There are rivalries and then there’s Calgary-Ottawa…

Gordon P Smith Roar Guru

By Gordon P Smith, Gordon P Smith is a Roar Guru


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    We're past halfway through the CFL season.

    Some rivalries are born of geography. Adelaide and Port Adelaide in the AFL, or the Edmonton versus Calgary intrastate clashes in the Canadian Football League, or Duke and North Carolina in American college sports, are all examples of this.

    Some are born from tradition and history. The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears have played more games against each other than any two National Football League teams in history. Collingwood and Carlton have played 254 times, with the difference at this writing being just four wins in the Blues’ favour.

    Competitiveness is a requirement. Here in Idaho, where I live, there used to be a great gridiron rivalry between the two largest universities in the state, Boise State and the University of Idaho.

    In 2010, once Boise’s football winning streak reached twelve in a row with the margins of victory increasing every year as Boise’s program grew in stature and Idaho was failing to find a conference who would keep them, the series stopped being scheduled. Not even the strongest alumni passions can overcome a lack of interest on the field.

    Some rivalries are born because of some specific incident. In the NFL, the New England Patriots ‘stole’ the head coach of the New York Jets about two decades ago. Bill Belichick was named the head coach of the New York Jets in 1997 – for one day. Because he’d been notoriously a “back-up choice” for the Jets, the Patriots saw a chance to get themselves a new coach and embarrass their division competitors at the same time.

    They swooped in and hired Belichick before he could sign a contract with the Jets. Now, 20 years later, he and the Patriots have won five Super Bowl titles, while the Jets have yet to return to the title game.

    But the best rivalries are created on the field.

    Mostly because division winners in the NFL always play each other during the following regular season, New England and Indianapolis played every season from 2003 through 2012.

    The reason those games became so enticing was the same reason they happened to appear on the schedule: the teams were led by two of the greatest American football quarterbacks ever, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. There were also three other contests in the playoffs between the teams and the men, and most of those 13 games were supremely memorable, not just for the heroics of the two superstar but for the twists and turns of the contests themselves.

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

    (Jeffrey Beall / CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Hawthorn and Geelong had both the ‘Kennett Curse’ and the sheer excellence of the games they played through the early part of this decade. The GWS Giants and Western Bulldogs have started to build that kind of rivalry over the last year or so. So too the NBA’s Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, having met in three consecutive and spectacular finals series. These teams inspire that kind of rivalry.

    In an odd quirk of the always-quirky Canadian Football League schedule, last year’s Grey Cup finalists met twice in a row to start the 2017 season these past two weeks, meaning they’ve now played their last three competitive games against each other. And then, they won’t see each other the rest of the season unless there happens to be a rematch of last year’s championship tilt in November.

    Judging from the five games these two have played over the past twelve months, it’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t have a specific team they barrack for rooting for anything else but a Calgary Stampeder / Ottawa Redblacks reunion.

    Calgary is the blueblood of the CFL, having won titles in 2008 and 2014 before rattling off fourteen straight wins last year to clinch the Western Conference top seed. They cruised past the team most thought their only real challenge, fellow Western power British Colombia, in the conference final last November.

    The Grey Cup game the next week against the 8-9-1 Eastern champion Ottawa Redblacks seemed like a formality, despite the fact that their first match-up of the season, back in July 2016, was the reason for the tie on each of their records. (Their second game, in Round 13, was all Calgary, 48-23.)

    But the third-year expansion club led 27-7 lead after taking the opening kickoff of the second half down the field in six plays for a third touchdown. Calgary caught a break when the Redblacks fumbled on the first play of their next drive, and then score sixteen points on their next three possessions.

    When game outstanding player Henry Burris score a touchdown with six minutes to go, Ottawa held a ten-point lead, and when they still had that lead with two minutes to go, it seemed they had the title wrapped up.

    However, the Stampeders raced down the field, scored a quick touchdown in less than a minute, recovered the onside kick-off, and then kicked a field goal to tie the game and go into overtime. The shoestring tackle by Abdul Kanneh on second and goal almost certainly prevented a Calgary victory.

    Ernest Jackson’s juggling catch in overtime won the game for Ottawa, likely the biggest upset in Grey Cup history.

    Apparently, the CFL expected the teams to top that game (and the hard-fought tie earlier in the year) with two games scheduled to open the season these past two weeks, a home-and-home series for the ages.

    Surprisingly, the teams delivered.

    First, Ottawa raised their championship banner and then went out and staged a near-perfect rerun of the title game, running out to a 28-14 lead before Calgary came back to tie the game with two touchdowns in the last seven minutes. Then the two flawlessly copied the ending of their regular season classic, both kicking field goals to end the game in a 31-31 tie.

    In Round 2, the Stampeders finally got their way, winning an incredible game in Calgary 43-39. It was as back-and-forth as any game can be when Ottawa’s only lead came at 3-0. Every time Calgary scored to stretch the lead, the Redblacks scored right back to cut it back to one score.

    Big play after big play, outstanding skill outdone by the next outstanding skill. A great punt return touchdown by Ottawa in the first half matched by a great punt return touchdown by Calgary in the second. And every time you thought, “Well, Calgary finally put them away,” Ottawa scored on a long throw to change your mind.

    Henry Burris CFL Canada football Canadian Football League American football college football NFL

    Whether Ottawa’s genuinely one of the two best teams in the CFL is almost immaterial; when they play Calgary (who definitely is), they play like they are. Four times of the five they’ve played in the last twelve months, these two teams have put on a show for the ages, and it wouldn’t be hard to make the argument that there wasn’t a single game including any other team in that time frame that matched any of those four.

    When rivalries appear organically, they don’t always last. After the great GWS/Western Bulldogs prelim final last September and 75-73 rematch in April, we thought we had one in footy that would last for years. If the Bulldogs continue to flounder as they are, though, the rivalry may not even last until their next meeting in Round 21 in August.

    So, savor these clashes when they happen, because unlike geographic rivalries, the organic ones flame out like the shooting stars they are, burning brightly while they’re aglow, leaving only memories when they’re gone.

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    The Crowd Says (4)

    • July 6th 2017 @ 5:57am
      Jeff dustby said | July 6th 2017 @ 5:57am | ! Report

      Sounds riveting

      • July 6th 2017 @ 11:38am
        northerner said | July 6th 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

        It is riveting. You have to have grown up with CFL, though. Kind of like the AFL rivalries are not exactly riveting unless you live in Australia. And even then…

        • July 7th 2017 @ 2:32am
          jeff dustby said | July 7th 2017 @ 2:32am | ! Report

          the AFL has no alternative. theres another slightly better comp starting in September called NFL

    • Roar Pro

      July 7th 2017 @ 7:28pm
      Andrew Macdougall said | July 7th 2017 @ 7:28pm | ! Report

      Another post involving the CFL, love it!

      Glad to know there are more CFL fans out there.

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