For the Canadian Football League, 2012 was a very positive year. More than anything, the past 12 months really displayed that Canadians love three-down football and that is never going to change.
The league said hello to an influx of new talent that had a big impact on the field. Players like J.C. Sherritt, Adam Bighill, Chris Matthews and Chevon Walker had breakout campaigns and showed they could potentially be impact players in the league for many years.
The league also said some goodbyes with several CFL records broken and the last game played at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
There were many impressive performances from Canadian stars, as players like Jon Cornish, Andrew Harris and Chris Getzlaf among others were some of the most dangerous offensive threats.
The season culminated with a memorable victory — the new-look Toronto Argonauts defeating the Calgary Stampeders 35-22 in their home stadium at the 100th Grey Cup.
There is certainly room for the league to improve itself and grow, but CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said at his annual state-of-the-league address during Grey Cup week that the league was in good shape. He said that six of the eight teams are in a good place financially, but that the Ontario franchises needed some work.
However, with Hamilton getting a new stadium that will be ready for the 2014 season, Toronto riding the momentum of their Grey Cup championship, and the announcement that Ottawa will be getting a new team in 2014, things are looking up in Ontario.
Just like how the game of hockey is engrained into the collective consciousness of this nation, so too is the CFL. The 2012 season proved this.
Here is a look back at the year that was in the Canadian Football League.
Newsmaker of the Year: The 100th Grey Cup
The Grey Cup is the focal point in every CFL season, but the 100th Grey Cup was something entirely different. There was a special buzz around this year’s game and there was a full year of preparation to go along with it.
The league went on an unprecedented promotional tour to build up the event. The Royal Canadian Mint even released a special 100th Grey Cup loonie.
In the summer, the CFL teamed up with Canada Post and released a booklet of 10 commemorative stamps that featured some current and former players posing with the Cup.
In the 70 days leading up to the championship game, the Grey Cup 100 Train Tour saw the heralded trophy travel from coast to coast giving fans from across the country a chance to see and even touch the Cup.
Even the halftime show lineup generated worldwide buzz as music superstar and Ontario native Justin Bieber was the lead act, along with Carly Rae Jepsen, Marianis Trench and Gordon Lightfoot.
And on top of all the preparation, marketing and special events surrounding the annual Canadian tradition — including a message from Queen Elizibeth II wishing the league, players and fans an enjoyable Grey Cup weekend — the game itself had a special kind of buzz around it.
The sold-out game took place in Toronto — the home of the first Grey Cup game — and the city’s own team, the Argos, advanced to the championship game, won and hoisted the Grey Cup in front of their home fans at the Rogers Centre.
It was a storybook ending to memorable 100th Grey Cup.
Dishonourable mention: Eric Tillman
Edmonton Eskimos former general manager Eric Tillman started the year on the hot seat after making a puzzling move late in 2011. When he traded quarterback Ricky Ray to the Argonauts for Steven Jyles, Grant Shaw and a draft pick, Eskimos fans were upset. Tillman tried to justify the deal, but when it was clear late in the season the Argos had won the trade in a landslide, Tillman was on thin ice. In early November, just one week before the Eskimos took on the Argos in the East semifinal, Tillman was fired.
Buzz Word of the year: Revamp
On and off the field, 2012 was the year of the revamp in the CFL.
Prior to the season starting, three of the CFL’s best veteran quarterbacks swapped conferences. Ricky Ray went from Edmonton to Toronto, Henry Burris was sent from Calgary to Hamilton and going back the other way was Kevin Glenn.
Wally Buono resigned as head coach of the B.C. Lions to focus solely on his general manager duties and was replaced by Mike Benevides. Hamilton fired coach Marcel Bellefeuille and hired George Cortez. In Saskatchewan, Corey Chamblin was brought on as a replacement for Ken Miller who stepped down late in the 2011 season. Also, Jim Barker stepped down as head coach of the Argos to focus on GM responsibilities, as the team brought in Scott Milanovich to be their head coach after his stint as offensive coordinator with Montreal.
There were also some rule changes including one that would ensure all scoring plays — touchdowns, field goals, converts, singles and safeties — would be reviewed.
Honourable mention: Ottawa
In October, the league announced it is on course to return a franchise to Ottawa in time for the 2014 season. Ottawa City Council approved plans to upgrade Frank Clair Stadium into a leading sports facility, surrounding it with a new residential and retail complex. Heading into next season there will be much discussion surrounding the expansion draft.
As I reported on Sportsnet 960′s ‘The Big Show’ with @fan960steinberg, the #CFL has scheduled the Ottawa expansion draft on Dec. 12, 2013.
Heading into the 2012 campaign many thought the new-look Ticats had a real shot at coming out on top in the East.
On paper, their offence was stacked with Henry Burris at quarterback, plus a star-studded receiving corps that included prized free agent acquisition Andy Fantuz, Samuel Giguere, Dave Stala, Bakari Grant and the dynamic Chris Williams. Plus, there were high hopes for Martell Mallett, who was expected to be the Ticats’ starting running back, but he tore his Achilles tendon in training camp and missed the entire season.
When the Ticats were firing on all cylinders they were dynamic. Burris even set career highs in passing yards and passing touchdowns with 5,367 and 43 respectively. However, the team was too inconsistent and undisciplined, which resulted in a 6-12 record and them missing out on the playoffs.
As a fitting end to the disappointing year, the team fired head coach George Cortez on Dec. 11.
Unfortunate mention:Buck Pierce & Cory Boyd
Sadly, it came as a surprise to no one that Buck Pierce had another injury-riddled year. Pierce rarely gets through an entire game, let alone a season and this year was no different as the Winnipeg QB missed much of the season dealing with various injuries. He missed several games with a leg injury then later in the year he was out with a concussion. When he’s healthy he’s one of the league’s most dynamic quarterbacks, but he is so injury prone it has many wondering if it’s time for Buck to hang up his cleats.
One major surprise this season was the demise of Cory Boyd. The 27-year old was coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and was leading the CFL in rushing when the Argos released him on Aug. 12 and named eventual Grey Cup MVP Chad Kackert as their starting RB.
Man my Life just took a huge 360 turn… Bless up to God
Boyd immediately signed in Edmonton, but never found success with his new team as he played second fiddle to Hugh Charles. He was released in early October, then re-signed by the team 10 days later, then cut for a second time once the season was over.
Whose season was more disappointing?
Villain of the Year: Khalif Mitchell
Khalif Mitchell is one of the more talented defensive linemen in the CFL and usually makes headlines for his play on the field. However in 2012, the B.C. Lion made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
In July, the 27-year old was suspended two games when he hyperextended Eskimos offensive lineman Simeon Rottier’s arm in the most unsportsmanlike gesture on the field this season.
Unfortunately for Mitchell, that wasn’t the only time he would cause controversy. In September, Mitchell was fined for making throat-slashing gestures during a game against the Eskimos. Then, in October, Mitchell used a racial slur in a tweet that resulted in his team fining and benching him.
Dishonourable mention:Nik Lewis
Calgary Stampeders star receiver Nik Lewis got in some hot water after an insensitive tweet in mid-November referencing the infamous O.J. Simpson murder trial. He wrote: “I just bought OJ’s gloves on eBay. Now all I need is a white girl named Nicole.” Lewis, who played it off as a failed attempt at humour, was fined by the CFL for this incident.
Player of the Year: Chad Owens
It would be silly to do a year in review of the CFL in 2012 without mentioning the incredible season that Argonauts star receiver/kick returner Chad Owens had.
Not only did Owens continue his stellar play as a dynamic returner, but he also had a breakout year catching the ball and ended up surprising many and leading the league with 1,328 receiving yards. Owens set a professional football record for all-purpose yards in a season with 3,863 — passing one of his mentors, Michael (Pinball) Clemons.
The 30-year-old Hawaiian was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player for his efforts and helped lead the Boatmen to a victory in the 100th Grey Cup.
Honourable mention:Jon Cornish
Canadian players don’t always excel in skill positions (QB, WR, RB) in the CFL because there is always such an influx of talent that comes from the United States. But Jon Cornish of the Calgary Stampeders proved again this year that it doesn’t matter what country you come from, as long as you can produce on the field. The New Westminster, B.C., native led the league in rushing yards (1,457) and added 11 rushing TDs on his way to being named the Most Oustanding Canadian. Cornish cemented his spot as both the most dangerous Canadian offensive threat in the league and the best running back in the CFL.
What was the most surprising story in the CFL in 2012?