Where and when
The 107th Grey Cup starts Sunday at 6 p.m. ET at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium.
- Hamilton Tiger-Cats vs. Winnipeg Blue Bombers
The CFL’s longest active Grey Cup droughts will go head to head this weekend as the Tiger-Cats hope to win the trophy for the first time since 1999 by toppling the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who last hoisted it in 1990.
On Saturday, as the teams wrapped up day-before walk-throughs on the field at McMahon Stadium under sunshine and 7 C temperatures, they shed some light on how they spend the final 24 hours before playing in Canada’s biggest yearly football game – eating steak and spending time with family and friends was a common theme.
The annual ritual of Grey Cup week brings out people’s nostalgia for Canadian football, Ian Brown writes, a game fewer and fewer Canadians follow or watch any more. The decades-long droughts and working-class history of both teams makes the nostalgia even thicker this year.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats dominated the Edmonton Eskimos 36-16 in Sunday’s East Division final. A sold-out crowd of 25,177 filled Tim Hortons Field – a record for Hamilton’s east-end stadium, where the Ticats went undefeated this season. The fans were dressed in black at the team’s request, and waved gold rally towels.
With their franchise-best 15-3 record, the Ticats topped the CFL’s regular-season standing. Coach Orlondo Steinauer tied the league mark for most wins by a first-year head coach.
Three days away from the final, 31-year-old receiver Brandon Banks was chosen as the league’s most outstanding player. At 5 foot 7 and 150 pounds, Banks is one of the CFL’s smallest players.
Hamilton led the way with three other winners of CFL awards announced on Thursday night: Chris Van Zeyl for best offensive lineman, return specialist Frankie Williams as top special-teams player and Steinauer as coach of the year.
Winnipeg advanced to the Grey Cup with a 20-13 road win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Division final Sunday in front of a sellout crowd of 33,350 at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium.
Although the Bombers finished third in the West Division, they posted an 11-7 record before registering road playoff wins over defending-champion Calgary and Saskatchewan. The Bombers have reached the Grey Cup for the first time in head coach Mike O’Shea’s six-year coaching tenure.
Winnipeg’s Willie Jefferson won as best defensive player at Thursday’s CFL awards.
Strengths and weaknesses
The Bombers’ road to success lies in its ground attack. Winnipeg led the CFL in rushing (147.9 yards a game) but was last over all in passing (212.2 yards a game).
Hamilton comes in as the favourite after finishing atop the East Division standing. The Ticats were also 2-0 this season against the Bombers, who took third in the West. Hamilton also boasted the league’s top-scoring offence (28.2 offensive points) and stingiest defence (17.9 offensive points) during the regular season.
If Hamilton’s passing game has a flaw, it’s the 24 interceptions the Ticats surrendered, second-most in the CFL. Winnipeg counters with a defence that registered 24 picks, second only to Calgary (26).
Hamilton won’t beat Winnipeg by running the football as the Bombers’ defence allowed a CFL-low 64.2 yards a game. And while the Ticats did average more than 100 yards rushing a game during the regular season, they’re unrelenting with their passing attack.
Steinauer told reporters in Calgary on Wednesday that the defence has become the “heartbeat” of the team.
Steinauer, a 46-year-old Seattle native, served as Toronto’s defensive-backs coach and defensive co-ordinator from 2010-13 before becoming Hamilton’s defensive co-ordinator from 2013-16. After spending one season as Fresno State’s defensive co-ordinator in 2017, he returned to the Ticats in 2018 as assistant head coach under head coach June Jones before being promoted to the top job before this season.
O’Shea, 49, of North Bay, spent three years as Toronto’s special-teams coach before becoming Winnipeg’s head coach. He endured a rocky start with the Bombers, missing the playoffs his first two seasons while posting a 12-24 combined record. But under O’Shea, Winnipeg has gone to the playoffs the past four years and posted a 44-28 record over that span.
Steinauer and O’Shea go way back. They were teammates in Toronto from 2001-08, O’Shea a hard-nosed middle linebacker and Steinauer a versatile performer in the secondary. O’Shea and Steinauer won a Grey Cup as players in 2004 before adding another as Argos assistant coaches in 2012.
What’s at stake
The Ticats have not hoisted the CFL’s cherished silver trophy in 20 years. The Bombers’ drought is even longer at almost 30 years.
The Ticats have a chance to become the best squad in recent franchise memory after back-to-back Grey Cup losses in 2013 and 2014 – first to Saskatchewan, then to Calgary. Some players from those teams remain, including Simoni Lawrence, Brandon Banks and veteran Canadian linemen such as Mike Filer on offence and Ted Laurent on defence.
Steinauer had been a defensive co-ordinator for those teams, and was a player on the last Ticats team to win a Grey Cup, in 1999. Now he gets to lead this one to Calgary to try to end Hamilton’s Cup drought.
“The men bought in. They wanted to be great,” Steinauer said of his 2019 team. “When you’re accountable to the person next to you, you don’t want to let your teammates down, and that’s when you start to have the makings, and the potential for something special.”
While Hamilton’s recent local sporting successes have provided some civic pride, the 150-year-old football team is the most popular team in the city and has close ties with the community. Ticats fans have watched seven of the nine CFL teams win the Grey Cup since their team last hoisted it in 1999.
“For sure, fans who come to our games are loyal and loud. They have filled our stadium no matter what our record was,” quarterback Dane Evans said.
They’ve gone a long time without a Grey Cup, so we owe them one.— Quarterback Dane Evans
Blue Bomber fans haven’t celebrated a Grey Cup win since 1990, almost 30 years ago, the longest stretch without a title by any current CFL team. Winnipeg last played in a Grey Cup in 2011 when the Bombers fell 34-23 to the host B.C. Lions.
“We’re one step closer,” O’Shea said. “I’m pretty sure they’re not going to be satisfied nor will we, unless we handle our business.”
CFL rushing leader Andrew Harris, receiver Nic Demski, linebacker Thomas Miles and offensive lineman Geoff Gray will play in a Grey Cup for their hometown Blue Bombers for the first time in their careers.
We’ve got to make sure we stick to our process and our preparation, try to avoid all the noise that a Grey Cup brings and think about this as just a football game and not the Grey Cup, which is tough to do.— Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea
Last year’s Grey Cup
The Calgary Stampeders beat the Ottawa Redblacks 27-16 in the 106th Grey Cup at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton last year. It was the eighth time the team won the CFL championship and the first time in four years, after losses in the title game in each of the previous two years.
The loss ended the Redblacks’ dream of winning another Grey Cup. It was their third appearance in the championship finale since their inaugural season in 2014. They beat Calgary in the final in 2016.
The Stampeders scored the second-most points in the league and allowed the fewest while compiling a CFL-best 13-5 regular-season record. They were the first team in the league to clinch a playoff spot in Week 13, but struggled in the West Division final before coming away with a 22-14 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Ottawa went 11-7 before it clinched a berth in the Grey Cup with a triumph over Hamilton in the East final.
Compiled by Lori Fazari, with reports from Rachel Brady, Cathal Kelly, Ian Brown, Marty Klinkenberg and The Canadian Press.