The CFL season is in full swing and before we know it the playoffs, and ultimately the Grey Cup will be upon us.
In the run up to that game in November I thought it might be interesting to do a series on the decade anniversaries of the big game. Staring with 100 years ago, then 90, 80 and so on.
This series started with the 1919 Championship and has spanned the 1929, 1939, ‘49, ‘59 and ‘69 Grey Cup match-ups up to this point.
Now it is time to look back on the Ruby Anniversary match-up of this year’s game, the 1979 Grey Cup.
The 1979 game saw 65,11 fans on hand at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. They witnessed the 12-2-2 Edmonton Eskimos outlast the 11-4-1 Montreal Alouettes by a score of 17-9.
THE RUN UP TO THE GAME
The 1970’s were the backdrop to a period of success for both of these teams. In fact, the Esks and the Als had met in the final 4 times already in the 70’s.
With each team defeating the other on two occasions, the 1979 final was arguably set to determine the CFL team of the decade.
Montreal had hoisted the grand old trophy in 1970, 1974 & 1977. For their part, Edmonton had taken home the silverware in 1975 & 1978. The Esks had also been runners-up in 1973.
As it stood this was the third title game in a row between these two dominant teams. Edmonton had a chance to repeat, and Montreal had a chance to win it all on home ground.
Grey Cup Playoffs
The playoffs for the 1979 CFL season had been a straightforward affair. Both Edmonton and Montreal had comfortably won the West and East Divisions respectively.
They had both had a week off whilst the Divisional Semi-Finals were played out.
In the Eastern Divisional final Montreal had beaten the Ottawa Rough Riders 17-6. Whilst in the Western Divisional final Edmonton had beaten the Calgary Stampeders 19-7 to claim Alberta bragging rights and take their place in the Grey Cup game.
The Grey Cup Game
All-Stars on Duty
This was a game littered with league All-Stars. For Edmonton starting QB Tom Wilkinson had been the Grey cup offensive MVP the year prior to this.
He was ably supported on the O by all-star receivers Waddell Smith & Brian Kelly. Tackle Mike Wilson rounded out Edmonton’s award winners on that side of the ball.
In all Edmonton had 9 players listed as 1979 All-Stars. 4 on the O, 4 on the D, and the indomitable Hank Ilesic on Special teams.
On D they were represented by Ed Jones, Gregg Butler, Danny Kepley and the fabulously named Dave “Doctor Death” Fennell.
For their part The Alouettes had 4 players receiving All-star ballots that year.
Key among them was RB David Green, who was voted the Most Outstanding Player in the league. Alongside him was guard Ray Watrin.
On D for the Als were Junior Ah You & Dickie Harris. Because of all the great players on show, and because of the dominance of these teams at this time a great game was in prospect.
The Game itself
The game was played in unexpectedly mild conditions. Perfect for a balanced attack.
League MOP Green lived up to his billing. He led the charge for the Als carrying the ball 21 times for 142 yards. Green was voted the offensive player of the game.
On the defensive side of the ball Tom Cousineau was named the defensive player of the game. He also happened to be in Montreal colours.
All of which you would expect to lead to an Alouettes win. But no. Penalties were a key to this game.
Edmonton finished with 4 penalties costing them 25 yards. Montreal on the other hand were penalized 16 times costing 145 combined yards.
One penalty particularly stood out. Because it came on an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown in the 4th quarter.
Edmonton’s touchdowns came in the 1st and 3rd quarters. The first a 43 yard lob from Wilkinson to Waddell Smith. The second a 33 yard pass from Warren Moon to Tom Scott.
Edmonton led 7-6 at the half. They were 17-9 ahead going into the 4th and thanks to yet another penalty that’s the way it stayed. The Esks had won their second Grey Cup in a row.
What Came Next
Domination! There is no other word for it. The Edmonton Eskimos were a powerhouse over the next few years.
They added to their 1978 & 1979 championships by winning again in 1980, 1981 & 1982.
The Esks would not suffer a losing season again until 1999. They would also appear in two more finals in the 1980’s. They were runners up in 1986, and won it all once more in 1987.
The contrast for Montreal could not have been starker. From battling for team of the decade in the 70’s they collapsed in the 1980’s.
After spending big on NFL talent a 3-13 season ensued in 1981. The ownership fell apart & the team was taken over by the league.
They were re-launched as the Montreal Concordes & lasted 4 seasons. The Alouettes name returned in 1986 but the team had folded by 1987.
The Als would return in 1996. The franchise remains perhaps the best thing to come out of the US expansion experiment, born as they were from the Baltimore Stallions.
Who could have guessed on that November evening at the end of the decade in 1979 that these two proud teams would fare so differently?
Banner Image: Edmonton QB Warren Moon and head Coach Hugh Campbell celebrate. Image from pinterest.com
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