Monday, November 26, 2007


Grey Cup 2007-Paint it Green

I will not bore you with the details of the Grey Cup game played in Toronto this past weekend. You are well aware that the Saskatchewan Roughriders defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers by a score of 23-19. You are also aware that the Blue Bombers were forced to rely on a rookie quarterback who was starting his first professional game. He kept them in the game until late in the fourth quarter when a young cornerback named James Johnson snuck in front of the Blue Bomber receiver to pick off his third pass of the day.

The entire central core of the city of Toronto was turned upside down with the festivities, and rightly so. All of the shades of blue that dominate the Toronto professional teams were turned to green and gold and blue. But mostly green. The Roughies brought the western spirit with them, and they do know how to party.

The CFL orchestrated the week magnificently, almost to perfection. Just before the opening kickoff, cheerleaders from all of the CFL teams flooded the field to do their thing. I counted 243 of them, thought carefully about it, and returned to my notes.

The Bare Naked Ladies opened the night by singing the National Anthem. They also performed at one of the pre-game parties which you could attend if you wished to fork out $ 295 in Canadian funds.

There were some mighty happy people in the Roughrider dressing room after the game, perhaps none more thrilled than General Manager Eric Tillman.

He beamed from ear to ear while the boys from the west enjoyed the early moments of their victory. He has been there before, having won the Cup with the Lions from British Columbia and the Argos. His first words? “I really want to savour this victory.”

The dressing rooms at the Rogers Centre are by no means enormous. When you pack in fifty football players, following a game, it tends to heat up. I will let you imagine the aroma all by yourself. Beads of sweat poured down Tillman’s cheeks. It didn’t bother him one little bit. During our chat, a young and happy player named Tristan Clovis approached Tillman. He gave Tillman an enormous hug.

They then spoke to each other, face to face. Clovis told Tillman that he wanted to thank him for giving him an opportunity to play for the Roughies. He thanked him for having the confidence in him. Tillman then spoke slowly and carefully to Clovis. “I want you to enjoy every minute of this. I want you to know that you will not forget this day for the rest of your life. You deserve this, and you should be very proud of yourself.” It was indeed a fine tribute to the young McMaster grad.

Tillman told me he was proud to share the victory with the fans from Saskatchewan. “There are generations of fans. Fathers bring their sons and daughters. Grandparents bring their grandchildren. Every game has a family atmosphere. They are great fans. The absolute best. This is an old fashioned team. This is like sunshine in the spring for the Rider fans.”

Eddie Davis had also won a Grey Cup with Calgary in 1998. “It’s great to win,” he told me. “Losing is sick. We kept believing in each other. We wanted to get the Cup back in Regina. I am going to enjoy this and then I am looking forward to spending time with my daughter and my family.”

He was exhausted as were competitors on both sides of the field.

Coach Berry of the Blue Bombers made no excuses. He praised the work of the defensive co-ordinator of the Roughriders, Richie Hall. “They played physically. They came hard at us. They created a lot of pressure. They knew they were dealing with a rookie quarterback. In fact, both defenses played really well.”

Down four points with a little more than a minute left in the game, the Bombers needed a yard for another first down. Ryan Dinwiddie called the play---a pass into the Rider secondary. That was James Johnson’s ball, and with his interception he earned Most Valuable Player honours.

Berry was justifiably proud of the effort of all of his players. He knows that his young quarterback will return, and will find success in the Canadian Football League.

In the end, however, Saskatchewan quarterback Kerry Joseph got the opportunity to sip champagne from the Cup. Although Joseph did not have his best game, it was adequate. From 1995 when he graduated from McNeese State, he has worn a lot of uniforms: Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, (as a safety), and the London Monarchs and the Rhein Fire of the NFL Europe League. The Roughriders picked him up as the first overall choice from the Ontario Roughriders when the franchise folded in Ottawa. A justifiable selection.

The Grey Cup game will take place in Montreal next year. There were suggestions that they may also hold the Vanier Cup in Montreal as well. Both championships were held in Toronto this year, with the University of Manitoba besting St. Mary’s in the Canadian Collegiate final.

The Grey Cup-a great game, a great weekend, a great Canadian tradition.

James Hurst--- November 26, 2007

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