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.
THE RUN UP TO THE GAME
The Roughriders had endured a decade of futility between 1977 and 1987. From losing in the 1976 Grey Cup, they did not have another winning season until going 11-7 the year before this game.
They finished either 4th or 5th in the West Division every year during that barren run. Up to this point they had only one Grey Cup championship to their name having won it all in 1966.
For Hamilton the 1980’s had been a mostly productive period. From 1980-1989 they finished either 1st 2nd or 3rd in the Eastern Division. That included 4 first place finishes.
The Ti-Cats also appeared in multiple Grey Cup games during the decade. They were runners up in 1980, 1984 and 1985. They had won it all in 1986. This was to be their 5th tilt at the Cup during the 80’s.
During the regular season the teams had met twice. Hamilton emerged victorious on both occasions. They won 34-17 at Saskatchewan and 46-40 in Hamilton.
GREY CUP PLAYOFFS
The Roughriders had finished 3rd in the West Division. As a ‘reward’ for that they had to overcome 2 opponents in tough away trips.
It was huge upset as it was a year the Esks set a franchise record for wins during a period when they were a truly dominant team.
For Hamilton the road to the final was much smoother. They sat at home for the East Semi Final then hosted Winnipeg in the Eastern Final.
That match was perhaps closer than it should have been. Hamilton trailed the 7-11 Blue Bombers by 8 points to 4 at the half. In the end they eked out a 14-10 win to put themselves in the final once more.
THE GREY CUP GAME
This was the first Grey Cup to be played in the Sky Dome in Toronto. It would be a Grey Cup indoors making the weather a non-factor.
Through the first quarter the game went to form. The Favoured Ti-Cats recorded two field goals from kicker Paul Osbaldiston for a 6-0 lead. Although Saskatchewan replied with a single, Hamilton led at the quarter mark 13-1 following a touchdown pass from Mike Kerrigan to Tony Champion.
The game exploded into a contest in the second quarter. Saskatchewan recorded 21 points as Kent Austin threw three TD passes. Hamilton responded with two TD’s of their own and took a 27-22 lead into the half.
Dave Ridgway had attempted his first field goal of the game for the Riders, a 50-yarder to pull the game within two put missed not long before the break.
One for the ages
What played out in the second half is regarded as one of the best, to many, the best Grey Cup of all time.
The third quarter saw Saskatchewan in charge. They notched a touchdown, a safety and a Ridgway Field Goal. Set against a solitary Field Goal from Osbaldiston for Hamilton, this meant the Riders led 34-30 after three quarters.
Early in the fourth the kickers traded 3 pointers once more. Now the game was set at 37-33. Then with just 1:58 left in the game Ridgway kicked his third Field Goal of the game and Saskatchewan were a touchdown ahead with time running out.
Hamilton tied it up at 40-40 with just 44 seconds left on the clock. They did so by repeating the Kerrigan to Champion connection that had worked so well in the first quarter. Champion made an athletic catch to tie things up and all the momentum looked to be back with Hamilton.
Given that they were underdogs, and given that they were under tremendous pressure, the Riders responded remarkably. Austin hit on three passes covering 48 yards to put Ridgway in position to win it.
‘The Kick’ has gone down in Saskatchewan folklore. Hamilton tried icing the kicker but to no avail. With 3 seconds on the clock Ridgway booted the game winner. Saskatchewan won 43-40 and everyone was left breathless by the spectacle.
A remarkable thing
For UK based fans there is one remarkable thing about this contest. The heritage of each teams kicker.
Whilst both are Canadian citizens, both were born in the UK. The Riders’ Dave Ridgway was born in Stockport and emigrated to Canada in his teens. For Hamilton, Paul Osbaldiston was born in Oldham.
Clearly the North West of England is the place to raise excellent CFL kickers!
WHAT CAME NEXT
There was to be no fairy-tale repeat for the 1990 Roughriders. Another 9-9 record saw them in the playoffs but Edmonton extracted a measure of revenge by beating them 43-27 in the Western Semi-Final.
The Riders would not return the Grey Cup again until 1997, when they lost to Toronto. They would finally win another in 2007. There was a beautiful symmetry to that as they were coached by their 1989 Grey Cup QB Kent Austin that year.
Hamilton fell away from being Grey Cup favourites to go 9-27 over the two seasons following this loss. Their next Grey cup appearances would be a loss in 1998 and a win in 1999 – the next game we will look at in this series.
Banner image: Saskatchewan celebrate their famous win. Image from sportsnet.ca