The 2011 Grey Cup – 10 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, & 2001. So now we are jumping forward to our final decade anniversary visit and the 2011 Grey Cup. A game that saw the 11-7 BC Lions defeat the 10-8 Winnipeg Blue Bombers 34-23 in front of a highly partisan crowd of 54,313 at BC Place.
The Run up to the Game – BC
The BC Lions were not that far removed from a run of real success in the 2000’s. Between 2004 and 2008 they had posted a pretty impressive 63-26-1 regular season record. They had translated that into finishing first in the West Division four times, playing in five consecutive Western Final games and appearing in two Grey Cups. They were runners up in 2004. But had won it all in 2006.
Five years removed from their last Grey Cup win and coming off back to back 8-10 seasons in 2009 & 2010, BC had hardly inspired confidence early in the 2011 season. After five weeks they stood at 0-5, and even when they registered their first win in week six, they fell again the following week. These Lions could not have looked further from getting to the 2011 Grey Cup on their home turf if they tried.
And then they went on a tear. BC won the next eight straight. Part of a 10-1 run to end the season (including two playoff victories). The Lions became the first team in league history to start a season 0–5 and finish in first place in their Division. They would also become the first team to lose their first five regular season games and win the Grey Cup. This was also the first Grey Cup win on home soil since the Lions had done it themselves in 1994 in a classic against the Baltimore Stallions.
The run up to the Game – Winnipeg
The Blue Bombers started the 2000’s 37-17 and made three straight playoff appearances. That including losing to Calgary in the 2001 Grey Cup. Throughout, the 2000’s saw the Blue Bombers go 90-88-2. Along the way they made 2 Grey Cup appearances. Following up the loss to Calgary in 2001 by losing out again in 2007. This time to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The previous two seasons had been down years and Winnipeg had gone 11-25 between 2009 & 2010 without coming near to reaching the playoffs. So reaching the 2011 Grey Cup off a 10-8 regular season run was a great turnaround.
Winnipeg didn’t offer quite the same drama as BC on the way to a 10-8 record and the East Division title. (For more on why Winnipeg were in the East check out this article about the team).
In fact they almost reversed the BC season having started out 7-1, (including two wins over the Lions), before slipping to a 3-7 mark over the final ten games of the regular season to finish 10-8 and ahead of Montreal for the Division top spot on a tie breaker.
2011 Grey Cup Playoffs
Both teams had won their respective divisions. Which meant that they both only had to win one game to make it to the championship match-up.
For BC, that meant facing off against an 11-7 Edmonton team. A team they had faced four times over the season and beaten on three of those occasions. In front of over 41,000 fans the Lions took control early. They were up 6-0 after one and 26-3 by the half. Although Edmonton put up 20 second half points, BC added 14 more of their own and ran out 40-23 winners.
Winnipeg sat at home whilst an 8-10 Hamilton team surprised 10-8 Montreal 52-44 in an overtime classic. Winnipeg had played and beaten the Ticats three times during the regular season so they were clear favourites headed into this one.
The Blue Bombers dispatched the Ticats without too much fuss in front of just over 30,000 fans. They did it by putting on a display of defensive strength. Holding Hamilton to just 3 points on the way to a 19-3 win in which they put up 19 unanswered points.
The 2011 Grey Cup Game
The 2011 Grey cup game was only the second time that BC and Winnipeg had met in the title game. The last time being the 76th Grey Cup in 1988. A game decided by a single point. The neutrals would be happy with another close one if it happened.
It wasn’t the most auspicious start to proceeedings as apparently The sideline chains became entangled before the game, forcing game officials to borrow a set from a Vancouver high school.
But once proceeding were underway, BC got off to a great start in front of the mostly home supporiting crowd. In the first quarter they posted 11 unanswered points. Starting with a 19 yard touchdown run from Andrew Harris, with kicker Paull McCallum adding a field goal and a rouge off of an unreterned 57 yard punt.
Winnipeg held out better in the second period, holding BC to another McCallum field goal, and having their own kicker, Michael Palardy, slot through two of his own. It was 14-6 to BC at the break.
In the third quarter they even brought it to 14-9 before BC broke it open a little. First McCallum restored the 8 point lead with another field goal. Then QB Travis Lulay hit on a 66-yard TD strike to Kierrie Johnson on the final play of the third to put BC ahead 24-9.
The Turning Point?
BC were ahead and we can’t know how things might have gone. But, Winnipeg missed a huge opportuntiy to turn the momentum of the game on its’ head with 12:21 left in the fourth.
Lulay tried to throw a screen pass inside the BC 30-yard line, but Winnipeg DE Odell Willis read it perfectly. He got his hands to the ball with a clear path to return a potential pick-six. But BC offensive lineman Ben Archibald made a huge play knocking the ball out of Willis’s grasp and the Lions made the most of their second chance.
Willis’s missed chance was massive. Instead of closing the gap and shifting momentum, it allowed BC to maintain possession and the Lions marched downfield capping an 82-yard drive when Lulay threw a six-yard TD pass to Arland Bruce III for a siezeable 31-9 advantage.
Winnipeg did rally. Quarterback Buck Pierce rallied the Bombers with TD passes of 45 yards to Greg Carr and a 13-yard score to Terrence Edwards with 1:37 remaining.
At 31-23 was the comeback on? No. Because special teams can swing a result too. Winnipeg tried an onside kick but it didn’t go the mandatory 10 yards, giving BC the ball with 1:36 remaining. McCallum duly slotted another field goal to give the Lions a 2 score lead once more. The scoring was done and BC ran out 34-23 winners.
This was the Lions’ sixth, and so far most recent Grey Cup win. Lulay, the CFL’s outstanding player this season, finished 21-of-37 passing for 320 yards and the two TDs to be named MVP. Andrew Harris was voted Most Valuable Canadian.
Despite the 0-5 start, there was a great team waiting to emerge in BC during the 2011 season. But how good were they? One thing is certain they were loaded with talent. A total of 9 BC Lions players were selected as CFL All-Stars in 2011: QB Travis Lulay, WR Geroy Simon, C Angus Reid, T Jovan Olafioye, DB Korey Banks, DT Aaron Hunt, LB Solomon Elimimian, DT Khalif Mitchell and K Paul McCallum. Dante Marsh, Ben Archibald and Keron Williams were also named West Division All-Stars for the 2011 Grey Cup team.
Travis Lulay was league MOP. He had the best year of his career, throwing for 4,815 yards and 32 touchdowns. Geroy Simon snagged in 1,350 yards of that total – marking the ninth consecutive season he had passed the 1,000-yard mark.
A key moment in the season came when the Lions were 0-5. They traded for WR Arland Bruce from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Bruce teamed up with Geroy Simon to give BC a superb 1-2 punch at slotback helping take the Lions to their Grey Cup victory. Over 12 games Bruce had 49 catches for 755 yards and 8 touchdowns.
What came next – BC Lions
Following on from their successful season the Lions would finish first in the West Division again in 2012 following a strong 13-5 season. This time however Calgary would topple them in the Western Final. They followed that with an 11-7 season in 2013 that saw them knocked out at the Semi-Final stage.
In fact throughout the 2010’s the Lions went 92-88 and appeared in the playoffs on eight occasions. Unfortunatley beyond this Grey Cup win there wasn’t that much success once in the post-season as they posted a 3-7 playoff record over that period.
Over the last two seasons they have not got beyond five wins or made the playoffs. A situation they will be looking to rectify for the future.
What came next – Winnipeg
Winnipeg posted a 79-101 record across the decade. This Grey Cup appearance was followed by a few down years. From 2012-2015 the Blue Bombers struggled through a 21-51 run and did not make a playoff appearance. But better things were to come for Winnipeg fans. Not least because they would end the decade in much more competitive form.
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: BC Lions players and staff celebrate winning the 2011 Grey Cup. Image from cfl.ca