17 awesome things about the 2017 Grey Cup in Ottawa

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray celebrates with the Grey Cup in the locker room after defeating the Calgary Stampeders in the 105th Grey Cup on Sunday, November 26, 2017 in Ottawa. (Nathan Denette/CP)

OTTAWA – To say experiencing a Grey Cup in the flesh is awesome is an understatement. It’s more than a bucket-list event for all sports fans; it is an important piece of Canadiana.

Which is why it was fitting the 105th took place in the nation’s capital not only celebrating the league’s top two teams but the 150 years of history in Canada.

Ottawa, a city normally dominated by senators and ministers was converged upon by the greatest players past and present all inter-mingling with the game’s most devoted fans.

The Grey Cup has been a fixture in the Canadian sports calendar since 1909, but when it was first donated by Governor General Earl Grey, the current festival that surrounds the CFL final was far from conceivable.

As per usual, the game stole the show and had an unbelievable ending.

Here are my 17 favourite things about the 105th Grey Cup and the weeklong festival surrounding it.

1. What a game
Rarely if ever does the Grey Cup game disappoint and the 105th was literally one for the record books as it took the longest pass play in Grey Cup history and the longest fumble return in CFL history for the Toronto Argonauts to upset the Calgary Stampeders.

It was an incredibly Canadian scene to have a Grey Cup game in the nation’s capital in a blizzard. Moving the season up earlier in the calendar year was a discussion all week and I’m not sure if this weather helped or hurt the likelihood of that happening in the near future.

After many thought the 2016 Grey Cup in Toronto was the best in the modern era, the 2017 edition in Ottawa was just as good if not better. At times, I feel like an evangelist for the league but nobody could argue the quality of its product Sunday night.

In fact, many were gushing about the trending event once the Argos beat the Stampeders.

2. Sex question
The No. 1 media question for coaches at the Grey Cup is something they know they’ll be asked before they get there. Their position on their players having sex before the big game is asked every year. The question is referred to as the Jim Hunt Memorial, in honour of the late Toronto Sun columnist who made it a fixture at the coaches’ press conference at Grey Cup week.

This year, both coaches had been in the game before and thus had already been asked their stance.

“Well, you asked me if it has changed or not so I’m just going to say it hasn’t changed,” said Marc Trestman about his opinion on the matter.

Dave Dickenson decided to turn the question around on those asking.

“Well, since we’ve both answered the question through the years, maybe I could ask you media guys if you are OK with having sex during the week of the Grey Cup? You have a job to do and as players so do we.”

Well played, coaches. Well played. Only at the Grey Cup.

3. Capital Pride Grey Cup party presented by You Can Play

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has often said “the CFL was inclusive before being inclusive was cool.”

Well, the coolest event at Grey Cup week was the Capital Pride party. Under the guise of its “diversity is strength” program, the league partnered with local gay rights groups and You Can Play to put on a Pride-themed party during the Grey Cup festival. The event isn’t out of the blue as the CFL also has a LGBTQ-inspired clothing line in partnership with You Can Play.

The Ottawa Redblacks were represented by Greg Ellingson, Antoine Pruneau and Brendan Gillanders in attendance. Ellingson, as a You Can Play ambassador, has walked in the local Pride parade before.

The party was hosted by Queer Mafia and included a live art installation. The CFL is now the first pro league to have a LGBTQ event during their championship. Hard to think of another league that would have a LGBTQ party with a CFL all-star taking off his Grey Cup ring for onlookers before playing an intense game of foosball with fans.

This football championship was better off for it.

A day in the life: Randy Ambrosie during Grey Cup week in Ottawa

4. State of the league

The Grey Cup has two state of the league events. One for the media as per usual. The other for fans, for which the lineups assembled early and stretched out the door of Shaw Centre. The time for the paying customers, the fans, is twice as long a state of the league for the media. The media event is scheduled for 45 minutes to pepper the commissioner with questions, although it ran 35 minutes long. The fans are allotted 90 minutes to have a town hall with the leader of the league.

5. Let me take a selfie

The commissioner started his state of the league with the media by taking a selfie with the assembled crowd in the background. The goal was to capture the moment “while we still like each other” before he was peppered with tough questions and had his answers examined.

It was a light moment to start what are normally tense proceedings.

5. Nik Lewis is a reporter
The all-time receptions leader has a journalistic career.

Working the state of the league as a credentialed member of the media, the 14-year CFL vet piped up and asked Ambrosie one of the tougher questions from the proceedings stating: “I believe we talk about the word concussion way too much and not about brain health. When will we stop selling safe when we know there’s nothing we can do to make the game safer?”

Ambrosie complimented Lewis by saying “It’s a great question, Nik. I’m happy to say you’ve been in this game and have a distinction few others will have in their lifetimes. Your career almost stands above all.”

It is important to note the CFL is up against a $200-million class-action lawsuit regarding concussions and brain trauma. Which makes this is a touchy subject for the league but one given even more credence when one of its players raises the issue.

6. Atlantic Schooners
They don’t have a team. Although they are getting close.

The Atlantic Schooners might be the most rabid CFL fan base because they don’t yet have anything to cheer. The football fans from the Maritimes show up to the Grey Cup every year as a friendly reminder that there are football fans on the East Coast and they are ready and willing to support a team.

With the good news that a conditional franchise isn’t out of the realm of possibility in the near future, the Schooners fans had extra pep in their line dancing steps to go along with their usual Maritime hospitality.

This year, Ambrosie attended their “down east kitchen party” alongside the prospective ownership group looking to expand to Halifax. Also in town for the Grey Cup were local and provincial politicians doing research as the REDBLACKS franchise expansion is the model to which everyone involved is working off of.

7. Grey Cup Tweet Up
One of the must attend events for those lucky enough to gain entry is the Grey Cup Tweet Up party. Just as the name suggests it is a chance for all of the keyboard warriors to get from behind their screens and meet players in the flesh. Players with a big social media presence like Kevin Glenn, Jon Bowman and Manny Arceneaux get a chance to mingle with fans known for tweeting about the game religiously and the media members who disseminate news about the league via social media. It’s a chance to put a face to an avatar and trade hashtags for hugs.

This year the event was put on by both the CFL and the CFLPA in conjunction with Twitter Canada. At the event, the CFLPA all-stars were announced. Afterwards an impromptu dance party among supporters ensued.

8. Athletes in action
Any breakfast reception where Michael “Pinball” Clemons is the host is worth the price of admission. The annual morning gathering celebrated the chaplains that support the teams across the league. Henoc Muamba was honoured for all of his leadership and philanthropic work in both Saskatchewan and Winnipeg. CFL royalty like Chuck Ealey, Kevin Glenn, Ambrosie and Jim Lawson were in attendance. But the highlight was Clemons travelling from table to table to punctuate his wise words and speak the gospel.

9. Mike Reilly’s hat
Mike Reilly didn’t just win the award for Most Outstanding Player at the Grey Cup, he won the award for biggest fashion statement. Reilly is known for wearing a chapeau even in interviews. His hat game has its own parody Twitter account. The first Eskimos MOP since 1989 took his fashion choice back a couple decades for the awards ceremony.

Move over Cam Newton, you’re not the only MVP QB known for his top hats.

10. The Flutie Brothers Band
The Flutie brothers played free concerts all week pre-Grey Cup. Doug and Darren were in town as former players but the CFL royal family decided to put its musical talents to use while in Ottawa.

11. Doug Flutie doesn’t wear a coat
I always knew Doug Flutie was tougher than me. But in minus temperatures, when everyone in his section was waiting in line to shake his hand, Flutie was enjoy the game from the stands without a jacket on. Flutie truly is a honorary Canadian.

12. Trudeau’s Town
One of the most active fans around town this week was the PM himself. Justin Trudeau was a fixture at festival and CFL-related events in his hometown.

Not just around for staged photo ops with the Cup, Trudeau watched the game in its entirety from the stands with the fans.

13. Snow Day
What is more Canadian than a Grey Cup that looks like a winter wonderland?

Not many people talked about the possibility of snow in the lead-up to the game. However, the complexion changed when an onslaught of snow fell two hours before kickoff and didn’t let up. It had an impact from the very start as normally sure-handed Stampeders receiver Marquay McDaniel dropped the first pass of the game and the punt safe returner for Argonauts, Armanti Edwards, let the first punt of the game slip from his hands. The comparison of the conditions from around the press box was to the 1996 classic in Hamilton.

The snow not only impacted the game it impacted the betting line. When it was clear it was going to snow throughout, Calgary went from a seven-point favourite to it being a pick’em game.

14. O Canada (remix)

Just before kickoff, Choir! Choir! Choir! provided their own rendition of the national anthem and they asked for group participation from those both in the stands and at home watching. Although people online had mixed feelings about the Toronto-based musical choir’s national anthem, the people in Ottawa played along which made for an incredibly Canadian scene of thousands of people belting out O Canada high notes in a blizzard.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cat’s “Box J Boys” decided to stick to the traditional version of the anthem.

15. Shania Twain
The highest-selling country artist in history had a memorable performance at the Grey Cup. The Canadian musical icon performed the Grey Cup halftime show wearing head-to-toe pink sequins, in a blizzard. Before she started her set with “Don’t!”, Twain made her way to the Grey Cup halftime stage being pulled by sled dogs before embracing a Mountie. She left the stage after her three-song set saying “I love the snow, it’s so beautiful,” followed shortly after by “I feel like a Canadian.” I personally had to use Shazam to recognize what songs she was playing, but I wasn’t the target demo. Despite the temperature and accumulating snow, not many people left their seat and many were talking about the performance well into the night.

16. Photo Op
One of the traditions of winning the Grey Cup is every position group takes a photo with the trophy to commemorate the moment. When Ricky Ray’s post-game media availability took too long, his fellow Argonaut QBs stormed the presser to get their moment commemorated with the man who now has the most Grey Cup victories as a starter (four) in CFL history.

Not surprisingly the quarterbacks’ picture looked quite a bit different than the defensive line group’s.

17. Championship dance party

While making snow angels was the main way players celebrated the Grey Cup on field, the Argos got “turnt up” and had an all-out dance party once they got in the locker room.