It was a historic year in the CFL. Records fell, Canadian-born athletes excelled, and the Grey Cup was handed out for the 100th time in a city that wasn't supposed to care and yet delivered one of the best festivals in the leagues history.
It is still hard to get ones head around the historic relevance of this year's championship game when you consider the game itself is even older than 100 years. It actually began back in 1892 when it was called the Dominion Senior Rugby Football Championship. The 1909 game was just another one of that sequence and wasn't called the Grey Cup until the 1940's. So when you consider that 1892 isn't much younger than Confederation itself and Parliament, it is truly remarkable that this Canadian tradition is one of very few events that have lasted this long.
CFL researcher and statistician Steve Daniel notes that the Cup is "almost as old as the country itself." He went on to say that "the Mann and Minto Cups in Lacrosse date back to about 1901 and can be traced to our native roots, and the Quebec Winter Carnival dates back to 1894."
The Calgary Stampede also celebrated its 100th anniversary this year. However, as far as 100 year Canadian traditions are concerned, the list is pretty small.
A special thank you goes out to Steve Daniel for all his hard work with stats throughout the CFL season. There were many a late night that I would send a request to Steve and almost immediately, he would research the questions and come up with the numbers needed. Steve did, by the way, mention that the Stanley Cup was first awarded in 1892, but it makes for a tough comparison because the NHL itself is more "convoluted due to all their predecessor leagues."
So congratulations again to the Toronto Argonauts. Each one of those players, coaches, GM and owner will have their names inscribed on a plate that represents the 100th year of Lord Earl Grey's iconic chalice.
Speaking of the numbers, how about the record set this year by Chad Owens? Owens broke the previous record set by Mike Pinball Clemons back in 1997 by averaging a mind-blowing two hundred and fifteen yards per game this year. One man accounted for 215 yards/game for his team! What is also great to see is that Owens is not only a great athlete but he is a tremendous ambassador for the game. Instead of looking for the spotlight during the Grey Cup pre-game warm up and basking in the glory of one of the best seasons in CFL history, he unselfishly honoured the man who previously held the record by wearing Pinball's number. A gesture, by the way, that didn't go unnoticed by Mike Clemons, who broke down and became very emotional when he saw Owens hit the field for warm-up wearing number 31.
It was also a year that saw two Canadian born athlete's become one of the biggest stories in 2012. Jon Cornish and Andrew Harris put on a show this year; Cornish broke Nomie Kwong's record for rushing yards in a single season - a record that lasted for 56 years - and Harris became just the second Canadian player in the leagues history to lead in yards from scrimmage. Both players were outstanding on the field and Harris clearly understood the responsibility that comes with greatness.
As Calgary head coach John Hufnagel said in one of his coaches press conferences during Grey Cup week; "Cornish has learned how to become a pro this year." Here is hoping that Jon Cornish understands that, whether he likes it or not, he has become a role model for young Canadian athletes with the same dreams he had before he went to play his college ball at Kansas. He is a very good football player, however, there were a few occasions where he was less than professional this year; some of which never made it to air and never will. In fairness, it is not like Cornish was a problem in the locker room or a law-breaking headache for the club. Most of his issues this year were minor but he is a smart guy and knows better, so again here is hoping that all we talk about with regards to Jon Cornish next year is his rushing yards and how those yards have contributed to his team's success.
As big a story in 2012, if not bigger, was the Ricky Ray trade. Not much more can be said about the most controversial and talked about trade in league history that hasn't already been said, but the trade does confirm a couple well known facts. The CFL is a quarterback-driven league. If you have a good one you aren't guaranteed success, but you have hope. If you don't have a good pivot, your team has very little hope and therefore very little chance for success.
Oh, and for all those that thought Ricky Ray's best days where behind him; don't feel too bad. There have been many that have said the same about Anthony Calvillo in Montreal every year for the last five, so you're not alone. However, next year as we watch Ray just continue to get better in Scott Milanovich's system, let's remember that not every drive ends in a touchdown and that's why teams employ punters. Sometimes the defence wins. Also, no team in the modern era has gone undefeated, so when the Argo offence is having issues at different times in the 2013 season, it may be wise to chalk it up to a win for the 'D' and not an indication that Ricky Ray is washed up. He is going to lead that team for the next four or five years, at least.
And finally, congratulations to the city of Toronto, Chris Rudge, and the Argo Grey Cup committee for putting on one of the best festivals in the history of the game. As a CFL fan that lives on the west coast, it is interesting to me that for years I have heard from the majority of the messengers from the GTA (newspaper writers, radio hosts and TV sportscasters) that there are no CFL fans in Toronto and no interest. Yet, Grey Cup week in Canada's most populated city was a huge success. All the events were sold out and the streets were packed. 3.6 million people from the Toronto area watched the game on TV, and there were an estimated fifty thousand that lined the streets on Tuesday after the big game for the Grey Cup parade and rally. All of which leads one to believe that perhaps there are CFL fans in Toronto. In fact, there are great fans in Toronto.
Yes, there is still work to be done in getting those fans to the stadium during the regular season on a more consistent basis, but the same could be said for Blue Jay attendance and Raptor TV numbers. But clearly there is a strong CFL fan base in the city. In fact, if someone would like to rank the big four sports franchises in Toronto based on fan popularity then maybe it should read, based on the undisputed facts, like TV ratings: 1. Maple Leafs 2. Argos 3. Blue Jays 4. Toronto FC. I mean, if we want to look at the facts.
Congratulations again to the Argos for their historic championship win and to all the football fans across the country, have a great holiday season and thanks for watching CFL on TSN.