10 reasons to watch the 104th Grey Cup

Andrew Bucholtz

The matchup for the 104th Grey Cup is set, with the 15-2-1 West Division champion Calgary Stampeders facing the 8-9-1 East Division champion Ottawa Redblacks Sunday at 6 p.m. Eastern (TSN/ESPN2/BT Sports/YareTV). Both teams have reasons to think they can win, but what about viewers? Here are 10 reasons you might want to check out this year’s Grey Cup.

1. Henry Burris takes on his old team. Ottawa quarterback Henry Burris is one of the most interesting figures in this year’s game, especially given his history with the Stampeders. Burris played for Calgary from 1997 to 1999 and 2005-2011, winning Grey Cups with them in 1998 (as a backup to Jeff Garcia) and 2008 (as the starter), but was traded to Hamilton ahead of the 2012 season and then dumped by the Ticats ahad of the 2014 season, leading to him signing with Ottawa. The 41-year-old Burris was named the CFL’s most outstanding player last year and has now led the Redblacks to back-to-back Grey Cup appearances, but it’s been an up-and-down year for him; he got hurt in Ottawa’s first game, then lost his job to the strong play of backup Trevor Harris, came back when Harris got hurt, lost the job again, and then got the job again when Harris struggled down the stretch.

Burris can be fiery and is one of the best quotes in the league, unafraid to speak his mind (consider him telling “all those guys at TSN” to “shove it” after perceived criticism of him), and he’s often been motivated by doubters and disrespect. He’ll likely have plenty of memorable lines this week; he even managed to reference Donald Trump during a halftime interview Sunday.

Burris’ comments during the week will be well worth watching, as will his play on Sunday. We don’t know what Burris’ future plans are, but this certainly could be his final game, especially if he goes out on top. Now that would be quite the storybook ending to his career.

2. MOP Mitchell looks to extend winning streak: Sunday’s quarterback duel should be fascinating, as it pits last year’s most outstanding player against the guy likely to win the award this year. That would be Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who goes up against Ottawa receiver Ernest Jackson in the final round of voting and could possibly even win unanimously. Mitchell had a fantastic year, throwing for 5,385 passing yards and 32 touchdowns in 17 games while setting a CFL record for most consecutive wins by a starting quarterback, and his 43-7-1 regular-season mark as a starter gives him the best winning percentage (.860) in CFL history. He’s also 3-1 in the postseason, including winning the 2014 Grey Cup. Quarterback wins are an often-flawed stat, as they depend so much on teammates (and Mitchell has played on outstanding teams), but they do serve as a partial illustration of just how good Mitchell has been. A win here would only further boost Mitchell’s status among the CFL’s elite quarterbacks, and he’s only 26.

3. A new field, with outdoor conditions. This will be the 48th Grey Cup held in Toronto, but the first one at BMO Field, and the first one played outside in Toronto since the 1982 Grey Cup (which was played at the old Exhibition Stadium, on the same site as this field). That Grey Cup, which saw Warren Moon and the Edmonton Eskimos down Condredge Holloway and the hometown Argonauts, was famously known as “The Rain Bowl,” and it was a big part of what motivated the construction of SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre). Exhibition Stadium was host to plenty of other memorable weather games, too, including the 1962 Grey Cup (otherwise known as The Fog Bowl, the only Grey Cup ever played over two days), and Toronto held another famous one at the old Varsity Stadium (the 1950 Grey Cup, otherwise known as The Mud Bowl).

Harsh weather conditions can produce some of the most memorable football games, and while we’ve already seen one memorable one these playoffs with Ottawa defeating Edmonton in the snow in Sunday’s East Final, Toronto history suggests the elements could come into play again. The current forecast for Sunday in Toronto is a mix of sun and clouds with a low of 3C, which wouldn’t be too bad. However, anything can happen in an outdoor game, and the past games in Toronto indicate weather may wind up being a factor.

 4. The Tenors return to the anthem ranks. Guess who’s performing the national anthem? Oh, just the group that caused an international incident with one member changing the lyrics to “O Canada” and holding up an “All Lives Matter” sign at the MLB All-Star Game in San Diego this year, one of the craziest anthem incidents in history. That “lone wolf” member, Remigio Pereira, has been suspended by the group, so it’s just Clifton Murray, Fraser Walters and Victor Micallef who will be singing Sunday, and we shouldn’t expect a repeat anthem hijacking. However, even CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge’s statement in the league’s announcement seems to be throwing shade at Pereira by referencing the individual guys singing rather than the group:

“Clifton, Fraser and Victor of The Tenors are superbly talented and proudly Canadian, and we’re looking forward to having them sing Canada’s national anthem during this year’s Grey Cup in Toronto.”

The anthem itself may not be controversial this time, but it will be interesting to see how the remaining Tenors are received by the crowd. It’s their second time performing the anthem at the Grey Cup, but their first time as a trio, and the first time with this kind of spotlight following Pereira’s actions.

5. Can Kienan LaFrance continue his unlikely story? LaFrance became one of the least-expected heroes in CFL playoff history Sunday against Edmonton. He was drafted out of Manitoba in the sixth round of the 2015 draft, 45th overall, and has mostly played on special teams for the last two years, but stepped into the running back role against the Eskimos when Mossis Madu went down early and came up with a huge performance. Here’s a graphic from the CFL showing what he accomplished:

Kienan LaFrance graphic

That’s an incredible performance by LaFrance, and it will be interesting to see if he gets another chance this week. Madu may be able to return, or the Redblacks could turn to fellow American Travon Van, but LaFrance’s play against Edmonton suggests he’s very capable as well. He could be the next top Canadian running back if he keeps that up, and it will be well worth watching if he gets the chance.

6. The chances of a big return. Kickoff, punt return and missed field goal return touchdowns have made for some of the most memorable plays in Grey Cup history, and those are certainly in play Sunday. Calgary’s Roy Finch was second in the CFL with 993 punt return yards (14.0 per return) and one touchdown and added 1,060 kickoff return yards with an average of 24.7 per return this year, while Ottawa’s Tristan Jackson posted 496 punt return yards and a touchdown (11.8 per return) and 682 kick return yards (21.3 per attempt) in just 11 games this season. Jackson also had a big return touchdown in the East Final against Edmonton. Either of these guys could make something happen Sunday.

7. The other musical acts. Grammy nominees OneRepublic will be playing the halftime show, with Canadian artist Alessia Cara headlining the kickoff show. Here’s some of what you can expect from each:

8. The coaching matchup. This game features two of the CFL’s most impressive young coaches. Ottawa coach Rick Campbell is 45, in his third season as a head coach, and in his second straight Grey Cup. He also knows his Calgary counterpart Dave Dickenson well; Campbell was the Stampeders’ running backs coach in 2010 and their defensive coordinator from 2012-13, and Dickenson was their offensive coordinator during that period. The 43-year-old Dickenson is in his first season as a CFL head coach, and he’s already found remarkable success with that 15-2-1 regular-season mark. We’ll see which of these coaches emerges victorious Sunday.

9. Top receivers with a prospect of trick plays. Ottawa had the same four receivers hit the 1,000-yard mark this year as last year, and three of them will be available Sunday. Chris Williams is hurt, but Brad Sinopoli, Ernest Jackson and Greg Ellingson are all terrific pass-catchers known for highlight-reel grabs. Meanwhile, Calgary has some outstanding receivers of their own, including Marquay McDaniel and DaVaris Daniels. Given the calibre of the quarterbacks as well, we could see a shootout with some great grabs. Both Ottawa and Calgary‘s receivers have been known for trick plays, too, so keep an eye out for those. Here’s a look at some of the trick plays these teams have previously tried:

10. The teams’ history. Yes, Calgary’s 15-2-1 record and Ottawa’s 8-9-1 mark makes this look like a mismatch. However, that 1 is important; these two teams played to the only CFL tie since 2009 back in July, a great 26-26 battle. That game might suggest that the Redblacks match up better than you think. In fact, many of their losses this year have been more about inconsistency than any lack of talent. If they can put it together the way they did against the Stampeders earlier this season, we might be in for a great game – and if you do like their chances, you’ll get a price. The first set of odds on the game are out via Vegas Insider, with the Stampeders a 9-point favourite and the Redblacks at +375 on the moneyline.