If the Western Final reminded us of anything, it was that in football, which is the ultimate team sport, it is not necessarily the best players that win, but the best team.
The B.C. Lions, who finished the season with the league's best record, were hosting the Calgary Stampeders, who had just one less win in the regular season, yet were not picked to win by any of the prognosticators leading up to the game. The Lions played a step behind the Stamps all game long, their #1 ranked defence looked confused most of the day, and an offence that is loaded with weapons, did not score a touchdown until deep into the fourth quarter.
Most in B.C. wanted to know who was to blame for the busted coverages in the secondary in the aftermath, but the truth is, the entire defence was dismantled by a superior game plan by offensive coordinator Dave Dickenson, and a much higher level of execution. This was not about a lack of effort on the Lions part, but about a Calgary team, that was more focused, played aggressive, and took the game.
You can bet that this one will stick with the Lions' veterans forever because a football player can live with being beaten physically; that is just part of the game. But when you get beaten because you weren't as focused mentally as the opponent, that is tough to live with and that was the case for the Lions on Sunday afternoon.
To be clear, the Lions did not lose the game, the Stamps won it. They were led by a quarterback in Kevin Glenn, that had to check his ego at the door this off-season and take on a different role than he was accustomed to when the year began back in July. He was branded the insurance policy and would be the back-up as the Stamps began the Drew Tate era.
When the team was forced to cash in that insurance policy in Week 2, Glenn stepped in like a pro and led the Stamps to a home-field playoff game and did it without a single, "I told you so". He was rewarded for his hard work during the regular season by being benched in the team's semi-final game against Saskatchewan and yet didn't complain or show even a hint of selfishness. Instead, he supported his teammate Drew Tate, and in doing so without playing a down two weeks ago, helped his team advance to the Western Final with a win over Saskatchewan.
The Lions' roster is made up of a lot of the best players in the league but on Sunday, they were the second best team on the field and lost to a Stamps team that was led by the ultimate team guy.
In the Eastern Final, although some gave Montreal a slight edge because of the 50,000 plus they were playing in front of, there wasn't a heavy favourite due to the way Ricky Ray had been playing for the Argos during the month leading up to the big game at the Big O.
This thriller, that wasn't decided until the final play, was a dogfight from start to finish, played by two very well-coached teams, led by future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. This game was also a lesson in the importance of overcoming adversity, of understanding that in football, like in life, it won't always go your way all the time, but you just can't stop believing that you can find a way.
There were many times in this one that the Argos could have folded. There was the failed third down gamble at midfield, and the goal-line stand where Toronto had three cracks from the one-yard line and couldn't get in. For the Als, Anthony Calvillo threw a couple of interceptions and yet Montreal didn't stop working and were a Brian Bratton catch away from taking the game to overtime. Both head coaches and both quarterbacks never flinched in this one when facing adversity. They maintained their focus and prepared for the next play.
Generally speaking, when something bad happens to a team, it is human nature for the players to blame themselves, and the fans to point fingers. However in the heat of the battle, the key to overcoming adversity is to expect that there will be challenges, and sometimes bad things will happen, respect that the opponent has great players too and go back to work. Rather than look for someone to blame for a mistake, or even getting upset that one was made, respect that the opponent will make some plays, and when they do, fight the urge to get down and quickly shift the focus back to the job at hand.
Calvillo didn't throw a couple of interceptions, Marcus Ball made a couple of big plays. The Argos didn't blow it on the goal-line, the Montreal defence won the series. Brian Bratton didn't screw up, Pacino Horne distracted him enough to cause the incompletion. The Eastern Final was a great football game, played by two of the game's best quarterbacks, not only this year but in the history of the game. Both teams faced adversity and both teams were able to overcome it. This one was not about mistakes but about big plays and the Argos made one more big play than the Als.
The Argos will host the Stamps in the 100th Grey Cup, a great match up that will feature two very deserving quarterbacks in Kevin Glenn and Ricky Ray. For the next five days, the entire country will weigh in on the keys to the game and who should be favoured. However, once it is kicked off, a couple of things are certain: one, both teams will face adversity and the team that is able to overcome those challenges will put themselves in the best position to win; and two, if the Western Final reminded us of anything, it is that in football, championships are often not won by the team with the best players, they are won by the best team.