The 2001 Grey Cup – 20 years ago
In the run up to that game in, (unusually for now), December, I thought it might be interesting to do a series on the recent decade anniversaries of the big game. Starting with 50 years ago, then 40, 30 and so on.
We started with the contests from 1971, 1981, & 1991. So now we are jumping forward another decade to the 2001 Grey Cup game. A game that saw the 8-10 Calgary Stampeders defeat a 14-4 Winnipeg Blue Bombers team by a score of 27-19. This in front of 65,255 fans at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
The Run up to the Game
The Stampeders had become a pretty dominant outfit in the 1990’s. They had gone 127-52-1 appeared in the Grey Cup five times and won it twice. It looked like the 2000’s would bring more of the same. In 2000 they had gone 12-5-1 but lost out in the Western Final. This season however the Stampeders began the year with four straight losses, and had just three wins by Labour Day.
Three straight defeats took them to 5-9 before they responded by winning three of their last four games to finish 8-10, and slip into the playoffs behind the 9-9 Division winners Edmonton.
Winnipeg had last won the grey Cup in 1990. From 1990-94 they had a lot of success going 59-31, winning the Division on four occasions and making two more Grey Cup appearances, but losing in 1992 and 1993. Decline set in after that for the rest of the decade punctuated by going 7-29 from 1997 to 1998.
They had given little indication of coming success in the two years prior to this either. From 1999-2000 they went a pretty uninspiring 13-22-1 and missed the playoffs. But in 2001 it had all come together. They went 14-4, including tying the standing CFL record with 12 consecutive victories along the way.
2001 Grey Cup Playoffs
Given their records it is no surprise that these two teams took different roots to get to the title game in the 2001 Grey Cup playoffs.
Winnipeg found it pretty straightforward. They had won the East Division off the back of a 14-4 record and sat at home whilst Hamilton and Montreal fought out the semi final. It was Hamilton who won through, so Winnipeg hosted them in the East Final. After Hamilton took a 7-3 lead after one, the Blue Bombers outscored the Tiger-Cats 25-6 the rest of the way for a 28-13 win and a place in the Grey Cup.
Meanwhile, Calgary having finished with a losing record had to go via the semi-final route to get there. They would however able to take encouragement from the BC Lions the previous season. In 2000 the Leos had also gone 8-10 only to then go on to be the first team with a losing record to win the Grey Cup.
They faced an 8-10 Lions team in the West Semi-Final and beat them 28-19. That was followed by a trip to Edmonton for the West Final where the Stamps won pretty convincingly 34-16 to book their Grey Cup spot.
Including playoffs the Stamps were rounding into form having won three straight, and five of their last six games. That included rounding the regular season off with a 22-15 win against Winnipeg. The Blue Bombers meanwhile had slipped from 14-2 to 14-4 to round out the regular season before taking the East Division Final.
But why were Winnipeg in the East?
Winnipeg are very definitely a Western team. They currently reside in the West Division too. So why were they in the East here? It wasn’t due to a crossover as they were East Division champions. Rather it was all about balance and League alignment as franchises came and went.
In fact, for the sake of that balance, they have spent a considerable amount of time in the East Division.
Between 1987 and 2013 they spent 21 seasons in the East Division. Plus one season in the North Divisions as part of the US expansion era.
In 1987 they moved to the East Division to replace Montreal who had folded just prior to the regular season.
They played a total of eight consecutive seasons in the East Division. Before moving to the newly created North Division in 1995 during the short-lived US Expansion era. As the US expansion was wound down, and the Baltimore Stallions were made into the core of a reinstated Montreal Alouettes team, Winnipeg returned to the West Division in 1996.
It was short lived though. As the Ottawa Rough Riders ceased operations. Once again Winnipeg were re-aligned to the East. It wasn’t until 2014, and the arrival of the Ottawa REDBLACKS that the Blue Bombers returned ‘home’ to the West Division.
The 2001 Grey Cup Game
The 2001 Grey cup game had, at the time, the second highest attendance for any Grey Cup game. The top four best attended Grey Cup games to date have all come at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The attendance for this game now sits at third all-time behind a crowd of 66,308 who saw the Stamps beat the Als 22-14 in the 2008 Grey Cup. And the record holding crowd of 68,205 who witnessed the Montreal Alouettes defeat the Edmonton Eskimos 41-6 in the 1977 Grey cup.
The game started slowly with Winnipeg scoring 4 points (a Field Goal and a single) from the boot of Troy Westwood, who is probably best remembered for inspiring the Banjo Bowl thanks to a faux apology).
Calgary responded in the second with a 37 yard Mark McLoughlin Field Goal before the Stamps O took over. First Calgary QB Marcus Crandell hit WR Marc Boerigter for a 68 yard touchdown. Then less than a minute before the half Crandell threw another touchdown. This time a 9 yard pass to Travis Moore. The Sampeders held a comfortable 17-4 lead at the intermission.
The Second Half
Coming back from the break Winnipeg took over in the third period. On their first possession of the half QB Khari Jones threw a 23 yard touchdown pass to Arland Bruce III. Later in the quarter Westwood missed a FG and picked up another single. It was 17-12 Calgary going into the fourth quarter and the momentum seemed to be with the Blue Bombers.
Momentum can swing in an instant however. And it certainly did here. Calgary’s Adil Henry blocked a punt attempt by Bob Cameron. Willie Fells picked up the ball and ran it in for an 11 yard touchdown. Calgary had extended their advantage and led 24-12.
The Blue Bombers weren’t done though. Khari Jones struck again, this time letting fly a 24 yard touchdwon pass to legendary Winnipeg receiver Milt Stegall. That made it 24-19 Calgary with enough time left for a Blue Bombers comeback.
Calgary made sure it didn’t happen. From their own 11 yard line a pass and run from Crandell to Kevin Anderson covered 44 yards to relieve the pressure. From there the drive led to another McLoughline Field Goal and a 27-19 lead with less than a minute left.
Winnipeg made it to the Calgary 36, but Jones was sacked to end the game. A frustrating one for the Blue Bombers fans who had seen their team repeatedly get into Calgary territory and come up empty. Westwood missed three Field Goals which didn’t help either.
For Calgary, this was a third title in a ten year span as they picked up their fifth Grey Cup title.
What came next – Calgary
Calgary would enter a mini slump after this win. From 2002-2007 they were less competitive going 43-64-1 with the nadir being a 15-39 run of form from 2002-4. However by the end of the decade they had found their feet again. Going 36-17-1 from 2008-10 and lifting another Grey Cup trophy in 2008.
That success remained in the 2010’s. Arguably the Stampeders can claim to have been the CFL team of the decade in the 2010’s. Calgary appeared in the playoffs every year of the decade. They contested the Grey Cup on five occasions, winning it twice in 2014 & 2018.
Across the decade they amassed an astonishing 132-46-2 record. They appeared in the playoffs ten times and went 10-7 in playoff games. This year they have qualified for the CFL playoffs for the 16th consecutive time – the fifth longest such run in CFL history.
What came next – Winnipeg
Winnipeg followed their upset defeat with two more winning seasons. In fact they started the 2000’s 37-17 and made three straight playoff appearances. Throughout, the 2000’s saw the Blue Bombers go 90-88-2. Along the way they made 2 losing Grey Cup appearances. This one in 2001 and again in 2007.
Through the 2010’s Winnipeg would post a 79-101 record and finish second best in another Grey Cup in 2011. That appearance was followed by a few down years. However they finished the decade from 2016-2019 going 44-28 and ending the longest title drought in team history by winning the 2019 Grey Cup.
With the return of the CFL in 2021 they finished a shortened 14 game season 11-3 to take the West Division title and are making their fifth consecutive playoff appearance.
Banner Image: The 2001 Grey Cup ring for Calgary. Image from CFHOF .