The final chapter of two improbable stories will be written today, when the B.C. Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers meet in the 99th Grey Cup.
You can see the game on TSN, TSN Mobile TV, and TSN.ca RIGHT NOW, plus you can chat with your fellow fans on our Game Day blog.
After managing just four wins during the 2010 season, the Blue Bombers found themselves in last place overall at year's end. When the 2011 campaign got underway, Winnipeg exploded out of the gates with seven wins in their first eight games, eventually finishing in top spot in the East Division. Following a win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Final, the Bombers descend upon Vancouver looking for their first Grey Cup victory in 21 years.
Their arrival in this year's Grey Cup marks just the second time since 1982 that a team went from last in their division to a Grey Cup appearance.
"They've got all the pressure," said Bombers receiver Terence Edwards. "They're the favourites. They're the top dog that now won 11 games out of 12. So we're here and we're going to show up and win a game."
While Winnipeg opened the season flying high, the B.C. was locked into last place after starting the year with five straight losses. However, like the Bombers, the Lions made their mark on the record books by becoming the first team to begin a year 0-5 and still direct themselves towards a Grey Cup berth.
Coming off of a 30-17 defeat at the hands of the Bombers in Week 7, the Lions clawed back from their 1-6 start to win all but one of their next 12 games, including last week's 40-23 victory over the Edmonton Eskimos in the West Final.
"I think the team is in a pretty good space," said quarterback Travis Lulay. "The guys are a good mix of understanding the opportunity and still feeling fairly relaxed.
"On this team there are a lot of guys who have played in these games. It's good to have those teammates who can bring you back to reality and let you know it is another football game."
The Lions lost both of their matchups with the Bombers early this season, and Lulay finished their Week 7 loss to Winnipeg on the bench after being pulled. The Lions' passer used the game as motivation and went on to throw 27 touchdowns passes to just six interceptions the rest of the way, earning Most Oustanding Player honours in the process.
"[Lulay] makes the show go," said Bombers defensive back Jovon Johnson. "He makes plays with his feet and with his arm. And then they balance the field with Geroy [Simon] and Arland [Bruce] on both sides of the field, so you can't really key on any one of those guys. They do a tremendous job at releasing and getting down the field and catching the ball and making plays when the ball is in the air."
Johnson, who became the first defensive back in CFL history to be named Most Outstanding Defensive Player, will be leading Winnipeg's aggressive defence as they try to disrupt the Lions' attack.
"For us we just go out and play for each other," explained Johnson. "We're a confident bunch of guys and that's just the way we play the game. We have fun when we're doing it and it allows us to go out and play freely as long as we're prepared."
The Bombers success can be directly attributed to defensive coordinator Tim Burke's crew. Winnipeg led the league in points off turnovers, something they will be hoping to capitalize on Sunday.
This year's Grey Cup gives credence to the long-held belief that defence wins championships, as the game will feature the league's top two defensive units, with the Bombers slightly edging the Lions.
B.C. will welcome a familiar face back to town in quarterback Buck Pierce, who was once their field general. The Bombers have given up more sacks than any other club this season, something they will need to overcome if they plan to emerge victorious.
"This is a mentally tough football team," said Pierce. "The adversity that's been thrown our way is something that prepared us for this."
The Lions have their own steadying force in head coach Wally Buono, who will be manning the sidelines in his ninth Grey Cup and already boasts four championships on his coaching resume. "We've had a good week. The good thing about being at home is for us it gave us an opportunity to bring the guys in on Tuesday, which when you travel you don't have that opportunity," he stated.
This will be the first time Buono gets to lead his players into the title game on home turf. No matter how many times he has played for a championship, Buono admits that nerves play a factor.
"Believe me, when you're sitting in the locker room a half an hour before the game, and then when you get out [on the field] and you feel the rush of the crowd and the excitement of the crowd, you have to be human and there will be some nerves," said the veteran coach.
"It's not the Sunday afternoon beer league where you can just go out and have some fun. It's serious, serious business and the guys that have achieved, the guys that have exceled can deal with the expectation and the pressure."