Monday, November 29, 2010
Montreal beats Saskatchewan by a field-goal... again
When Anthony Calvillo went down in August with a sternum injury, doctors found something a little more serious--a lesion on his throat, possibly cancerous--but Calvillo pled to be allowed to finish out the season. The season would end in Edmonton with a 21-18 Grey Cup Championship victory for Calvillo, his third, his Alouette team's seventh and second in a row, becoming the first repeating team since the 1997 Toronto Argonauts.
There's something to be said about gutsy performances in this country; maybe because we're used to listening to Don Cherry every weekend, but Canadians love it when their sports heroes play through pain. We like to see emotional performances out of all-stars and emotional players have all-star games. We liked seeing Calvillo hungry for potentially one last shot at the Grey Cup before his retirement, but we did not know the reason for his peckishness.
"Believe me when I tell you I appreciate every single one," Calvillo said after the Eastern Final, but it turned out there was a hidden message in his hold-back-tears stammer. In an on-field post-game interview after the Grey Cup game Sunday night, Calvillo hinted that something was up. It turned out that he'll have to go in for thyroid surgery in the offseason, but he's committed to returning at the start of next season.
Forget the three Most Outstanding Player Awards and the 4th he should have won this year. Forget the now three Grey Cups and 2002's Grey Cup MVP. Forget the 336 passing yards today and ruthless ball control, Calvillo kept quiet about his upcoming surgery, and, I have reason to believe that if Montreal had not hung onto the 10-point 4th quarter lead, Calvillo would not have told the media about his throat after the game, not looking to make excuses, but to start playing again next July, make it to another Grey Cup game and fix the one blemish on his career quarterbacking record. (Blemish now extinguished)
And, Lord knows, had Montreal given up that lead, the jokes that would be made about the collective throats of the Alouettes.
It wasn't fancy passing or fearless running, but the Alouettes managed a competent offense against the Saskatchewan Roughriders en-route to victory. In a 364-day span, the Alouettes beat the Riders twice and erased the mantra that had been plaguing the team for a decade: they make it to the dance, but they go home alone.
Like last year, the game was played at a slower pace than many fans would prefer, but to us stat geeks, it was the perfect execution by the Montreal Alouettes, save a bad performance from the kicker. Montreal had just 2 2-and-outs in 15 drives and at one point forced the Riders into eight straight punts. The defensive line, while recording a single sack, got enough pressure on Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant to make quick throws, and the Alouette defensive backs stymied them.
So many instances during the game were balls thrown to the top two healthy members of Saskatchewan's Canadian Air Force, Chris Getzlaf and Andy Fantuz, that were wrestled away by Alouette defenders or where the receiver was stopped in his tracks immediately after the catch. Durant, who had the highest passing yards total in the CFL this season, was held to 18 completions (in the second half, just 8 for 76 yards) and none to receivers behind coverage. His only touchdown throw was to backup guard Marc Parenteau, who, to his credit, relished the score with just 3 and a half minutes to go by pretending the ball was a refreshing Pilsner. Durant literally threw the game away on Saskatchewan's last drive, when, needing a miracle, he managed to escape a sack, but instead of channelling Eli Manning and finding David Tyree down the middle of the field, he threw up a Brett Favre-esque prayer which was doomed to fall into the hands of a Montreal corner. The lucky back was Billy Parker, whose diving interception near the sideline sealed the game.
It was a chance Durant was lucky to have. With 4:55 remaining the fourth quarter, nursing a comfortable 10-point lead but backed up on their own 12-yard line, Montreal coach Marc Trestman elected to let struggling Damon Duval punt instead of taking the safety. Duval shanked his kick, which didn't even make it to his own 40-yard line, and Saskatchewan found new life at the Montreal 32 after a no-yards penalty. Duval finished the game going 2/4 on field goals (missing from 43 and 39 in calm winds), averaged 32.4 yards on seven punts (yards kicked, not net) and one illegal kickoff to boot. Who had to tell him he wasn't invited to the victory party?
One Alouette who had a fantastic game was Jamel Richardson, who has now caught 22 balls for 345 yards in the last three Grey Cup games. This year, he was awarded with the Grey Cup MVP and called out Saskatchewan defensive back Omarr Morgan while accepting the award. Richardson made the key offensive play for the Alouettes--on 2nd and 7 from the Saskatchewan 39 with the game tied at 11, Calvillo aired it out down the left sideline. Richardson made the catch over Morgan, stumbled backwards with the ball and was knocked down at the 2, setting up the go-ahead score from Avon Cobourne. Richardson caught 7 more balls (for a total of 109 yards) on the day and was one of two Alouettes, the other being SJ Green, to record 100 yards receiving.
Ben Cahoon, Old Faithful, was hearing the chants from the small pocket of Alouettes fans after the game, urging him to return for "One more year! One more year!" This year has been exceptional for Cahoon, he set the all-time receptions record and won another ring, but the 38-year old non-import receiver missed the 1,000 yard mark for the first time since 2001 and had his lowest yards per catch average in his career.
Avon Cobourne broke two big runs, but otherwise was contained by Saskatchewan, running for 67 yards off 15 carries. He did, however, score both Montreal touchdowns, albeit on short runs that barely broke the plane of the goal-line.
Keith Shologan of the Roughriders was named the Top Canadian of the Grey Cup, recording two tackles (both sacks), one playing a part in stopping a key Montreal drive in the third quarter that went 13 plays for 83 yards, complete with a fake punt, and finished with a 22-yard field goal. The poor guy was in tears in the hallway after the game while being interviewed.
Riders' Jerrell Freeman had a monster day at the linebacking position. He had eight tackles and the third Saskatchewan sack. The Riders' Leron Mitchell went out early in the first quarter with a broken leg while making a tackle and being rolled over by teammate Barrin Simpson. The Riders had to bring in Donovan Alexander, who made just one tackle.
The game was attended by 63,317 people, a Commonwealth of green Rider fans, but the partisan crowd went home largely upset and carrying the "wait til' next year" mantra that has plagued some of sports' best fan bases. Saskatchewan won in 2007, but just twice before that in their 100-year history and have stood faithful and proud of their team in the same way that fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Cubs can relate.
With Rider Nation becoming nearly as big as the team itself, fans of other teams in the CFL need to step up and follow their team with the same passion as their wacky watermelon-wearing neighbors in Central Canada.