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Ottawa Redblacks' Jeff Richards, hauls down Calgary Stampeders' Anthony Parker during first half CFL football action in Calgary, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

As 2016 draws to a close, many in the ‘States will eagerly tell you about what a terrible year it’s been. The South can relate; just go down the list: The continuing economic malaise; the losses of Muhammad Ali, Prince, Fife Dog and David Bowie; the Syrian refugee situation; the fact that Batman v Superman totally sucked; random and not-so-random shootings, most based on racial division; Bob Dylan getting a freakin’ Nobel Prize … okay, The South gets it.

We all should’ve just been watching sports.

North American sports fans were treating to wild rides this year, throughout the year: The NHL served up some wild Stanley Cup playoffs which featured *no* Canadian franchises. Over in the NBA, Cleveland not only bagged its first sports title since George Blanda was in diapers, as LeBron James’s Cavaliers not only beat a team that drew comparisons to Michael Jordan’ Bulls, but they also came back from a 3-1 deficit to do so.

Over in Major League Baseball, those Chicago Cubs first turned in one of the five or six greatest regular seasons of the past half-century and capped things with a stirring extra-innings comeback against a team even pluckier than they (yeah, sorry about those other Clevelanders, Canada; I was pulling for the Blue Jays, too). Even the NFL, which started its season with Tom Brady’s “Deflategate” suspension years after the alleged fact and the possibility of another no. 1 overall draft pick busting, is setting up for an interesting stretch run in the NFC with a couple of monstrous-looking teams.

Even at the so-fitting toxic Olympics of ’16, we got more Usain Bolt doing impossible things, and fans of British soccer had to love Leicester City, a nearly relegated team which instead took its first-ever Premiership title.

Which brings us to the 104th Grey Cup. The South maintains that, no matter what way it goes, this showdown between the Calgary Stampeders, who put together one of the CFL’s greatest 18-game seasons ever regardless of the second-string’s loss to the Montreal Alouettes in the final week, and the Ottawa RedBlacks, already a history-making side with its two Grey Cup appearances in three years of existence, will be significant.

If the Stamps win, we’ll have confirmation of the team’s greatness that, say, the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors will never get. If the RedBlacks win, we’ll have an upset on the order of the Cavaliers (or maybe that reality TV guy) to marvel at for a long time. And if it’s a close one, all the viewers win.

The South, for one, is certainly looking forward to this capper on a fascinating year in sports.

Before we speculate further on Grey Cup 2016, let’s briefly turn back to last week’s scintillating CFL division finals.

The East final saw a final score of Ottawa RedBlacks 35, Edmonton Eskimos 23 in a game which had no business totaling that many points. While The South was enraptured by the continuous snowfall, veteran quarterback, Henry Burris didn’t even seem to notice. Burris hails from Oklahoma and played college ball at Temple, but after about 135 seasons in the CFL, the dude’s long since mastered Canada cold.

Thus did Ottawa lead this game throughout, not resembling a sub-.500 squad one bit. Down 17-3 at the half, the only time the Eskimos appeared impervious to the elements was in a 6½-minute flurry of activity in the late third/early fourth quarters in which the Esks thrice got a short field: Once after a 53-yard return by Shakir Bell; second after a botched snap by Burris; and finally after a special teams turnover. Cutting the lead to 5 to give one a prayer’s chance with just over three minutes remaining is good, but no doubt many Edmonton players right now want that entire listless first half back.

Meanwhile, the RedBlacks were buoyed by some fantastic individual efforts. Lots of folks were expecting Ottawa’s success to be dependent on Greg Ellingson, whose only catch was a 26-yard TD in the first quarter. Instead, among the RedBlacks receivers, it was Juron Criner with four catches for 88 yards, including a couple of huge plays in the second half, who starred.

But the real stud was, of course, Kienan LaFrance, the Canadian RB who might have swapped bodies with John White before the game. LaFrance got 25 carries for 157 yards, 1 TD and seemingly 24 other clutch gains. Figure in that Burris tallied just 26 passing attempts, and LaFrance’s game must be a strong contender for the CFL’s individual effort of the year.

The simplified #analysis of this game would be that Ottawa lived and thrived by the big play. Coming up against Calgary, who allowed fewer plays of 20 or more yards than any team in the CFL in ’16, the question for the RedBlacks is: Can Burris’s big-play tactics work again?

Ottawa may have no option but to repeat the gambling mentality…

The Glory And The Shame(full Censorship). Travis Currah already covered this elsewhere on The Grueling Truth, but The South like to reiterate how lame it is that no “wood cookies” will be served up at this Grey Cup, as the CFL has banned (sigh) mascots from performing at the Grey Cup. That includes these guys:

 

Ottawa, apparently you’ll have to make the three-peat appearance back to the ‘Cup again next year if you want the Algonquin Loggersports Team to celebrate TDs in the already-traditional fashion…

Rod Black’s Weekly Crime Against The English Language. Actually, for this one, the Edmonton Eskimos may have a libel case, depending on the meaning of a key verb – supposing somewhat loosely that Rod’s words contain any real meaning at all, of course. Said Black in the third quarter:

“It is still blowing hard here. Eskimos trying to blow their way back in it.”

So, um, yeah.

(Rod’s not doing the Grey Cup broadcast for TSN is he? Tell me Rod’s not doing the Grey Cup broadcast for TSN…)

Calgary Stampeders 42, BC Lions 15. Yeesh, what a disappointment for BC Lions after a truly excellent comeback season was chasing Jeff Tedford’s underwhelming spectacle of 2015.

From the go, the Lions seemed doomed, already racking up 45 yards in penalties within the game’s first dozen plays. By the time BC Lions QB Jonathon Jennings was set to make the critical mistake most CFL observers had figured was coming at some point in this game, with about 30 seconds left in half, the Stamps were already up 25-0.

And Jennings’s gaff precipitated the CFL Play of the Week; Jamar Wall jumps the route for an early morale-killing dagger:
While the defense repeatedly slammed the door in the Lions’ faces, Bo Levi Mitchell and his OL put on a clinic. Bo’s stat line ultimately read 21-of-28 to eight different receivers for 365 yards, three TDs, one irrelevant interception. Oh, and zero sacks took from a defense that had looked terrifying over the second half of the season.

In other news, The South guesses that break between important games didn’t hurt Calgary too much against a team on six days’ break. On the latest Rouge, White & Blue CFL Podcast, co-host Joe Pritchard suggests that we may now bury the “rusty after a bye week” narrative. Yes, let’s.

Random Thought About Our President-Elect. For no good reason, let me turn you on to Dave Chappelle’s opening monolog for Saturday Night Live last week. No, The South cannot stand this smarmy, poorly-acted, mug-for-the-camera idiot show, but Chappelle drops the science, as we used to say, here.

 

Weird Canadian News Story of the Week. Seriously, my fellow Americans: Don’t bother the neighbors, man, they’re chill. Especially when they’re producing quality theater like The Toxic Avenger.

Now The South didn’t know that a theatrical version of cult classic The Toxic Avenger (1984) even existed, but kudos to the suddenly unfortunately named Hamilton Theatre for putting on such a masterpiece.

Throw in the presence of Twitter, and if you haven’t heard the story already, you’ve probably already filled in the blanks on this one.

As it turns out, Trump/Pence supporters, angry at the calling out of the vice president-elect at a production of the Tony-sweeping *play* Hamilton, got on their social media platforms and started firing off angry 141-character screeds @ the Canadian theater. Poor Hamilton Theatre social manager Riane Leonard thought on Friday night as her phone blew up, “Oh, this is great! People are tweeting about the show.”

Alas, Ms. Leonard, we live in a world in which rapping forefathers get the accolades while superheroic radioactive janitors sadly remain ignored. Maybe you should have the Toxic Avenger diss on Justin Trudeau at the end of the next show…

Super-simple Statistic Of The Week, To Bring More Historical Context. The last time Ottawa won the Grey Cup in 1976, in the classic Roughriders vs. Rough Riders game.

 

Finally, there’s the 104th Grey Cup game: Calgary Stampeders vs. Ottawa RedBlacks. Sure, losing teams have won the Grey Cup before and this is 2016, Year Of The Upset – The South actually wishes I could go with what would be a Cinderella narrative even topping last year’s Ottawan’s fairy tale, but…

This Stampeders team is a juggernaut. Again, did you see what they did against BC? We’re talking about a team that dominates in every area here – Calgary is tops in preventing and creating big plays; tops in protecting the quarterback; second-best in turnover differential; and they’ve taken the least penalties in the league. Oh yeah, their losses in weeks 1 and 20 bookended a 15-0-1 run the likes of which this league has never seen.

And the South dares say that, even if Burris plays his scoreboard-spinning style, the not-quite-as-flashy Stampeders O will have little difficulty keeping up. Why? The RedBlacks defense was second-worst in yardage allowed this year; that’s just too big a strike to go with one serious Hail Mary of a prediction. The point spread on the game is Calgary minus-9½; the South’ll be optimistic and say the final score’s closer than that, but odds are this one could be over quickly. VFTS says Calgary Stampeders 38, Ottawa RedBlacks 30.

Next week: Celebrating the RedBlacks’ Grey Cup title.