Football is back! And with it, so are the Grey Cup dreams of eight CFL teams, soon to be nine with the addition of the “REDBLACKS!!!!!” in 2014. (In case you missed it, the REDBLACKS requested that media capitalize the team name in print, which means that they theoretically should not be referred to as the “RedBlacks”, or the “Redblacks” and definitely not the “redblacks”. As such, I’ve decided that if they wish me to shout the team name from the Internet rooftops every time I type it, then I shall also add multiple exclamation points for emphasis. It’s only right).
But I digress. So let’s jump right in and cast our 101st Grey Cup Championship predictions shall we? I’d be lying if I said my money was on an Eastern team this year (I actually think BC or Calgary will take it), but let’s talk about the Eastern contenders and which of the four I think has the best chance at bringing it all home, with special mention of the respective quarterbacks. I’ll start in reverse order:
4. Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Oh Swaggerville. With a dismal finish last year that saw them locked out of the playoffs, Winnipeg has a lot to prove coming into the 2013 season. Their offence largely depends on the very talented and strong-hearted but physically fragile quarterback Buck Pierce. When healthy, Pierce is a formidable threat, but he really doesn’t seem to stay healthy for very long. No really, he may be made of glass. I actually hold my breath whenever he gets hit. But maybe BP will hold up and the new stadium digs will motivate this team back into contention. I’ll say however, that even if Winnipeg manages to get its mojo back, I’d really appreciate if the term “Swaggerville” remains dead and buried. Holy annoying catchphrase. If pre-season performance is anything to go by my wish may come true, as the Bombers wrapped up their pre-season losses with a 52-0 shutout by the Ticats. But hey, Coach Burke unapologetically rested his starters for much of the pre-season appearances, so maybe that strategy will pay off. After all, this is the CFL and stranger things have happened.
3. The Montreal Alouettes: I am anti-Als on principle. Out of the 5 Grey Cup games I attended during my CFL stint, the Als made an appearance in three out of five of them (and won 2), and boy was I tired of seeing them! But one cannot deny the living legend that is Anthony Calvillo, who at a young 41 years-old, is the quintessential quarterback. This man is what quarterbacks everywhere aspire to be, and he is operating as if he isn’t a day over 30 (heck maybe even a spry 28). The magic that is Calvillo will, however, be put to the test without former Als Head Coach Marc Trestman in command. Time will tell whether Coach Dan Hawkins will be able to capitalize on the AC magic. His tools on offence are pretty impressive, so it will be interesting to watch the chemistry develop between coaching staff and players.
2. Hamilton Tiger-Cats: No, I didn’t deliberately rank the Ticats behind the Argos because I happen to bleed double blue. Truth is, I’ve always loved the grit of the Ticats (gasp! Does that make me an Argos traitor?). The thing is when the Ticats play, they REALLY play, and home games at Ivor Wynne were always a fun time. They have some insane weapons on their offence and the types of catches I’ve seen them pull off have been nothing short of SportsCentre worthy. With veteran quarterback Henry Burris (who when actually in his groove, and when CONSISTENT, is also a formidable threat), it may be that this is the year when this team finally gels and manages to stay in the win column long enough to make it to the very end. We’ll see if their relocation to Guelph for their home games makes a difference. My instinct is that the Ivor Wynne crowd won’t travel well, but Ticat fans are diehard and may prove me wrong and rally around their team to truly give them the home team advantage when they need it.
1. The Toronto Argonauts: Surprise surprise, the Argos are my pick for East Division Champs at least, if not for the Grey Cup Championship win. After some very low years, a surprise off-season trade got the Argos a fantastic deal in quarterback Ricky Ray, and that transaction helped the Argos to bring a fairy-tale ending to Toronto in 2012 when they hoisted the Grey Cup in their home city. So will they repeat? They sure seem to think so. The #roadtorepeat hashtag has been floating around social media since November 26, 2012 or so (the day after the 2012 Grey Cup), and Argonauts management has been busily shoring up the team, wrapping up a contract extension with 2012 CFL Most Outstanding Player Chad Owens just 3 days before their June 28th home opener vs. the Hamilton Ticats. Despite a mid-season injury last year, Ray rallied back to take his team all the way to the top while remaining cool, calm and collected in true Ricky Ray style. I’d say that with Ricky Ray at the helm and Coach Scott Milanovich settling into his second year as Argos Head Coach, the Argos are ready to rumble. I think the Grey Cup win gave this team that was trying to find its groove the confidence boost that it really needed, and it just may carry forward for them on the road to repeat!
The 2013 season officially kicks off tonight with the Montreal Alouettes travelling to take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at home in their shiny new stadium at 9:00pm. Welcome to Week 1!