SIMMONS: Another Grey Cup stunner rewards unlikely Alouettes, CFL fans

HAMILTON — This is what the CFL does.

Almost every year. Almost every Grey Cup.

It tears at your heart. It takes the unexplainable and makes it even harder to believe. The championship ends, almost every year, in the final seconds, with a series of plays that don’t always make sense, with the kind of football that leaves you needing a post-game show for further explanation and interpretation.

And then more.

On their way to almost dynastic status as a CFL stalwart, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost their way and lost the Grey Cup to the incredible, come-from-almost-nowhere, upstart Montreal Alouettes.

Nobody’s pick to win the championship before the season began.

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But then, that’s what the CFL does so many seasons. It did it last year with the Toronto Argos winning a Cup they had no business winning. And it happened again on Sunday night in Hamilton, ending a spectacular Grey Cup at Tim Hortons Field.

The Montreal Alouettes are the champions of Canadian football for the first time in more than a decade, scoring a touchdown in the final seconds to beat the clock and the Blue Bombers and stun a television audience of millions that had to be checking its collective heartbeat to understand all that went on in 60 minutes of football that went back and forth and back again.

This was catch-your-breath entertainment, this 28-24 victory for the Alouettes over the Blue Bombers. This was who-was-going-to-win football in the grand tradition of Grey Cups past. The Argos won the Grey Cup late last November and that still stings in Winnipeg. The Bombers won the year before in overtime against Hamilton. This is Ali-versus-Frazier football, Canadian style: You need to go 15 rounds before you can determine who wins.

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Montreal Alouettes wide receiver Austin Mack is tackled.
Montreal Alouettes wide receiver Austin Mack (81) is tackled by Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back Demerio Houston (35) after making a one-handed catch during the second half of football action at the 110th CFL Grey Cup in Hamilton on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023. Photo by Frank Gunn /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Montreal won Sunday night and deserved the victory. The Alouettes came from behind, trailed most of the night, and scored with just a few seconds left on the clock on a touchdown pass from Cody Fajardo to Canadian Tyson Philpot. Before that score, Fajardo faced a second down, 18 yards to go, and the game on the line.

He made the first down, which was what Fajardo did all night. He’s never been known as a championship quarterback. But he will have that belt around his waist now for the rest of his life.

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Fajardo completed 21 of 26 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. This from a quarterback who was cut loose after last season and not exactly a huge commodity. This from a coach in Jason Maas, who was tossed aside after his first run as a head coach in Canadian football. This is what the CFL does. It writes stories. It creates endings. It does mystery better than most mystery writers.

And the game — as much of a spectacle as it was — was the perfect ending to a near-perfect Grey Cup Week. Carrie Underwood played Hamilton. Green Day played halftime, used profane language, and put on the best Grey Cup halftime show in memory. The football game, not a clinic in perfection, was good enough to go the final seconds without a result — and without a dominant team.

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How does this happen almost every year? How do these teams come from nowhere and win titles, just like that, with new coaches and new quarterbacks and new owners, and with a roster taped and glued together by general manager Danny Macocia: A roster that made enough big plays and big punches and great catches to end its season celebrating on the field with confetti falling and the stands nearly empty at Tim Hortons Field.

Fajardo won the MVP and won the quarterback competition with the two-time most outstanding player Zach Collaros. Collaros didn’t throw a touchdown pass. He operated the Winnipeg offence with spotty efficiency, some of that to do with the great Montreal defence, some of that to do with Winnipeg just not being good enough.

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This was a defeat coach Mike O’Shea couldn’t have seen coming. Not how it happened, not why it happened. The Bombers lost to the Argos last year in a game they thought they should have won. Now they’ve lost two games in a row that they probably think they should have won.

In losing, the Bombers robbed themselves of all-time greatness. Yes, they have been to four Grey Cups in a row. But now they’ve lost two in a row. A win Sunday night would have put them on the verge of special status among all-time teams in the CFL. For now, they’re just another team, another team leaving victories behind. Another team heading home to explain what went wrong.

The winner Sunday night was the football fan in Montreal and the football fan who had no affiliation. This is what the CFL does on an annual basis. It finds a way to grab you, pull you in even for one night, put on the best show possible.

And take your breath away. Grey Cup 110 did that once again on Sunday night.

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