Eight months ago, they were Canadian Football League orphans.
Without an owner, without a clear direction, without either financial stability or a team that could win on the football field.
This morning, the Montreal Alouettes are champions of the 110th Grey Cup — raucous, triumphant, 28-24 victors over the heavily favoured Winnipeg Blue Bombers in an unforgettable heavyweight brawl waged on a chilly night at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.
The turnaround that began in March when Pierre-Karl Péladeau became the team’s new owner was completed with a seven-play, 83-yard drive in the final two minutes that will go into Alouettes lore with Sonny Wade in the 1970 Grey Cup and Tony Proudfoot stapling cleats on an icy field at the Big O in 1977.
The Alouettes have real talent, but in the end they are Grey Cup champions today because of a fierce will to win that was not going to be denied, no matter how many things went wrong.
TSN will never admit it, but the Als are deserving winners. There is often a fluky element when an underdog team makes a playoff run (see the 2021 pandemic Canadiens) but this was no fluke. If there was any luck involved Sunday evening, it ran the other way.
What few outside their dressing room understood was that by the end of the regular season, the Alouettes were the best team in the league. They haven’t lost since a 23-20 defeat to the Argos at Molson Stadium on Sept. 15.
They closed out the season with five straight wins, swatted aside the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and turned the swaggering Argonauts into a speed bump on the highway of life.
There remained the obstacle of the playoff-hardened Bombers and a classic Grey Cup. This one had it all: spectacular plays, explosive hits, lead changes, bad calls and gritty quarterback Cody Fajardo dialling up the offence at the most opportune time.
You’ll be seeing it over and over for decades, in particular two great plays. First there was superb receiver Austin Mack, his left arm in the grasp of a defensive back, reaching out to snag a pass with one hand while falling backward.
Then there was Kabion Ento, going vertical in the end zone, somehow leaping to intercept a pass that looked like a sure touchdown.
And there were the hits, two in particular. With Blue Bombers bowling ball running-back Brady Oliveira plowing through the Alouettes line and receiver Nic Demski bearing down on the defensive backfield, it seemed Winnipeg might simply be too physical.
Then Oliveira took the handoff, hit the line — and bounced like a bad cheque, courtesy of 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive lineman Lwal Uguak, the Alouettes’ first-round draft choice out of TCU.
A few plays later, Darnell Sankey demolished Demski in much the same fashion.
It was all part of the comeback from a devastating first half during which the Alouettes fought hard but were undone by one bad break after another.
Along the way, there were some terrible rulings from the refs and replay review, a couple of bad calls from the coaching staff, a pair of shanked punts and a critical fumble by kick-returner James Letcher Jr. that should have been overturned by a no-yards call and wasn’t.
That was the first half in a nutshell. Again and again, it seemed the Alouettes had the upset within their grasp, only to have it taken away by one bad break after another.
At the end of the half it was 17-7 Blue Bombers and a prime chance with time winding down was squandered when Jason Maas elected to run backup quarterback Caleb Evans into the line twice in a row from a yard out.
Evans didn’t make it. Lesser teams would have packed it in, gone through the motions in the second half and shrugged off the loss with the excuse that no one expected them to win anyway.
These Alouettes are made of different stuff. Fajardo came out firing in the second half, the Als scored a quick touchdown to make it 17-14 and it was game on, championship to come.
There were any numbers of individuals who found redemption in that brilliant final drive.
There was Fajardo, the castoff quarterback the Roughriders didn’t want. There was head coach Jason Maas, Fajardo’s offensive co-ordinator in Saskatchewan, who was also cut loose.
Finally, there was Danny Maciocia, the GM who had seen so many players depart as free agents while the orphaned Alouettes were in search of an owner and not only filled the holes that were left but made his team better.
I doubted Maciocia from the start. I was wrong. The job he did putting this team together was, like the Grey Cup victory itself, one for the ages.
Heroes: Cody Fajardo, Austin Mack, Kabion Ento, Tyson Philpot, Cole Spieker, William Stanback, Darnell Sankey, Reggie Stubblefield, Shawn Lemon, Caleb Evans, Kristian Matte, Wesley Sutton, Marc-Antoine Dequoy, Lwal Uguak, Pierre-Karl Péladeau, Anthony Calvillo, Noel Thorpe, Jason Maas, Danny Maciocia &&&& last but not least, the entire Alouettes organization.
Zeros: Milan Lucic, Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.
Now and forever.
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