Als leave ownership woes in the past with Grey Cup win
Back when Montreal general manager Danny Maciocia was hiring Jason Maas to be his new head coach last December, he had to give him a not-so-little warning.
The Alouettes ownership situation was unstable, Maciocia explained, with gridlock between owner Gary Stern and the estate of his late father-in-law Sid Spiegel. And no one was sure what was to follow.
Would the team be sold? Would the league take it over? Was there a new owner on the horizon? Was there a chance that the Alouettes wouldn’t even play in 2023?
None of that had been cleared-up by the time the league’s free agency period began in mid-February, with the league taking over operations on Feb. 14th, leading to quarterback Trevor Harris and No.1 receiver Gino Lewis to head west to new and more secure destinations.
By the time Quebec businessman Pierre Karl Pelideau bought the team in March, the damage had been done and the Als seemed headed for a forgettable season.
How far away all of that seemed in the aftermath of the Alouettes' 28-24 win over the favoured Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a team that’s become a model of stability in the CFL and playing in their fourth consecutive Grey Cup game.
The Alouettes waddled through the early part of the schedule, a team still finding itself before mid-season additions Darnell Sankey and Shawn Lemon on defence gave them a toughness and resilience they’d not had before.
Montreal finished the season winning its final five regular-season games before beating Hamilton in the East Division semifinal and then shocking the Toronto Argonauts one week later in front of the biggest crowd ever to see them at BMO Field.
But there was a sense that the Bombers were in Hamilton to avenge the one that got away a year ago when a blocked field goal against the Toronto Argonauts got in the way of winning three in a row. Montreal was all that stood in the way and while the Als defence might have been able to match Winnipeg’s, it seemed an unlikely scenario for Montreal quarterback Cody Fajardo to be able to drive the length of the field against the vaunted Winnipeg defence.
It turns out that’s exactly what happened inside the final three minutes, executing a critical third-down throw to Cole Speiker, and then closing the drive with a beautifully threaded pass to receiver Tyson Philpot for the winning score with 13 seconds remaining.
Philpot, a second-year receiver whose father, Corey, won a Grey Cup with the B.C. lions during his second season, was named the game’s outstanding Canadian.
The win was vindication for both Mass and Fajardo, both of whom were chased out of Saskatchewan at the end of the 2022 season, both fall guys for the Riders losing their final regular-season games of that season and missing the playoffs.
But while Rider Nation may have lost faith in each of them, they never lost faith in each other. And their reunion under trying circumstances in Montreal seemed to bring out the best of both of them as the season went along.
Fajardo, never one to be understated with his feelings, declared from the stage in Hamilton Friday night that the Alouettes would go down as one of the great CFL teams of all time.
And while that may be a considerable exaggeration, these Als do belong among the all-time teams when it comes to resiliency and defying expectations from the start of the season.
One year after a winter fraught with uncertainty and fear, it’s going to be a very happy few months ahead in Montreal.