Editor's note: With the NFL's Super Bowl coming to the Bay Area in February, CSNBayArea.com Senior Insider Ray Ratto is in Canada to cover the Grey Cup and see how the other half lives. Bookmark Ray Ratto's Grey Cup blog for complete coverage leading up to Sunday's game.
Grey Cup Sunday, which ended with a taut little drama won by the Edmonton Eskimos over the Ottawa RedBlacks, 26-20, did what it was meant to do -– remind Canadians that being Canadian is meant to be fun.
Edmonton fans got what they wanted, a 14th championship. Ottawa fans deferred a dream that is like no other -– the first true challenge, with more dreams still to realize. Winnipeg got to be noticed, and its visitors got all the beer they could drink without getting nasty.
It was, indeed, more than everyone had a right to hope considering that the day dawned with an ugly controversy, the kind that at Super Bowl Week would have provided six days of crazed TV/radio/Internet/newspaper angst.
This was slightly less salacious than the 1999 Super Bowl prelude when Atlanta’s Eugene Robinson tried to solicit an undercover cop in Miami for $40 of last-minute prep. But it was purely Canadian.
Algonquin College's Loggersports team (yes, there is such a thing, and you will treat it with its deserved reverence, you swine) has been part of the Ottawa RedBlacks Experience since the team began two years ago, sawing a wood cookie (a slice) off a log after each RedBlacks touchdown at home games. It had been approved to appear at the Grey Cup by the Canadian Football League bigshots, only to be banned Saturday after a complaint by the Edmonton Eskimos.
Now unless the fellows were going to menace the Eskimo players or staff with a bit of freelance pruning, this would not seem to provide a competitive advantage, but the Eskimos didn’t want a presumably pro-RedBlacks crowd to become enamored with sawdust.
Since the Eskimos have been compared (mostly by fans of the other eight teams) with no great love to the New England Patriots because of its success and Belichickian world view, this made them the villains on game day, and provided yet one more reminder that this is crypto-serious business. THERE WILL BE NO GRATUITOUS LOGGING FOR THE PURPOSES OF WOODSY-LOOKING END TABLES, DAMN YOU!
Edmonton won that argument, and the game as well, because of a late touchdown run by backup quarterback Jordan Lynch, who played at Northern Illinois and was cut as a running back by the Chicago Bears a year ago. His career path is still anyone’s guess, as the game’s most valuable player was the guy starting ahead of him, Mike Reilly, but he will always be part of Edmonton history, which is a good way to get free drinks for a long time.
But that was the football. The fringe things, most of which you wouldn’t see at any NFL game, let alone the one we host in February, gave the day its flavor, and the reason it should thrive well into a sometimes worrisome future.
• There was Edmonton head coach Chris Jones running around the field and chatting up folks before the game because that’s what Tennessee kids do to work off tension on the Canadian Prairie.
• There were the cheerleaders from all nine CFL teams bundled up in parkas and toques to meet the 29-degree weather head-on as they danced to the pregame entertainment, country singer Dean Brody, while taking care not to step on the Grey Cup logo at midfield.
• There was the stage for the pregame entertainment, which unlike your standard Super Bowl extravaganza, was seven pickup trucks (one per musician, two for the speakers) because the stadium architects didn’t account for a ramp to get in an actual stage. And the halftime stage (for Fall Out Boy) was behind the stands in one end zone for the same reason. Seems Investors Group Field has some sprucing up to do, despite being barely a year old.
• There was the 50/50 pool totalizer on the scoreboard to track the typical Canadian lottery held at most events. Put in some money, and if you win, you get half the pot and a local charity the other –- kind of like our daily fantasy, only anyone can play and nobody has to feel like they’re being swindled by math freaks. The winning ticket won $178,748. You didn’t have it.
• There was the polar bear at the Winnipeg Zoo predicting the winner by attacking a dummy dressed up in Eskimos garb. Paul the World Cup Octopus would be proud if he hadn’t already gone to the Great Calamari Plate in the sky.
• Oh, and we forgot, we are not entirely separate from our northern brethren. Some people are upset by the Eskimos’ nickname (though the logo, two Es, is not nearly so provocative). For that much at least, we have a shared cultural reference.
As for the game itself, Ottawa jumped out to an early 13-0 lead, with the highlight being a touchdown pass from 40-year-old future 49er Henry Burris to Ernest Jackson, who celebrated by punting the ball into the crowd. No penalty, no fine, no fight in the stands for the ball, no objections whatsoever. All is happy-happy-joy-joy in The People’s League.
But the game developed into a taut slog and Edmonton rallied to take a 17-16 halftime lad, and clinched the win with a one-yard dive from backup quarterback Jordan Lynch with 3:22 left. They did not cover.
There were three – THREE! – rouges, one on a field goal that wasn’t returned, a punt that wasn’t returned, and a punt that went out of the end zone. (For those new to CFL gameplay, a rouge results when the ball becomes dead in the possession of a team in its own goal, worth one point for the opposition.) Dying happy is now an option. There was the fan hauled out of the stadium in front of the press box; we’re not sure why, and speculating scares us, but his pants were down. The NFL should adapt the rouge; it should not bother with the pantsless drunk.
And best of all, especially for those of you who watched the 49ers-Cardinals game, there were no disputed catches or botched late hits or confusing explanations of arcane rules or absurdly delayed reviews. Just a grand football game for a trophy brought to the field by Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a trophy each player got to hold and cherish the way the Stanley Cup is shared.
And if the Super Bowl knows what’s good for it, it will rent the Mounties to bring in the Lombardi Trophy. There are so many things about the Grey Cup that the NFL cannot replicate (okay, maybe the pantsless guy), the Mounties seem like a decent compromise, one tentative but necessary step toward making the US’ secular/corporate Christmas a little bit more like Canada’s Great National Drunk.