The 2016 Grey Cup will be talked about in both Ottawa and Calgary for a long, long time. It was the third game in Grey Cup history to go to overtime and the first since 2005, but the entire time nobody seemed to understand what was unfolding in front of them.
If you were neutral you were simply treated to a great football game. If you cheered for either team you were at times euphoric and miserable. And in the looks on the faces of Redblacks players in the wake of victory, you could easily see both joy and relief. On a picture-perfect night for football, the pure images tell the story of an instant CFL classic.
In the lead-up to the game many wondered if Toronto was too Americanized to embrace the CFL, but the game ended up a uniquely Canadian event. The anthem was sung not just by the fans in the stands but by those tailgating in the parking lot as well. Team jerseys from all over the league were worn in both pride and abundance, but as the game was about to start it sure felt like a sea of red and white.
Ernest Jackson (above), who hadn’t let a pass slip through his hands all year, dropped the OT touchdown pass twice before pinning it to the ear hole of his helmet with one hand and bringing it in. Which was fitting—both that he got the chance and that he made the most of it. All game, whether the Redblacks were up up big or giving the game away, Jackson patrolled the sidelines imploring his teammates to stay focused.
As Redblacks players passed around the Grey Cup in the southeast corner of the field after the win, team officials implored them to bring it over to the stands and the Ottawa fans stationed there. None heard them above the celebration. Finally, the message got through to Moton Hopkins, the third-overall pick in the 2013 expansion draft. One of the longest-serving members of the team carried it to those waiting beyond the railing, most of whom hadn’t seen an Ottawa team win a CFL title in their lifetimes.
Hopkins ran along the stands letting the fans reach down to touch it, but many of them reached instead for him, his shoulder pads, his jersey. Inspired by the scene, Hopkins’s teammates then did their version of a Lambeau leap into the seats, being engulfed by supporters.
Louder than the cheers of “Let’s go Redblacks” after the game was the chant “Henry, Henry, Henry.” No one knows what the future holds for Ottawa’s favourite football player, but it was better not to ask post-game: Any questions about Burris’s future after were shot down by his wife, Nicole, who Henry had wrapped in his arms the entire time.
“We are thinking about today, we are living in the moment,” she said, answering a free-agency question before it was even finished.
She also handled any questions about his interception.
“One interception! Why are you focusing on that when he threw three touchdowns? Every quarterback throws interceptions,” she replied to one reporter before her husband could even get a word in.
Henry was most outstanding during the game. Nicole was most entertaining after it.
By that time Burris’s limp was much more pronounced than it was even after he heard a pop pre-game. The freezing administered to his left knee had well worn off by 11:00 p.m., and his leg was straight as a board with no interest in bending. But he was flexing his arms and screaming, pumping up the fans who were still waving flags and jostling for his attention. Whether it was doing an impromptu scrum on the field for 45 minutes before his league-sanctioned presser or lighting up a victory cigar immediately after entering the locker room, Smilin’ Hank fully soaked this moment up.
Fumbling the handoff: Inside the 2016 Toronto Argonauts season
They had a new stadium, a long-awaited tailgate and the Grey Cup was coming to town. In 2016, everything was set up for a Toronto Argonauts season for the ages. Except the team itself.