Alouettes de Montréal Contre les Eskimos d’Edmonton
by Matthew Dorrell
“You have to play with the surfaces you
are provided with."
-Edmonton Eskimos Tom Higgins, to reporter Steve Armitage, the
CBC’s post-game let-down interviewer of choice. He will
ask the difficult questions in a hushed husky voice, shake his
head forlornly, before hanging it low, his chin on chest after
he has asked his last. On Hockey Night in Canada, covering the
Olympics, and here at the Grey Cup game, he will look at the floor
like he is grave-side. Oh, solemn Steve Armitage. Look how he
grieves for the losers, his heart on his sleeve.
At the halfway point the Edmonton Eskimos are worried. They can
find few advantages to the frozen home field. Their running game
is skating uphill with the CFL’s leading rusher, John Avery,
slipping through the majority of the first quarter with negative
yardage. At the half the Eskimos have stumbled for only nine yards
on the ground, another ninety by air, all for zero points. The temperature
is an even zero degrees and the natural turf is much colder and
less forgiving than their fans; fans gone crazy for pop-called-country-called-Shania
Twain struts the stage in hotpants and ski jacket,
posing with band members as they prove the enduring charm of ABBA
to a packed Commonwealth Stadium. Her band brings out a double neck
guitar, a keyboard guitar, and a Flying V within the course of just
two songs (in an inspired rock moment one of the model/musicians
lets his keyboard guitar hang roguishly from its strap as he plays
– wait for it – a stand-up keyboard). Ah, for the 2000
Grey Cup and the Guess Who reunion tour – a petty rivalry
ended in pursuit of petty cash.
CFL Brass: OK, you won’t believe this but
– ready? – for the halftime show – are you ready?
– we got Shania Twain.
Edmonton Grey Cup Committee: …
CFLB: You hearing me? Shania Twain! Bang! Stadium
full! Bang! TV ratings through the roof!
EGCCM: Right, but we’ve got some local talent
booked already. We’d rather stick by them.
The Montreal Alouettes are playing on the same rink
as the Eskimos, but their running back Lawerence Phillips is having
slightly less trouble getting a grip. Neither team can mount an
effective running attack because lateral movement is nearly impossible;
players are rarely able to plant their feet in order to push off.
Edmonton fares especially poorly as their nearly-immobile-rushing-in-a-straight-line-attack
meets disastrously with Montreal’s attacking linebackers,
who have an advantage in weight, and possibly also in footwear.
Al's quarterback Anthony Calvillo spent the game
pinned inside the pocket, his injured ankle frozen. He was still
able to amass nearly 200 yards passing in the 1st half; ninety-nine
on a pass to Pat Woodcock – the longest in Grey Cup history.
Ricky Ray, Edmonton's quarterback, was finally able to beat the
blitz more consistently toward the end of the second quarter, but
could not shake the habit of throwing into coverage and was eventually
rushed into throwing an endzone pass to the wrong team.
Down 11-0 at the half, the Esks might have wished
to start over, to begin again with the Snowbirds final pass. Minister
Anne (not Gene) McLelland (not Murray) could toss the coin to re-start
the game and this time they’d have the right shoes on from
the get-go. That, at least.
Advertising Agency Lackey: Now, we know this isn’t
exactly what we first discussed.
Advertising Agency Lackey #2: But this is going
to be very, very big.
AAL: Huge. Now, we couldn’t say GM won the
Second World War. We just –
AAL2: Lawyers. You understand.
AAL: Instead, here’s our line: ‘Some
people say they paved the road toward victory.’
AAL2: ‘Some people say.’ Still very
strong, Very strong. Forceful
GMC Executive: (Clearing his throat.) And the ‘they’
– that’s us?
AAL: Exactly, exactly. ‘They paved the road
toward victory,’ and they is you: GMC. With your logo right
GMCE: Alright. We can say this? ‘Paved the
road toward victory?’ I like that. We can say that?
AAL2: Yessir. You bet. Got the all clear. (Gives
the thumbs up sign.)
GMCE: And, ‘paved the road’ that’s
– (pauses). Because we don’t pave roads, but it’s
close, it’s very closely related. We can say ‘paved
the road’ even though we didn’t pave the roads?
AAL: It’s like a metaphor: paved the road
toward victory. Like: ‘marching toward victory.’
AAL2: Very strong.
GMCE: Paved is better than marching.
AAL2: Because marching –
AAL: No cars, no trucks there.
GMCE: And we’re not selling feet! (Laughs
In the second half of the game the Eskimos opt for
heavier pass defence. They leave much of the short field open for
Calvillo, daring him to drag his frozen foot upfield instead of
throwing. He does not bite immediately, throwing into coverage instead.
When Calvillo does make a break for it he scrambles for what would
be a first down if he didn’t hit the pavement and fumble the
ball, giving it up to the Edmonton defence. Montreal’s offense
does not improve during the third quarter.
While Calvillo struggles, Ray has rediscovered his
receivers though the field remains treacherous. Receivers are not
often able to stop their forward motion quickly, and most attempts
to stop and cut back downfield to make a catch – even attempts
to simply turn to face an incoming pass – end with the receiver
splayed over the icy tarmac, the ball sailing clear, defenders present
or not. Amid the spills Ray exploits Montreals blitzing safeties
and finds Tucker open for a touchdown pass. Edmonton then replaces
the ineffective – due to ice and/or hamstrings – Avery
in favour or a heavier veteran ‘back, Troy Mills. The Montreal
defence no longer recognize a running play and are burnt twice in
a row by Mills. Edmonton gets three for the field goal, and the
Als, who don’t manage a single first down in the quarter enter
the fourth up by a single point: 11-10.
CFL Brass: You – see, here you don’t
have anything. Blank. No singer for the French anthem. The anthem
will, uh, need a singer.
Edmonton Grey Cup Committee: Right, but we’ve
got some local talent booked already. He doesn’t know French.
We’d rather stick by him.
CFLB: OK, but, uh, this is the Canadian Football
League. That’s our emphasis now. Canada. We’re really
trying to stay on message here. Canada.
EGCC: We’ve already got a local guy booked.
CFLB: (Sighing) The team – you may know this
already – but, uh, the other team is Montreal. That’s
the team who Edmonton is playing. Montreal. During the year –you
didn’t hear it from me – fine, but people will be
watching this game. Find a name gentlemen, no choice here.
Montreal rebounds in the fourth and, with Calhoon providing very
enthusiastic blocking, Jeremaine (not pulp-zeitgeist author Douglas)
Copeland is able to run his catch into the endzone. The field retains
its iced parking-lot charm but has been roughed up enough that most
players have regained at least some traction.
Edmonton makes it to the five yard line on a Ray
to Brazzle connection with the game very close to over; mounties
stand by the Grey Cup, now rinkside. The Montreal defence stuffs
the first goalline run, and on the second attempt they chase Ray
fifteen yards backwards as he skates and twists and holds the ball
far too long, desperate.
With twenty-five seconds left, Ray erases many of
his mistakes – including a questionable third and ten gamble
that saw Edmonton lose field position – by finding Hervey
wide open in the endzone. Even after the catch is made, the nearest
Montreal defender is five yards away. Edmonton can now tie the game
with a two point conversion. In the 2000 Grey Cup when Montreal
needed the same two points to save themselves the play ended with
Alouettes receiver Haskins taking a controvertial stumble over the
goal line. This year there is no question of interference. Edmonton
can’t complete the pass. Montreal’s Copeland (Jeremaine
again, and not would be tech-baron Michael of garishly dressed home
and wife) catches the onside kick attempt and returns it to the
endzone for his second touchdown to make the final 25-16.
Post-game excitement is high, and the newest man
to dare become CFL commissioner, Tom Wright, hands off the Cup
to the Als. Somewhere David Braley is fuming; he was able to hold
his replacement off nearly until the end, but it was Wright’s
name, not his, on the football, and Wright’s hand on the Grey
Cup. Somewhere, nearby, Als’ coach Don Matthews lurks, off
camera, maybe still wearing his poker face of grim death, but jovial
and stuffed with cheer, on the inside at least.
Calvillo is named MVP just for being quarterback,
after managing only seven first downs to Ray's twenty-four, and despite
throwing more than half of his passes incomplete. Pat Woodcock is
named Canadian of the game. He yells, “Montreal, here we come!”
and holds the Cup high over his head. His feet securely planted
on a carpet, a podium, he waits for the cheers to wash over him.
None are forthcoming and Woodcock seems to remember there is one
thing left. Having survived and escaped the Esks, what remains is
to escape Edmonton, for the slick chic street of Montreal. For Bar
Primetime, La Cage aux Sports, Suave Bar des Sportifs, Super Sport
Bar. For Bar-Restaurant-Les-Champs where a city is forgetting, in
wide steps and strides that Canadian football ever fell from favour.
not Signor Mobley.