The CFL playoffs continue this weekend with the divisional 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. Here are the top 5 Eastern Finals in CFL History.
1983: Toronto 41 Hamilton 36
Simply put, this game had it all. I rate this as not only the best Eastern Final of all-time, but it is in my top 10 or even top 5 games in CFL history. For starters, these two franchises loathe each other. Hamilton is the plucky underdog, with blue-collar roots. Toronto is the fat-cat big city where dreams come alive or die. What made this rivalry even more intense in 1983 was the presence of Harold Ballard. The curmudgeonly owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs was also the owner of the Ti-Cats back in 1983. Ballard made some disparaging remarks towards the Argos and their fans prior to the game. His Leafs were struggling at the time, so he took out his frustrations on the people of Toronto. (Ballard was the 1980s version of Rob Ford.) The fans of course hated Ballard so the rivalry was on. Exhibition Stadium aka The Mistake at the Lake, was packed for one of the rare times for an Argos game, and the 54,350 that were in attendance, were treated to a classic. The Ti-Cats jumped out to an early 15-1 lead, but the Argos fought back to even the score early in the third quarter. The Ti-Cats responded by building a 10 point lead going into the fourth quarter. The Argos replied when Conderedge Holloway found Emmanuel Tolbert from 38 yards out to tie the game. Late in the fourth quarter, Hamilton held a slim 36-34 lead, but the Argos had the football and were driving down the field. A controversial pass interference call against Hamilton moved the ball to the Ti-Cat 40 yard line. The Argos continued to meticulously move the ball until it reached the Hamilton 2 yard line. With just 27 seconds remaining, Cedric Minter dove into the end zone, sending the Exhibition Stadium crowd into a delirious state. Toronto were going to the Grey Cup. Hamilton were heart-broken. And Harold Ballard had nothing to say after the game.
1993: Winnipeg 20 Hamilton 19
A personal favourite of mine, largely because I was at this game. When the day started, it was sunny and mild in Winnipeg. By the time kickoff arrived, a cold north wind with a hint of snow had settled upon Winnipeg. I was unprepared for this early blast of winter, thus I nearly died of hypothermia at the game. Only the worst tasting hot chocolate I’ve ever had kept me going. (For those who don’t know, the concessions at the old Winnipeg Stadium was items of food that famine starved children in Africa would turn down because it wasn’t edible. God Bless Winnipeg Enterprises.) The north wind I was speaking of turned out to be the deciding factor in the game. Hamilton went into the fourth quarter holding a 19-13 lead, but the Bombers were the ones who had the wind at their back. Troy Westwood’s 17 yard field goal with 21 seconds remaining put the Bombers ahead for good. Paul Osbaldiston did have a chance at the end, but his 45 yard field goal fell way short, as the wind put up a wall that would have made Roger Waters proud. The frostbitten fans rushed the field afterwards, only to keep the blood circulating inside them. A day I will never forget.
1997: Toronto 37 Montreal 30
When a punter is trying field goals, bad things are bound to happen. For most of his career, Terry Baker was an accomplished punter in the CFL. Baker travelled from Saskatchewan to Ottawa to Toronto until he reached Montreal in 1996. Baker did have some placekicking experience but was more suited to the punting duties. However, in 1997, Baker was handling both chores for the Alouettes. In the Eastern Final, Baker had a nightmarish game for Montreal, as he missed three field goal attempts, the last one would have given Montreal a 3 point lead. Instead, the Argos had the ball with 1:36 remaining in a tie game. Doug Flutie took over from there, as he moved the ball into decent field position. Then, Flutie found Mike “Pinball” Clemons for a spectacular 58 yard catch and run for the winning touchdown. The Baker’s dough didn’t rise to the occasion, while the Magic Flutie added to his legacy.
1998: Hamilton 22 Montreal 20
A thrilling finish at Ivor Wynne Stadium. With only 24 seconds remaining, Tracy Ham found Mac Cody from 3 yards out, giving Montreal a 20-19 lead. It looked like Montreal was headed to the Grey Cup. But Hamilton had one last gasp. With the wind at their back, the Ti-Cats drove down into field goal range where Paul Osbaldiston would attempt a lengthy 54 yard field goal. With the help from the strong breeze, Osbaldiston’s attempt sailed through the uprights giving Hamilton a heart-stopping victory. The Alouettes were left completely stunned. Ivor Wynne Stadium became an absolute madhouse as the Ti-Cats were headed to the Grey Cup.
2003: Montreal 30 Toronto 26
Controversy ruled the day in this classic encounter. With the Argos ahead 26-23 with under 5 minutes remaining, the defence was asked to protect the lead against the high-powered Alouette offence. Instead the Argos got jobbed. Alouette quarterback Anthony Calvillo wasn’t known for his running ability, but in a surprise move, Calvillo found a hole in the middle of the Argonaut defence, and raced down the field. As he approached the goal line, an Argo defender stripped Calvillo of the football, as he was crossing the goal line. The linesman ruled the Calvillo and the football crossed the line, therefore it was a touchdown. Replays clearly indicated that the ball never touched the goal line. However, replay wasn’t in use at the time in the CFL, so the call stood. The Argos were furious to which they lost their focus and never recovered. The Alouettes got away with one, and moved on to the Grey Cup.
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