99th Grey Cup Preview

The CFL season is coming to an end and the 99th Grey Cup will take place this Sunday in the newly renovated B.C. Place. For one of the oldest trophies in North America the Grey Cup gets closer to its 100th year anniversary, held next year in Toronto. It all start on December 4, 1909 when the University of Toronto Varsity Blues won the first ever Grey Cup against the Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club. Since then many names have been on the Cup, names like the Hamilton Alerts, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Balmy Beach, Montreal AA Winged Wheelers, Sarnia Imperials, and many more. Throughout the years the Toronto Argonauts have won the most championships, 15, and the Edmonton Eskimos have won the second most, 13. This year the Grey Cup will be held in the newly renovated B.C. Place in Vancouver as two big surprises as the B.C. Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers will face off in the big game. Two of worst teams last year will try to finish off great seasons and win the Grey Cup.

 

B.C. Lions

 

 

 

 

The B.C. Lions are one of the younger teams in the CFL as they were established in 1954 and have been a very good team in recent history. The Lions are a relatively young team as they were the fifth team established in the league that is still operational. They of course struggled out of the gate as they took close to 10 years to finally make a big impact in the league. In 1963 the Lions made their first Grey Cup appearance but lost to the Hamilton Tiger Cats. The next year the Lions got their first Championship beating the Ti-Cats in a repeat of the previous title game. The Lions remained a middle of the road team for many years after only winning their next Grey Cup almost 20 years later in 1085. They then won again in 1994 for their 3rd Grey Cup in team history and added to that with another Grey Cup win in the 2000 season. Three years after this win the Lions opened a brand new chapter in their history with the introduction of Wally Buono. In 2003 the Lions introduced Wally Buono as their next head coach and General Manager as he took over for Adam Rita. Since the 2003 season the B.C. Lions have not missed the playoffs under their coach and have won one Grey Cup and made an appearance in two finals. Buono has become the most legendary coach in the CFL as the longest tenured coach and the winningest coach in the CFL. This year Buono added to his legend as he helped guide the Lions to their 10th Grey Cup appearance. In 2010 the Lions struggled through the season but took advantage of a terrible season by the Eskimos to earn the last playoff spot where they lost in the first round. 2011 looked like a repeat of the 2010 season as they lost 7 in 8 of their first games in the season and were struggling to figure something out at the bye week. Trying to add some power and weapons for Travis Lulay the Lions acquired the embattled receiver Arland Bruce from the Hamilton Ti-Cats. With the trio of Bruce, Lulay, and Geroy Simon the Lions ended the season on a tear winning 10 of their last 11 games and going undefeated in the newly renovated B.C. Place. The Lions earned the top spot in the West on the last week with a devastating win over the defending champion Montreal Alouettes by a score of 43-1. With the first place spot the Leos got the first round bye and took on the Edmonton Eskimos at home with a 40-23 score. The Lions are the hottest team in the league right now with the hottest defence and the hottest QB as they storm into the Grey Cup looking to take advantage of their home field and win their 6th title.

The Lions will try to do this with a very well-rounded team that has made them the odds on favorite for the win. The Lions have had a lot of talk about their great offence but their defence is what makes this team work. The Defence began to shut down teams in the second half behind a very good line. Led by defensive end Keron Williams (43 tkl, 11 sck, 1 FF) the defensive line of the Lions has been able to pressure opposing QBs and make them uncomfortable. When the QB is uncomfortable he makes mistakes and that benefits the Lions. With the most experience defensive backfield the Lions can capitalize on these mistakes as they have a combined 30 years of CFL experience watching the passing game. They Lions also have a very intimidating hunter at linebacker as Solomon Elimimian (98 tkl, 4 sck, 2 INT, 1 FF) is free to roam the second level which is not good for the running backs. Voted by his peers as the hardest hitter in the CFL, Elimimian has a presence in the Lions defence. As the defence for the Lions shuts down the opposition and forces mistakes, they forced 4 turnovers in the West final, they give the offence the opportunity to go to work. On offence the Lions are led by their young QB in only his first full season as a starting QB and has already won an MOP Award. Travis Lulay (58.7% cmp, 4,815 yds, 32 TD, 11 INT) uses his many weapons on offence including veteran receiver Geroy Simon (84 rec, 1,350 yds, 8 TD) and the life breather in Arland Bruce (49 rec, 755 yds, 8 TD). Lulay has both receivers give teams a hard time figuring out who they should cover. Adding Andrew Harris (30 rec, 395 yds, 7 TD) out of the backfield Lulay seems to have too many toys to play with and not enough time. Their running game is the one weakness for the Lions as they do not have one of the best but the combination of Tim Brown (64 rsh, 376 yds, 5 TD) and the running ability of Lulay can give some defences fits. Of course their depth does not end there as the Lions’ special teams has the Special Teams Player of the Year for 2011 in Paul McCallum (50/53 FG, 53 Lng, 48/48 XP, 203 pts). If the game does end up very close there is no doubt that the Lions will have no problem putting it in the hands of McCallum. The Lions will be a hard team to beat this year as they are riding a wave of confidence and are very well-rounded. As the Lions get a lot of focus their opponent stew in the background with their own positives that they look to show this Sunday.

 

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

 

 

 

 

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have one of the richer traditions in the CFL as they were officially established in 1930. The Winnipeg team was there long before as they were known as the Winnipeg Rugby Football Team. They joined with the Manitoba Rugby Football Club to create the Blue Bombers and have been one of the most successful teams in the CFL. The first ever Winnipeg team to make the Grey Cup was not the Bombers though as the Winnipeg Tammany Tigers first played in the 1925 Grey Cup and lost to the Ottawa Senators. As the newly formed team the Winnipeg ‘Pegs went to the first Grey Cup in 1935 a game that they won when they beat the Hamilton Tigers. From then on the legend was born as the team from Winnipeg continued to be a force in the CFL. The ‘Pegs changed their name in 1936 when a local writer called them the Blue Bombers referring to Boxer Joe Louis, who was nicknamed the Brown Bomber. The Bombers from the start were a successful franchise as they went to 16 Grey Cups in their first 35 years of existence. They were always around the top of the league and won 7 of these 16 Grey Cups. Then after the 1965 Grey Cup when the Bombers lost to the Hamilton Tiger Cats they began to falter. After years of success the Bombers began losing and would not make it back to the Grey Cup until the 1980s. After almost 20 years of frustration the Bombers finally made it back and won the 72nd Grey Cup in 1984. Since the 1984 Grey Cup Winnipeg has been back many times including their last appearance in 2007. Overall the Blue Bombers have appeared in the most Grey Cups by any team as they have appeared in 23 Grey Cups and will appear in their 24th this weekend. They are also the third place team for the most wins by a CFL team as they have a 10-13 record in the Grey Cup as they are behind the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos. They will hope to close the gap this year with their 11th Grey Cup if they can get by the Lions. The appearance in the 99th Grey Cup was not an expected one as the Blue Bombers were the worst team in the CFL in 2010. Under new coach Paul LaPolice the Bombers finished last in the CFL with a 4-14 record. Coming in to the 2011 season not much was expected of the team as they were thought to be a borderline playoff team if they could stay healthy. They surprised everyone from the start of the season as they won their first 7 of 8 games on the season taking them right to the top of the league. They continued their success all season and ended up beating the Beasts of the East in Montreal as they took first place in the Eastern Conference. With the top spot they waited, like the Lions, for the next game and faced off against the Hamilton Ti-Cats in the Eastern Finals. They easily got past them with a 19-3 win putting them into their 24th Grey Cup as they look to beat the Lions and win their 11th Grey Cup.

The Bombers have been the best defence from week 1 and there is no question to how they win games. The Bombers are a defensive first team as they depend on the pressure that their defence can put on their opposition. The Bombers success this season has been thanks to what the players have named Swaggerville. They are led by the mayor of Swaggerville Odell Willis (27 tkl, 13 sck, 0 FF) who leads the league in sacks. Along with Willis Swaggerville also boasts some of the best defensive players in the CFL. With Jason Vega (26 tkl, 7 sck, 0 FF) and Marcellus Bowman (50 tkl, 4 sck, 0 FF) anchoring the linebacking corps their defence becomes even more stingy. Add in CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player Jovon Johnson (55 tkl, 8 INT, 2 TD), who anchors the defensive backfield, and this defence becomes downright scary. There is no question about the attitude of their defence as well as they are all about getting to the QB as they have the most sacks by any team in the CFL, 55. They don’t just do this from the line though as they will come from anywhere and everywhere to get pressure making them the best defence in the league. This is their bread and butter and they will be after Travis Lulay all game in an attempt to force mistakes, they have 54 turnovers on the season, and put the ball in their offence’s hands. The Bombers offence is possibly their one weakness as they have had issues putting up points this year. Led by the toughest QB in the CFL Buck Pierce (63.5% cmp, 3,348 yds, 14 TD, 18 INT) the offence can struggle at times. Pierce is a great veteran QB but he tends to force balls and is known to run but never slide. Pierce is hurting after this season but will still play and if he gets hit hard by the Lions defence more than once he may be forced out of the game and the ball would be handed to Alex Brink (63.6% cmp, 1,023 yds, 5 TD, 4 INT) who has some experience filling in for Pierce this season. Pierce will have to use their basic offence as well when he hands the ball off to Chris Garrett (92 rsh, 576 yds, 4 TD) who took over for start running back Fred Reid but did it very well. Garrett is a young RB but he has been able to be an impact player for the Bombers in the second half of the season. To have success in the Bomber offence Garrett needs to get going in order to give Pierce the freedom to pass the ball. There is no question that this Bomber team is built on the Swaggerville defence and they will be the key in the game. The defence will need to continue their dominance against the Lions to allow the Bomber offence to get going behind Chris Garrett and Buck Pierce. The offence will have its hands full in the Grey Cup but Pierce and Garrett will have to prove that they are better than Lulay and the Lions to win their 11th Grey Cup and add to their great history.

 

The Matchup

The 99th Grey Cup will be a battle of the two best defences in the CFL in what is sure to be a defensive battle. With both defences so good and so good at the same things they essentially cancel each other out. Even though the Bombers are ranked 1st in every major defensive category the Lions could be just as good. The Bombers have been good all season which has given them to top rankings while the Lions have just come on in the last half of the season and could be the better defence if they had figured it out earlier. As both defences cancel each other out the game will come down to the offences. The winner will now be determined by which offence can break through the defence to put up points. This will be the most interesting matchup even though they will not be on the field at the same time. Travis Lulay will be the leader on offence for the Lions as he will need to use his great athleticism to throw the Bombers defence off. With little to be said for their rushing game the game will come down to just how well Lulay handles the pressure of playing at home in the biggest game he has ever played. On the other side the Bombers will lean on their running game and Chris Garrett to get the offence going. As Garrett will lead the offence in stats the true leader has always been Buck Pierce who will not be nervous playing in such a big game as a veteran of the league. Overall the combination of Garrett and Pierce makes the Bombers defence much more rounded than the Lions but the Lions are still more explosive. With Lulay passing to a number of different weapons on offence the Lions pass game essentially trumps the well-roundedness of the Bombers. The B.C. Lions are favorites for this game and there is a reason why as they have just as good a defence as the Bombers and even though the Bombers have the well-rounded offence the sheer explosiveness of the Lions makes them the better offence. In a battle of defensive teams the winner is always the one with the better offence and this year that means that the Lions will win the Grey Cup. It will not be an easy game for Lions however as they will not be able to do anything they want on offence as they will squeak out a win in major part thanks to their much better kicker Paul McCallum.

 

Prediction:

B.C. Lions 30 – 27 Winnipeg Blue Bombers

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