Disclaimer: Although I'm contractually obligated to write this post, because of lost bet to a dastardly BC Lion Fan, I would not write anything if I didn't believe it. Oh and Happy Birthday tomorrow brother.
When you are a life long Winnipeg Blue Bomber fan you get to say "Next year" a lot. In many ways it is something Prairie folk (and while I may live in the High Arctic, I am Prairie stock. Through and through) are very used to saying, "Next Year". Next year it will rain. Next year the hail won't crush the crop. Next year we'll win the Grey Cup.
The football team I've cheered and followed since I knew what football was have been to the Grey Cup more times then anyone, 24 times. That is pretty much one quarter of every one of the Grey Cup's played, as this wast the 99th Grey Cup. They've won it 10 times, two teams have won more often. Their winning percentage in the game is the third worst, but is no where near as bad as the Saskatchewan Roughriders, whose fans don't like it pointed out that they've only won three Cups in fifteen tries.
But I digress. This year their cinderella story was not to have its happy ending. Last year the Blue Bombers finished dead last in the league, with a 4-14 record. This year they finished first in the East and had the opportunity to win, and end a 21 year drought. They last won the Grey Cup last century, in 1990, failing on four occasions since that time. And now five.
They lost to the better team in this game, the BC Lions clearly the favourite, and clearly the better of the two teams in this game. There were, I believe, two simple keys to their victory, preparation of their defence, and the poise of their quarterback.
Winnipeg had the best defence in the league this year, with BC a close second. Time and time again Winnipeg's defence kept them in games until the offence could get their act together and score enough points. To some extent that happened this game, except for the offence getting its act together.
Last week, against the Hamilton Tigercats, Blue Bomber running back Chris Garrett ran for 190 yards. Now the Ticats are a different team, but Garrett is a talented running back that should have gotten more than 26 yards. This is where the Lion's preparation shone through. Quite simply rather than keying on Garrett their middle linebacker, Solomon Eliminian keyed on Bomber's receiver Aaron Hargreaves. Hargreaves had critical blocking assignments and when he moved to make his block Elimimian knew where Garrett was running, and shut the door.
The other key area was the poise of BC quarterback Travis Lulay. For a young quarterback with a little over a year as a starter he would not get rattled. Like I said the Blue Bombers had the best defence in the league and while they only registered one sack on their pass rush, that only tells a part of the story. The Bomber pass rush was in his face all night long. I saw at least a dozen times that Lulay was hammered as he released the ball, making plays. To his credit he took hit after hit, allowing himself to make the throw down field. He didn't panic, and with that sort of pressure many of the starting quarterbacks in the league would have. It likely won the game for them.
Had the Bombers executed better on a couple of key plays there might have been a different outcome. My brother would be wearing a Swaggerville t-shirt instead of me praising the BC Lions publicly. Odell Willis had a Lulay pass right in his hands mere yards from the BC endzone. He bobbled it and instead of close the game on a pick 6 turnover the play seemed to deflate the Bomber defence and BC marched the length of the field and scored. Jamie Boreham had a poor game on kickoffs and punts, but had he put the short kickoff ten yards down the field instead of seven, the Bombers would have had one more chance to tie the game.
But they didn't execute, and the whole game can't be put on their shoulders and these plays. At the end of the day the better team in this match was the BC Lions. And because they were the better, they took home the Grey Cup.
Wait 'til next year.