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Les 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.

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.

Weeks Earlier

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.

Ad Break

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 there.

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 alone.)

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.

Days Earlier

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.

Matthew Dorrell, not Signor Mobley.


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