Watching my 73rd CFL football game of the year, I must say I saw things I have never seen. The Eastern Semi-Final was not a well-played football game, a point I know may seem obvious.
And if the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are to move on to the Grey Cup, they must improve or it will be Toronto playing in Canada's football championship for the second year in a row . Again, no kidding, Chris!
But in a league that can be criticized and complimented within one paragraph if not one sentence, the 2013 East Semi-Final sure had an original charm all its own. First was the weather. I think I saw everything; the wind was blowing from the North or was it the East, or maybe the West but definitely not the South, I think. There was rain, even some frozen rain and I definitely saw snow at one point.
In the second half, the sun came out; that's right, the sun and it looked like it was warming up. But then it started raining a little more and I saw a rainbow over the Alumni Stadium. I have never seen a rainbow over a football field before so I squinted my eyes and yes, there it was.
The weather affected the game but the players adjusted and Hamilton adjusted just a little more than Montreal. The only two touchdowns scored by the Ticats were on their last two possessions, one in regulation time and one in overtime.
At moments, the Ticats' offence looked dreadful but the second to last drive of 97 yards was a work of football art; maybe not the art that the majority of football fans would appreciate but a demonstration of patience in play-calling and execution. Every play of the drive, Montreal came after Burris and every play Burris found the open area and open man and took the team in for a touchdown that, at the time, looked like the game winner.
There is aggressive play-calling and execution and then there is patient play-calling and execution. With 5:18 to go to 1:04 to go. it was a lesson in football patience in the extreme as it seemed that every pass was between seven and five yards.
I have never seen two different quarterbacks used so frequently with such positive result. In overtime, the first play was Burris, then the next two were Dan Lefevour and then back to Burris for one more and Lefevour for two to win the game. Never seen it before but look forward to seeing it again.
For Montreal, the 2013 season can be described in two, perhaps contradictory words: adversity and optimism. From former head coach Dan Hawkins to quarterback Anthony Calvillo to wide receiver Jamel Richardson to offensive guard Scott Flory to running back Brendan Whitaker, the Alouettes were in adjustment mode all year long on offence. But Jim Popp took over for Hawkins, Troy Smith looked pretty good in replacing Calvillo, Duron Carter played effectively for Jamel Richarson, Brian Bomben replaced Scott Flory and Tyrell Sutton looked like Whitaker. Watch out for Montreal next year, they learned a lot and found out a lot that will be beneficial for 2014.
In the Western Semi-Final, let's be honest, the Riders almost blew it. BC showed up and played well. Travis Lulay was magnificent and in giving credit where earned, the Lions blockers and pass protectors had their best game of the year. The game changed toward the end of the third quarter because at half-time, BC was winning 17-16 and scored on their first possession of the second half to make it 24-16.
The game was theirs to win. Then a critical 2-and-out forced by the Rider defence and a couple of crushing hits turned it into Saskatchewan's game to win. The dream lives on. Darian Durant was magnificent, completing 19 of 23 passes or 83 per cent with two touchdowns and no interceptions as well as six runs for 97 yards. On those runs, Durant made a 2nd and 10 into a first down twice and a second and 7 into a first down once.
In football, a game of maybe 150 plays can come down to two or three and I thought the three runs by Durant were the game-changing and game-winning plays. For BC, the season was awkward. They had poor red zone defence but great middle field defence. There were blocking issues at times for Andrew Harris and Stefan Logan and six games without Travis Lulay, who was exceptional on Sunday. But the word persists; awkward.
So now it's Hamilton at Toronto and Saskatchewan at Calgary. And the visiting fans will travel. I doubt I will see a rainbow in the Rogers Centre but I'll be looking for one at McMahon Stadium.