Photo courtesy: Les Carabins de l’Université de Montréal
Another year of Canadian football has come to a close with an exciting finish to the Vanier Cup, Canada's national university football championship. Kudos to CBC TV for making the game available to all Canadians on its regular broadcast network. The in-studio host and analysts, Andy Petriello, Justin Dunk and Donnovan Bennett did well. They were very well informed, professional and did a first class job. Petriello made only oblique reference to the implicit Guelph-Western rivalry and Dunk's infamous "Wuck Festern" shout into an OUA game of the week TV camera years ago. No inside jocularity on this day.
Fittingly, this year's game was held at the beautiful new Richardson Stadium in Kingston, home of the Queen's University Golden Gaels. The last national championship game held at Richardson stadium was the 10th Grey Cup won 13-1 by Queen's over the Edmonton Elks on Dec 2, 1922. The following year Queen's put up the first shutout in Grey Cup history and the largest margin of victory, 54-0 over the Regina Roughriders in their third straight, and final, Grey Cup on December 1st 1923 at Varsity Stadium. For better or worse, Richardson has leapfrogged Varsity stadium (field) as the structure best linked to the early days of Canadian football. It was named in honour of George T Richardson who played hockey for Queen's when it lost to Ottawa in the 1906 Stanley Cup. He was killed in the first world war and later inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. His family helped fund the building in his memory. The new Richardson stadium raises the bar for all university football and soccer facilities in Canada and has great sightlines not distanced by a 400 meter track.
Queen's holds two records that can never be equalled. The first Grey Cup shutout and the first shutout in Vanier Cup history, in its 31-0 shellacking of the St. Mary's Huskies before a Skydome crowd of 28,000 in the 1992 Vanier Cup. This team was led by former Argo safety, Brad Elberg, who was a star tailback of the Gaels at the time. Elberg was chosen MVP while rushing for 136 yards on 23 carries. Meanwhile St. Mary's was coached by another former Argo DB, Larry Uteck. Queen's did a great job presenting this year's game which included a festival celebrating Canadian football and featured the Canadian Collegiate Women's Flag Football showcase.
Last week I said that U Montreal would win decisively. Montreal won 16-9 in a game that was much closer than I predicted. UBC's defence played very well but their undoing was an offence that could not score a TD. The Thunderbirds hold the distinction of being the only USports team with two American QBs on its roster. Both starter Garrett Rooker and back up Derek Engel played high school football in Texas. (Former Argo DT, Noah Cantor is the defensive line coach at UBC).
Remarkably, UBC actually had three separate possessions inside the last two minutes of the game but could not find the endzone to send it into overtime. Congratulations to MVP QB, Jonathon Senecal, and les Carabins in what has been a year which has made Montreal the city of champions for football. Senecal demonstrated his exceptional running skills and with two years left he may be the successor to Tre Ford as the next great Canadian QB from U Sports.
Speaking of successful succession, it is notable that the offensive coordinator for UBC was a former assistant of Greg Marshall, the outstanding head coach at Western University. This Greg Marshall has given rise to an exceptional coaching tree, especially within the OUA. The head coaches of Windsor, Laurier, Waterloo and Queen's have all been assistants to the former Ti-Cat and CFL coach of the year, at Western. Marshall has coached 23 Yates Cup champions since retiring from the CFL due to injury. For the uninitiated, the Yates Cup is awarded to the intercollegiate champion of Ontario and is not only older than the Grey Cup but is the oldest football trophy in North America, since first presented in 1898. Older even than the Rose Bowl (1902) and Little Brown Jug.
Meanwhile, the other Greg Marshall, the former CFL all star defensive lineman has just retired as head coach of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. The University of Toronto posted his old job on its homepage last week and unless candidates are already living in Toronto the starting salary is going to present a problem in recruiting the best replacement. It's roughly half the salary being earned by the head coaches of Laval, Western and UBC today. Considering the cost of living in Toronto and the legacy of Varsity (4 Grey Cups) the head coach of the Blues should, arguably, be the highest paid amateur football coach in Canada. Anything less is mailing it in.
Around the CFL
I note that Sask QB Trevor Harris is campaigning to protect his active $250k roster bonus due Feb 1st. by predicting Sask can go to the Grey Cup next season. I can't blame him. I would be doing the same thing if I was getting $525k to play football at the age of 38 with a new coach coming in the door. It must have been reassuring for him to hear that Corey Mace, as a part of his interview process, said he believed the team could win with Harris at the helm.
"On the controversial subject of the CFL operations salary cap, the most elegant solution would be to include the president's salaries in with operations. They are paid higher than anyone else, including the top paid quarterbacks, and this remuneration reportedly varies from several hundred thousand dollars to well over a million. You can understand why the coaches and managers are frustrated, just as players are, to have their salaries contained. Including the highest salaries (presidents) would not only level the playing field between teams but also improve internal equity across all staff by compressing the differences between salaries.
Finally, it's great to see that the BC Lions are going to play a game in Victoria on August 31st. It's overdue as many Lions fans commute from the island to Vancouver. What doesn't make sense is why they are playing Ottawa on Labour day weekend. The natural labour day rival for Ottawa isn't BC, it's Montreal, which is just a couple of hours down the road and another bilingual city. BC doesn't have a natural rival but there would be a certain national symmetry to have them play an expansion team from the Maritimes on Labour day, ensuring they are not left out on the biggest regular season weekend of the CFL season. "