The Grey Cup: An Oh, So Canadian Championship

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by Kolby Solinsky

White Cover Magazine

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A full day later, it seems the confetti has been swept away. The circus has left town.

Now, I don’t live right in Vancouver. I’m about 45 minutes away, south down Highway 99 and nearly in White Rock. But even way down here – you could draw a shorter line between Italy and France, I’ll bet, than you could from end-to-end of Metro Vancouver’s sprawl – I can gauge the temperature and I can hear the rumble and the road of the crowd.

And for the Grey Cup, it came loud and left silently. The game is over, the party’s way past midnight, and Calgary is celebrating hours east of here. Hamilton’s sorrow drowned out their parade though, all Sunday night on social media. The story from the game became the punt return that wasn’t and the flag that dropped – that Brandon Banks touchdown would have been the perfect way for Hamilton to win the game, and it was (turns out) the perfect way to lose it, too.

I don’t know what you all saw on TV, whether you knew the flag was there. I know I saw it right away, from my seats in BC Place’s section 341 – I saw it go up and come down and I had no idea what it was referring to. Every live punt return you see is littered with tons of bodies chasing and falling across 110 yards, like a hand slamming a tale of dominoes, and you never really have any idea how many of them were proper or legal.

But whenever I see a big play in the CFL, I know there must be a flag. Brandon Banks should have known it, too. Nothing’s that perfect – there’s always a catch, if you can pardon the pun.

And it really is something else, seeing a game live. Seeing a Grey Cup live, no doubt. I can’t imagine what a Super Bowl must be like.

On TV, I’m sure it was obvious that Bo Levi Mitchell was throwing for 334 yards and completed 10 straight passes at one point. But those yards, they existed in their own balloon in BC Place – I remember him being very good for a long stretch of the first half, maybe even the entire half. But I also remember Hamilton’s pass coverage being terrible. (I’ll bet they described it differently on TV, crediting Dave Dickenson’s route calling or the athleticism of Mitchell and his wideouts, most notably Eric Rogers, who went for 108 receiving yesterday.)

I barely remember anything Zach Collaros did, mostly because when you’re watching a game live, your eyes leave the quarterback as soon as the ball leaves his hands. And it doesn’t look as smooth or as calculated as it does on TV, because it all just looks random and desperate, and the losing teams normally just looks slow.

(It was funny how closely yesterday’s Grey Cup represented the one from 2011, which was also hosted in BC Place. Three years ago, the Lions were the clearly the better team. Yesterday, Calgary was clearly the better team. Three years ago, the Lions opened up a lead and then hung on for the win when Winnipeg decided to break through. Yesterday, substitute Hamilton for Winnipeg and ditto.)

In fact, the only thing I really remember about Collaros yesterday was seeing him on the game’s last play – he pumped and faked, pumped and faked, waited, didn’t want to launch it just yet, realized the window was about to slam shut, and then he fluttered it away with no time left. The ball was tipped, I know, but as soon as it clumsily bounced off the turf about 40 yards short of the endzone, all I could see were three Hamilton receivers down the field and to the left, and one or two Stamps defenders who surely would have peed a little if the ball was put properly in play.

And the only thing I remember about Mitchell, to be honest, wasn’t his exceptional first half or even his perfect arm. I remember him running into the stadium because I thought, “Huh, that guy kind of looks like Macklemore.”

And I remember his fourth-quarter interception. It was the only thing Calgary did truly wrong all day – they were mostly ineffective in the second half but they weren’t a minus, until that moment. So when all I heard last night was about how Mitchell won the game for Calgary, I just thought, “Yeah, well he also almost gave it to Hamilton.”

But the photos don’t tell that story and neither will most peoples’ memories. Games like that – those Grey Cups or Super Bowls or Olympic gold medal hockey finals, which are built up for a year and come down to three hours on a throwaway weekend afternoon – go by in a flash, and they sort of become a dream. An almost, ‘Did that happen?’ sort of night. The Banks return, it just seems surreal. Rarely do you get to see the moment either team thinks they’ve won a championship, but you saw it yesterday. And you saw it when Al Gore thought he beat George W. Bush, too.

Whether the votes were counted right or not, it just sucks to have the bone taken away from you like that, doesn’t it?

It’s one thing to lose in the final seconds – it’s another to win and then lose. (And let’s not forget, Calgary might have had enough time to march back down the field, too.)

And so the vacuum that Grey Cup happened in is gone and already on its way to Winnipeg for 2015. Vancouver shed away its CFL duties almost as easily as it ignored them, which was a shame.

But not everyone let it slip in and out unnoticed. In the two or so hours before yesterday’s 3 p.m. kickoff, fans of every shade, from every province – from Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, BC, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa, not to mention Calgary and Hamilton – rumbled down Robson Street, south from Vancouver’s waterfront toward BC Place, and packed the plaza to the gills.

Spend a couple seconds with the thousands downtown and all nine fan bases – even the ones from the often forgotten fallen ones like Winnipeg and Ottawa, who both missed the playoffs this year – and it’s pretty damn clear: the Grey Cup isn’t about the game on the field or about the 52,000 in the stands, or the few thousand unsold tickets, or that punt return that wasn’t or Bo Levi Mitchell’s performance.

As much as it’s supposed to be a championship, it’s not. Instead, it’s a convention. It’s a Canadian cultural explosion.

It’s one week where fans of Canada’s game can flaunt their loyalties and do so proudly, because belonging to a CFL city isn’t like belonging to a team or a group – it’s actually an exclusive club, and the smaller the better.

I always sort of smirk at people who say, “You know, the CFL just isn’t nearly as good as the NFL.”

Yeah, what’s your point? Do you think any CFL fan is really delusional about that? Of course they know it’s not the NFL – they know it’s not the NHL either, even thought a reported one-third of Canadians tuned into yesterday’s Grey Cup, a huge number for sure. And they’re proud it’s not the NFL, because there’s a certain luxury in being proud of something not everyone else understands or is privy to.

When you throw on the blue and gold or the B.C. orange or that Roughrider green, you’re expressing your nationality, in a way. You’re saying, “I’m from Winnipeg” or “I’m from Regina,” and you’re carrying on some sort of lineage or tradition you feel like only you can understand. Like in the United States, where being born on one side of Alabama makes you either a diehard Auburn fan or a diehard Tide fan, you’re born into a CFL team. But you’re not born to be a Canucks fan or a Leafs fan. It’s not as authentic, because it’s bigger and over-analyzed. In the CFL, dissent does mean disloyalty.

The CFL isn’t small, but it’s certainly compact. It’s intimate. Realtors would call it comfortable. Or cozy.

And it’s oh, so Canadian.

It should stand for the Civil Football League – I’ve never seen so many opposing fan forces converge on one corner like I did yesterday, where Stamps were allowed to paint the town red and Tiger-Cats gave them their space and means to make it happen. But they weren’t depressed, even if they were sad. Because the greatest part of the Grey Cup is, it crowns a champion from a nine-team league, which means that almost any of them have a chance to win next year. And also, everyone can enjoy it, not just the participants.

I took the SkyTrain home and listened to an in-denial Hamiltonian whine to a Lions fan about that last-minute call and basically the refereeing all season, and then watched as a family from Calgary – decked head-to-spur in crimson Stampeder gear – sort of sat there quietly and listened and smirked.

On the way out, I had to cross over a couple Hamilton fans, one of them with long, yellow, fuzzy hair, and he had cat ears attached to a hairband.

“Sorry about the loss,” I said as I shook their hands, and I opened up my jacket to show him my Blue Bombers t-shirt.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “it’s always a long year for us.”

And weirdly, I was pretty damn proud of that.

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