The Grey Cup is to our Canadian neighbors what the Super Bowl is to the United States and, in today’s 101st renewal of the Canadian Football League Championship Game, the Hamilton Tiger Cats will visit the Saskatchewan Roughriders. To add to the pomp and pageantry of “Grey Cup Fever,” a special weather statement has been issued by Environment Canada for this afternoon and it can be summed up in just one of its sentences: “Eskimo attire would seem a good idea.”
Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. (EST on TSN) in Mosaic Stadium and, factoring in the ceaseless wind that screams across the plains, game-time temperatures are expected to be – oh -- somewhere around 15 degrees below zero. The weather advisory also reads, “Mosaic Stadium has a tendency to funnel winds,” meaning wind speed could increase higher in the stands, and “this will result in wind chill values near minus 10 Celsius and minus 15 or so towards the end of the game.”
The title game will be played in the capital of Saskatchewan, a homely place called Regina, which is about 350 miles northwest of Bismark, North Dakota, and it was so cold on Taylor Field when the Tiger Cats practiced on Wednesday that four different footballs were flattened by the punters and an assistant coach’s plastic binder shattered. Oh, yes, and several Hamilton players were immediately treated for frostbite.
Running back C.J. Gable, who played for Southern Cal before joining the Tiger Cats, has never experienced a Prairie winter. "They told me about it but I was like 'OK, it can't be that bad,’" Gable said after practice. "But I was wrong."
Ticat head coach Kent Austin laughed about it. “If you looked at the reaction of our players coming off the plane to the terminal, the walk to the bus, you would understand exactly why we need to be in the weather today," Austin laughed at the coaches' news conference earlier in the day. "So we're going to get that out of the way early."
Austin, who starred at Nashville’s Brentwood Academy before a superb college career at Ole Miss, is the Ticat’s head coach and is poised to win his second Grey Cup in just two years of coaching in the CFL. The catch is that his first Annis Stukus Trophy came in 2007 when he was the head coach of Saskatchewan. He knows all about the wind whistling through Mosaic Stadium.
Austin quit the Roughriders after just one year in 2008 to return to Ole Miss as an assistant under Houston Nutt and was then hired as head coach at Cornell for three seasons. He was hired by the Ticats last December and, after guiding Hamilton to a 10-8 regular season, his club beat Montreal 19-16 in overtime and then shocked Toronto, 36-24, last week.
Austin’s route to Canada is interesting. He spent three years on the St. Louis Cardinals’ bench after he got out of Ole Miss during his playing days and then he came to Canada as a player for the Riders. He was the MVP in the 1989 Grey Cup when Saskatchewan beat Hamilton, passing for 474 yards in a way that endeared him in Regina.
In a 10-year Canadian career, Austin played on four different teams and had 36,030 career passing yards on 4,700 pass attempts, completing 2,709. He threw 198 touchdown passes and 191 interceptions in his career, but the reason a huge banner bearing his likeness waves at Mosaic Stadium is because of the Grey Cup.
Some wanted to remove the banner for today’s game but the town’s citizens own the franchise and too many remember Austin’s glory years and the fact he brought a Grey Cub to Saskatchewan as both a player and a coach.
Unlike Canada’s big metropolitan cities, Regina is said to be draped in more green than Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day and, for the record, the cheapest tickets for the game (a sellout) are $200 each. The Roughriders are the second-smallest “market” in North America, edged only by Green Bay (NFL), and the public ownership agreement is much like the Packers.
Corey Chamblin, a Birmingham, Ala., native who played for Tennessee Tech under current Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith, is the Roughriders’ head coach and, in his second year at Saskatchewan, guided the Riders to an 11-7 regular season. He won his first playoff game with a 29-25 win over the BC Lions and then guided the Roughriders over Calgary to earn a berth in today’s game.
Canadian football uses a larger field (110 yards X 65 yards) than American football (100 yards X 53 1/3 yards) and Canadians play 12 players instead of 11. There is a full yard between the linemen in Canada and just three downs instead of the four in American football. Instead of America’s fair catch on a punt, there is a five-yard zone around the ball that the kicking team cannot enter until the ball is touched. There are a number of lesser differences, too.
Kent Austin, who played high school football for Brentwood Academy in Nashville, will coach the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in today's Grey Cup game for the 2013 championship of the Canadian Football League.