As 2012 winds to a close, TSN.ca looks back at the stories that made the year memorable. TSN.ca's writing staff reflects on the best in Canadian football from the past 12 months including broken records, a memorable finish, one frigid day in Calgary and the end of an era in Hamilton and Winnipeg.
Finishing on Top
"I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity to finish my career – winning a Grey Cup, getting kicked out of the Grey Cup, breaking the Grey Cup; I love the CFL," Adriano Belli said proudly during the Toronto Argonauts Grey Cup parade.
The quote was a fitting end for the Kissing Bandit, one of the league's most colourful characters, and a great way to cap the Argonauts' Cinderella run from league basement to league champs, just in time to hoist the iconic trophy in front of a hometown crowd.
Marty the Horse
The week-long festivity in Toronto in late November was a showcase of Canadian talent and culture: from homegrown megastars Carly Rae Jepsen and Justin Bieber performing the halftime show, to non-import stars making impacts on the field like Ricky Foley leading the way as Most Outstanding Canadian. But the most unique story was a horse being denied entry into a five-star hotel.
Way back in 1948, a group of Calgary Stampeders fans rode a horse through the Royal York's lobby before that year's Grey Cup, a 12-7 win for the Stamps over the Ottawa Rough Riders. Fans this year wanted to do it again, but Marty the horse, one of the team's mascots, was originally denied access to the swanky downtown hotel. There was a happy ending for Stamps supporters, however, after pressure from fans, the hotel relented and Marty made his appearance. It wasn't the good luck charm it was 64 year ago though, as Calgary fell to the Argos in the championship game.
Prior to last year, you could argue the Canadian running back had made a bit of a renaissance of late. Jesse Lumsden grabbed some headlines a few years back and Jerome Messam's strong 2011 campaign earned him an NFL tryout.
After last year, there's no debate to be had: the non-import RB is back with Jon Cornish and Andrew Harris kicking down the door.
Cornish and Harris treated fans to an individual rivalry that went back and forth all year long. Arguably the two best backs of 2012, Cornish led the league in rushing 1,457 yards, enough to surpass Normie Kwong's 56-year record of most rushing yards by a Canadian of 1,437. Harris meanwhile, finished just third in rushing yards with 1,112, but did accumulate 35 more offensive yards than Cornish on the year.
Legends Taking Notice
There were three big records that fell in 2012, and all three offered up memorable moments for the player involved, and fans alike.
It didn't take long for the first of three records to fall. With TSN on CFL analyst and previous record holder Milt Stegall watching from the sidelines, BC Lions star Geroy Simon set a new all-time CFL record for receiving yards. As the old saying goes, records are meant to be broken and Stegall couldn't contain his joy and excitement congratulating Simon on his remarkable feat. That was Week 1.
Not to be outdone by Stegall, Argos legend Mike 'Pinball' Clemons made sure nobody watching will forget the moment Chad Owens became pro football's single-season all-purpose yards record holder, breaking Pinball's previous record set in 1997.
After Owens' record-breaking play, Pinball held him up in front of all the fans at Rogers Centre and in response to Owens saying he strives to do half of what Pinball has accomplished on and off the field, Clemons stole the mic and yelled, "He hasn't done half, he's done more, baby! Number one!"
The third record to fall went right down to the wire. The Eskimos' JC Sherritt looked to have the all-time tackles record in the bag midway through the season. Injuries however, made the chase to 129 (the previous record set by Calvin Tiggle back in 1994) a lot closer than originally anticipated. The diminutive linebacker found a way to get it done however, recording his 130 tackle in the last week of the regular season.
Return of the Return Men
The league has a long history of turning electrifying returners into household names, and two more cemented themselves in in CFL lore in Chad Owens and Chris Williams.
We've already touched on Owens but must also spend some words on Williams. The second year Ticat, and league's Most Outstanding Special Teams Player, broke the single-season return touchdown record with six – a number that would have been higher had he not been caught celebrating a little too early in after a 117-yard missed field goal return against the Alouettes.
To outsiders, they were outdated and uncomfortable. But to the fans in Hamilton and Winnipeg that crammed into them every week regardless the weather, they were almost a second home. The CFL said goodbye to two iconic and longstanding buildings the past season in Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton and Canad Inns Stadium in Winnipeg. And while the old gals had seen better days, on the two consecutive weekends in late October when the buildings were closed out, to reminiscing fans they never looked better.
The Cold War
By: Barry Riz, TSN.ca Staff
There is no question that the CFL holds an important place as part of true Canadiana.
Great Canadian players. Great Canadian fans and cities.
And great Canadian weather.
Every football fan holds fond memories of games played on snow-covered, rock-solid, frozen fields in front of well-bundled but still vocal fans.
But as fate would have it in 2012, both the Eastern and Western division finals (in Montreal and B.C.), along with the Grey Cup game (in Toronto), were all played in domed stadiums.
For that matter, even the NHL's outdoor game, the Winter Classic, was cancelled by the lockout.
But there was still a touch of Canadiana to be enjoyed on Oct. 20, when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats clashed with the Stampeders during a snowstorm in Calgary.
The game had everything you would expect - yard markers being shovelled clean, reduced visibility, and 10 turnovers on the field.
And still, it was a game to be remembered. With the ability to run neutralized by the slippery field, quarterbacks Henry Burris and Kevin Glenn combined for over 600 yards in the air. And with a chance for Hamilton to kick a winning field goal as time expired, the ball slipped out of the hands of holder Andy Fantuz and the kick never got off.
Calgary hung on for a 34-32 victory, and another chapter was written into the long history of wintry football fun in the CFL.