoon. Ottawa prevailed when quarterback Tom Clements hooked up with tight–end Tony Gabriel on a 20–yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds remaining.
Nov. 26, 1978 at Toronto: Edmonton 20, Montreal 13
Also on a frigid, yet sun–drenched afternoon at Exhibition Stadium, the Eskimos avenged a loss to Montreal in 1977 and began their record run of five consecutive Grey Cup championships.
Nov. 25, 1979 at Montreal: Edmonton 17, Montreal 9
The Eskimos again beat the Alouettes, but this time before a disappointed home crowd of 65,113 at Olympic Stadium. A 10–point third quarter for Edmonton proved the difference in a defensive battle.
Nov. 23, 1980 at Toronto: Edmonton 48, Hamilton 10
Hamilton won the Eastern Conference in 1980 with a middling 8–7–1 record, compared to Edmonton’s 13–3 mark out west. This disparity prevailed in a one–sided Grey Cup, played under cloudy skies at the CNE. It was the largest victory margin since 1923, when Queen’s University demolished the Regina Roughriders 54–0.
Nov. 22, 1981 at Montreal: Edmonton 26, Ottawa 23
The Eskimos, 14–1–1 in ’81 and among the greatest CFL teams, averted a monumental upset by overcoming a 20–1 halftime deficit against the 5–11–0 Rough Riders. Dave Cutler’s 27–yard field goal at Olympic Stadium with three seconds left on the clock provided Edmonton its fourth consecutive championship.
Nov. 28, 1982 at Toronto: Edmonton 32, Toronto 16
Amid unprecedented excitement here in Toronto, the Argonauts rebounded from a disastrous 2–14–0 season in 1981 to win the Eastern Conference title with a 9–6–1 record. Led by rookie coach Bob O’Billovich and quarterback Condredge Holloway (the CFL’s most valuable player), the Argos manhandled Ottawa, 44–7, in the Eastern final (played in rain and fog at Exhibition Stadium). Metro police closed Yonge Street from Bloor to Richmond on Saturday night while Toronto football fans paraded back and forth in anticipation of the Grey Cup. Ultimately, it was a disaster for the Argos, as Edmonton easily prevailed the following day for its fifth consecutive CFL title. A silver lining, however, resulted from the rain–drenched crowd of 45,863 at the CNE. No longer would the championship match be contested at our city’s antiquated stadium. The move toward a domed facility gained unstoppable traction during the ’82 CFL final.
Nov. 27, 1983 at Vancouver: Toronto 18, B.C. 17
The Monday sports headline in the Toronto Star said it all: “At Last!” Indeed, the Argonauts had finally ended their 31–year Grey Cup famine the previous day before 59,345 fans at Vancouver’s new domed stadium, B.C. Place. Toronto overcame a 17–7 halftime deficit and took the lead with 2:44 left in regulation when back–up quarterback Joe Barnes flipped a three–yard touchdown pass to running back Cedric Minter. Argos won for the first time since 1952. It was the first CFL championship to be held indoor.
Nov. 18, 1984 at Edmonton: Winnipeg 47, Hamilton 17
The first–ever Grey Cup in Edmonton was, predictably, a mismatch, as Winnipeg (11–4–1) destroyed Hamilton (6–9–1). Also predictable was the frigid temperature. Reporters spent much of the game scraping ice off the inside–windows of the Commonwealth Stadium press box… with the edge of their credit cards.
Nov. 24, 1985 at Montreal: B.C. 37, Hamilton 24
The Lions won their second Grey Cup, to go with the 1964 triumph, also against Hamilton. Again, the Western Conference champion (13–3–0) had its way against an inferior East opponent (8–8–0). And, again, the Tiger–Cats were victimized. After losing to the Argos in 1983, B.C. coach Don Matthews copped his first of five career CFL titles. A crowd of 56,723 looked on at Olympic Stadium.
Nov. 30, 1986 at Vancouver: Hamilton 39, Edmonton 15
Again considered fodder for the Western titlist, the Tiger–Cats (9–8–1) pulled off a major upset by throttling the Eskimos (13–4–1) in the second Grey Cup at B.C. Place Stadium. It was played before 59,579 stunned witnesses and provided Harold Ballard his only professional sports championship. The owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1972 to 1990 had bought the Tiger–Cats in 1977.
Nov. 27, 1988 at Ottawa: Winnipeg 22, B.C. 21
The Grey Cup was played at Lansdowne Park for only the third time, and first since 1967. It was also the first–ever CFL championship between two teams west of Ontario, as Winnipeg had moved into the Eastern Conference in 1987 after the Montreal Alouettes folded. The Blue Bombers (9–9–0) prevailed on a late field goal by Trevor Kennerd and became the first .500 Grey Cup winner.
Nov. 26, 1989 at Toronto: Saskatchewan 43, Hamilton 40
The Grey Cup returned to Toronto for the first time in seven years and 54,088 at the new SkyDome watched a remarkable, back–and–forth game not decided until Dave Ridgway kicked a 35–yard field goal with nine seconds left. Saskatchewan won the CFL championship for only the second time (to go with 1966).
Nov. 29, 1992 at Toronto: Calgary 24, Winnipeg 10
The second Grey Cup at SkyDome was an all–Western affair won by the prolific Stampeders, who led the CFL with 607 points (33.7 per–game average) during the regular season. It marked the first of three championships for quarterback Doug Flutie. The crowd of 45,863 was more than 8,000 smaller than in ’89.
Nov. 24, 1996 at Hamilton: Toronto 43, Edmonton 37
To this day, no one is quite sure how the Argos and Eskimos combined for 80 points in a raging blizzard at Ivor Wynne Stadium — Hamilton hosting the Grey Cup for the first time in 24 years. There were big plays throughout the game on the snow–covered field: a 64–yard TD reception by Eddie Brown of Edmonton; an 80–yard punt return TD by Toronto’s Jimmy Cunningham; a 75–yard touchdown heave by Danny McManus to Jim Sandusky; a 91–yard kickoff return TD by the Eskimos’ Henry (Gizmo) Williams and a late, 49–yard interception return for a major by Adrion Smith that clinched the Argos’ first CFL championship in five years. A splendid three hours of football in frightful conditions. The trend continued for the Argonauts in the next “Snow Bowl”, 21 years later, as a pair of Grey–Cup record plays (100–yard pass and 109–yard fumble return, both for touchdowns) led to a surprise victory over Calgary, in Ottawa.
Nov. 16, 1997 at Edmonton: Toronto 47, Saskatchewan 23
By almost any measure, the greatest Argonaut team of all time cruised to victory in the first–ever Grey Cup meeting between Toronto and Saskatchewan. For the second consecutive year, the Argos finished 15–3–0 while outgunning their opponents 660–327. Toronto’s average margin of victory was 18 points. As Mike (Pinball) Clemons once told me: “No one had a chance against us.” Quarterback Doug Flutie cemented his legacy as the best player in CFL history by tossing for 350 yards and being named Grey Cup MVP for the second year in a row. Flutie would join the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in 1998.
Nov. 21, 2004 at Ottawa: Toronto 27, B.C. 19
In the final Grey Cup at Lansdowne Park before its conversion to TD Place Stadium, the Argos appeared and won for the first time since the ’96–’97 repeat. Having earned three Grey Cup rings as a running back/slotback with the Double Blue, Pinball Clemons added a fourth as head coach of the team. Toronto quarterback Damon Allen, at 41 years of age, was named MVP as the Argos defeated the Lions for the second time in as many Grey Cup meetings (along with 1983).