Whether you agree with me or not, there is no denying that this year’s installment of the Vanier Cup was nothing short of spectacular. For so many reasons, the game between the McMaster Marauders and Laval Rouge et Or will go down as a Canadian classic. But, the question is whether or not it is the greatest game ever played?
I am certainly far from an expert in football matters, but I can tell you that I have seen between 250 and 300 live football games. Having had season tickets to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for 25 years, season tickets to the Buffalo Bills, traveling to Pittsburgh a handful of times to watch the Steelers, and to different stadiums to see the Ti-Cats, I have seen my fair share of football. In my opinion, last Friday’s game was the single greatest game I have ever seen.
Before I can go any further, I will address an issue that you are already contemplating; How can a Canadian university game compare with the likes of the NFL or NCAA? Well, I think we have to put the players’ abilities aside for a minute. First, a national championship is a national championship, whether it is the NFL, CFL, CIS or NCAA. All four leagues are the pinnacle in their respective sport in that country, and at that age level. The Vanier Cup is the BCS of Canada. Actually, I like its format better than the BCS, but that’s a different argument entirely. So, while I concede the NFL players are as a group more talented than CFL players, and NCAA players are the same compared with CIS players, that has nothing to do with “level of excitement generated”. As many players from McMaster and Laval will make the CFL as will the players from LSU, Alabama or whomever plays for the National Championship, will make the NFL.
Okay, hopefully we can move on…
The game itself had every element going for it even before the snap. McMaster entered the contest as the nation’s top offence, while the Rouge et Or had the stingiest defence. McMaster hadn’t played n a Vanier Cup since 1967, and have never won the title. Conversely, Laval, the defending champions, have won it six times in less than two decades. As the players took the field, I couldn’t help but get red seeing the Laval players stare down and taunt the Marauders as they lined up after ‘O Canada’. Now I just laugh thinking about it.
With Mac jumping out to a huge three-touchdown lead by the end of the half, I remember chatting with the guys at my table about how they have to come out in the second half with a strong first drive to keep momentum. I was worried, and had a bad feeling about it. As with many classic games, there was a huge comeback to be had. Laval did not come out flying on offence, however; It was their special teams that kick-started them. Half way through the third quarter, Laval returned a punt to the house, getting the Quebecers on the scoreboard. On the ensuing drive, Mac quarterback, Kyle Quinlan, had an errant pass picked off by a defender, who returned it for another six points. A huge lump formed in my throat. The only saving grace was that still Laval’s offence hadn’t done much at all.
Eventually, McMaster gave away their lead, with Laval jumping on top 24-23 in the fourth quarter. McMaster answered right back with an 80-yard bomb that was unfortunately called back due to an ‘offside’ call. Terribly frustrating. It was easy to see the sideline very frustrated as well. On their next possession, Mac took the lead right back, and capped the drive off with a two-point conversion. They were up 31-24. After Laval tied it up, Mac was pinned on their own seven yard line. With a minute left, they were down to second and long. Rather than completing short high percentage passes, Quinlan was fearless in making long passes, marching his team into field goal range with only enough time for their kicker to try a relatively short field goal to win the Vanier Cup. The kick was ‘wide left’, and the ball was returned out of the end zone, sending the game to overtime. The suspense almost unbearable.
After trading touchdowns in their first possession, Laval had the ball to start the second overtime period. In a dramatic play, the Marauders’ defence was strong and intercepted the ball, setting up a second chance for Mac’s kicker to win the game. He made good, and probably saved himself months of sleepless nights.
What was so impressive was the back and forth action. The fact that Laval came back, took the lead, only to have McMaster regain the lead, was incredibly dramatic. Many teams would have folded. The fearless gunslinging from both quarterbacks was incredible. They didn’t settle for the quick slant or the five-yard out. Rather, they went upfield often. Quinlan threw for 482 yards and scrambled for another 106 yards on his way to helping McMaster win their first Vanier Cup in school history.
I could go on and on about this, but in the end it is just my opinion. Yes, I acknowledge I am biased as McMaster is my alma mater. There are other matches that are great too. Please feel free to comment. However, unless you are going to cite a Superbowl, Grey Cup or National Championship, I don’t think it is the same thing. The fact that this was for the national championship makes it more special.
…and that is the last word.