I can still see it in my mind. I can see it with vivid detail. I can still see the television from my spot on the floor, I can still see Damon Allen spiralling the ball through the air. I can still taste the halftime meal, and I can still hear the excited shouts and screams from our family and friends as they intently watched the events that unfolded. It is my oldest memory. I was four years old. It was on that day when I was introduced to the Grey Cup, and ever since then, the final Sunday in November has held a near-sacred significance in our family. It’s not just the game, however, that makes Grey Cup Sunday so special. It’s the friends who come over, the chips and dips and snacks, the anticipation for the game and the halftime festivities that make Grey Cup Sunday more than just a game. The Grey Cup is so much more than just a game, a party, or a trophy. The Grey Cup is a storied tradition, embedded into the very fibre of our nation. So that’s why, on Sunday afternoon, when the Calgary Stampeders met the Hamilton Tiger Cats at the BC Place Stadium, I awaited the rebirth of a beloved tradition with unmatched anticipation.
Both teams came into the championship matchup at the peak of their respective seasons. The Calgary Stampeders dominated the Canadian Football League this season, winning fifteen of their eighteen regular season games, a feat not achieved by a CFL team since the Montreal Alouettes set the bar in 2009. The Stampeders capped off one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory with a decisive 43-18 win over their provincial rival Edmonton Eskimos for the Western division title and a place in the Grey Cup.
Hamilton, on the other hand, finished the regular season with six less wins than the Stampeders – at an unimpressive 9-9 record. The win-loss tally for the Tiger Cats, however, was deceiving. After a week one loss to Saskatchewan, sophomore pivot Zach Collaros – Hamilton’s star quarterback – suffered a major head injury in a game against the Edmonton Eskimos. Collaros remained out until Labour Day, watching his team fall to a dismal 1-6 record in his absence. However, with the return of Collaros, the Tiger Cats were reinvigorated, taking full advantage of a healthy quarterback and brand new home stadium to finish the season on an 8-3 tear in their final eleven games. So, when the Hamilton Tiger Cats defeated the Montreal Alouettes last Sunday in the eastern final, they were not undeserving of their ticket to the Grey Cup. Hamilton had peaked at the right time, and according to many before Sunday’s matchup, held a clear momentum advantage heading into the weekend’s big game.
The game began with the Stampeders taking a dominant edge, completely shutting down the Hamilton offence while exploiting a shaky defence to begin the game. After the teams traded punts early, the Stamps drew first blood when rookie quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell led his team down the field to set up a one yard touchdown rush from Drew Tate.
Calgary continued their offensive domination early in the second quarter when Drew Tate once again pushed it over the goal line to give the Stamps a 14-0 lead, which was followed up by a Rene Parades field goal to give Calgary a seventeen-point advantage. When things were looking dismal for Hamilton, however, the Tiger Cats responded with an electrifying touchdown pass from quarterback Zach Collaros to speedster Brandon Banks – making the halftime tally 17-7 for the Stampeders.
Hamilton started the first half well, but were unable to capitalize on some thrilling plays from their special teams – giving the ball to star quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and his powerful offence. The Stampeders drained all Hamilton momentum with a dominating six-minute drive – resulting in a lone field goal to extend their lead to 20-7. Despite some flashes of brilliance in the third, Hamilton wasn’t able to capitalize on their chances – largely because the Stampeders dominated time of possession in the third frame.
With only one quarter remaining in their season, it was do or die for the Tiger Cats, who entered the final fifteen minutes down by thirteen points. The Hamilton offence showed the determination they had displayed throughout the season when Zach Collaros and the Tiger Cats moved down the field with undying offensive firepower – leading to three field goals for Hamilton.
Late in the game, with only one minute remaining, Hamilton sat only four points back of the Stampeders, who were about to punt the ball into the hands of the Tiger Cats’ most electrifying player, Brandon Banks. Backup punter Rene Parades booted the ball deep down the field, and Banks fielded it cleanly. Making the first man miss, Banks picked up a few key blocks from his teammates and speeded down the field – putting the entire country into a state of either disbelief or jubilation. The thirty, the forty, the twenty, ten, five, TOUCHDOWN! Hamilton sits in front 23-20 with only thirty seconds to play! It was in the middle of the celebrations when Banks saw the flag. One single piece of orange nylon sitting on the field. One single piece of nylon that plucked defeat from the jaws of victory for the Hamilton Tiger Cats. One single piece of nylon that gave the Calgary Stampeders Grey Cup glory. The officials called an illegal block on the play, and in a split second the Tiger Cats went from a game-winning touchdown to possession of the ball on their own ten yard line with only thirty seconds to go. Hamilton was not able to pull off the improbable victory, and Calgary went home with their second Grey Cup ring in six years.
The Grey Cup is a bank of memories: an unique sporting tradition in our country – one that unites us, excites us, thrills us and kills us. For my entire life, the memories forged on Grey Cup Sunday will be engraved on my conscience. This weekend will be one of them. In seventy years, I’ll still tell the story of how four friends and I walked home from church on sunlit sidewalks, braving the frigid temperatures. I’ll tell the story of how we went outside on the street and smiled at passing cars as we tossed the football before the game. I’ll tell the story of the lemon meringue pie and barbecued hamburgers. I’ll tell the story of the punt return, and how the house erupted when we saw the flag. When I’m old and gray, I will still tell the stories of Grey Cup Sunday with vivid recollection – imprinted in the minds of many, engraved on the conscience of a nation, sealed in the annals of history on the final Sunday in November.