The CFL playoffs begin this weekend with the divisional semi-finals. While the Grey Cup game itself generates the most interest, the playoffs leading up to the Great Canadian Party tend to be overlooked. With that in mind, I will take a look back at some of the best playoff games that either have been forgotten, or need more attention. Starting with the 5 greatest Eastern Semi-Final games in my lifetime in chronological order.
1983: Hamilton 33 Ottawa 31
A lost classic, yet a most significant game in CFL history. This was the last time the Ottawa Rough Riders hosted a playoff game before their demise in 1996. The Riders were leading late, but a Keith Baker punt return late in the fourth quarter set up the go-ahead touchdown for the Ti-Cats. The Riders were devastated following the game and the franchise never recovered. For the politically inclined, J.C Watts was the quarterback for Ottawa that day. Watts later became a congressman representing the state of Oklahoma.
1992: Hamilton 29 Ottawa 28
A cold, snow-covered field at Iv0r-Wynne Stadium was the backdrop for a classic game between these two provincial rivals. And it proved more heartbreak for the Riders. In the regular season, the Riders won all three meetings against the Tabbies. And when the fourth quarter began, Ottawa was up 21-13 and looked like they would be moving on to the Eastern Final. But Hamilton found its groove in the fourth quarter and with time expiring, Paul Osbaldiston’s field goal gave the Ti-Cats a stunning win sending the Hamilton crowd into a frenzy. It was another nail in the Ottawa Rough Rider coffin, that would be permanently sealed, 4 years later.
2000: Winnipeg 22 Hamilton 20
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have jumped from the Western Division to the Eastern Division on a few occasions during their history. In 2000, they were in the Eastern half of the CFL map as they travelled to Hamilton as big underdogs. The Ti-Cats were the defending Grey Cup champions and had their sights set on a repeat. But the Bombers came up with a superlative defensive effort and effective game management from quarterback Khari Jones. Troy Westwood won the game with a last second 33 yard field goal, sending the Hamilton crowd home in shocked silence. Not a typical high-scoring CFL game, but an intense hard-fought playoff battle that kept everyone on the edge of their seats.
2007: Winnipeg 24 Montreal 22
Another tight, tense affair that came down to the wire. This time, a questionable coaching decision turned the tide in this game. With 1:39 left in the fourth quarter, the Alouettes were faced with a third and 1 situation at their own 44 yard line. A stiff north wind was blowing in the face of the Alouettes offence as coach Jim Popp decided to eschew the punt and go for the first down. Quarterback Marcus Brady attempted the sneak, but was snuffed out by the Bombers front seven. The Canad Inns crowd rose up to their feet as the Bombers had terrific field position, with the wind at their back. The Bomber offence led by the running of Charles Roberts meticulously drove down the field, taking time off the clock in the process. Troy Westwood provided the dagger with a 20 yard field goal at the gun, giving the Bombers an improbable win, sending the Bomber faithful into a delirious state, while the Alouettes could only wonder what could have been.
2011: Hamilton 52 Montreal 44 (OT)
This was a typical CFL game. High scoring, big plays, great finish. Everyone except Alouette fans enjoyed this barnburner at Olympic Stadium. The numbers speak for themselves. Ti-Cats quarterback Kevin Glenn completed 23 out of 32 pass attempts for 275 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Alouettes quarterback Anthony Cavillo was brilliant in defeat, completing 30 out of 42 pass attempts for 513 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception. Former Alouette running back Avon Colbourne returned to haunt his old team, gaining 97 yards on 14 carries. However, the Alouettes showed some moxie late in the fourth quarter, when Cavillo found S.J Green on a 44 yard touchdown pass with 1:38 remaining in the fourth quarter to force overtime. The CFL uses the NCAA version of overtime where duelling possessions are required. The Ti-Cats scored first and got the two-point convert. The Als needed to score to stay alive. But they fell short on a 3rd and 2 from the 21 yard line. A thrilling contest that will go down as one of the best playoff games in CFL history.
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