OTTAWA — Snow shovels, a dog sled and Mounties in red serge helped make the 105th Grey Cup a quintessential Canadian spectacle, and Toronto football fans couldn’t be happier.
Blue and white-clad Argonaut devotees screamed their excitement from the stands at Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium — and later in the streets — as their Canadian Football League franchise handed Calgary a stunning loss to an underdog team for the second year in a row, defeating the Stampeders in a nail biter Sunday 27-24.
The snow started as a few light flakes a couple of hours before Gov. Gen. Julie Payette tossed a coin to start the game, but continued all evening, forcing stadium crews to use shovels, snow plows and gas-powered blowers in a relentless battle to clear the field.
“Welcome to Canada,” said Argos fan Darel Mack, adding that he didn’t believe the snow hurt either team.
“It was an awesome game,” said Mack. “It was super close, as close as you can get it.”
Rags-to-riches Canadian country music icon Shania Twain took advantage of the blanket of white to enter the stadium for the halftime show atop a sled pulled by a team of dogs.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also remarked that it wouldn’t be Canadian football without the white powder.
Trudeau, who brought his family to this year’s game, was nostalgic after watching a video clip of himself, his brothers and father discussing the Grey Cup as kids, calling the championship a “huge part of Canada’s heritage.”
“Yes, we’re a hockey country and yes, yes, the Stanley Cup,” Trudeau told host broadcaster TSN.
“But the Grey Cup is all ours. Playing football in the snow, no matter where you are in the world, we can relate to that better than just about anybody else.”
Before the game, Toronto fans dismissed trash talk from Calgary’s mayor over the Argos’ dismal season attendance record.
On Saturday, Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi and Toronto Mayor John Tory exchanged jabs about the Grey Cup, sparked after a reporter tweeted that Jim Watson, the mayor of Grey Cup host city Ottawa, was supporting the Argos since his hometown Ottawa Redblacks were eliminated in the CFL East semifinal.
In a message on Twitter, Tory welcomed Watson to the Argonauts’ fanbase, telling him there was “plenty of room on the Toronto Argos bandwagon.”
Nenshi responded saying there was plenty of room on the Argos bandwagon, but only because “there’s never been anyone actually on it.”
The Argonauts struggled to fill BMO Field all season, averaging 13,914 fans in the stadium with a 27,000 person capacity, nearly 11,000 fewer than the average league attendance.
But the low numbers at home didn’t dampen the spirits of Toronto fans who ventured to Ottawa to cheer their team to victory.
“They don’t look very hard because we’re here, and they’ll hear us today,” Toronto supporter Charlene McNair said of Calgary fans as she made her way into the sold out Ottawa stadium prior to the game.
Still, McNair, decked out head-to-toe in blue and white Argos colours, admitted she was a little surprised that Toronto made it to the playoffs in the first place, considering how they started the season.
The team was 4-6 at the end of August, but McNair said she has watched as Toronto turned its game around enough to bring it to a Grey Cup game for the first time since 2012, when they also beat the Stampeders.
“I’ve gone to a lot of practices, and I’ve seen them progress and I’ve seen it keep going,” said McNair.
Calgary fans, however, were upbeat about their odds as they entered the game Sunday, despite the Stampeders’ shocking loss to the underdog Redblacks in last year’s championship.
At the end of the day, the trash talk all falls to the side and CFL fans come together to celebrate, no matter who wins, said Jade Vallek, a Roughriders fan from just outside Saskatoon.
“We love the CFL,” Vallek explained as her fellow Saskatchewan fans chanted “ABC, ABC (anybody but Calgary) behind her.
“I watch every game, I cheer for players on every team. If you don’t like the team as much, you cheer for players you like,” she said. “That’s what I do.”
Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press