So I watched the game again yesterday, and I had some random thoughts that I wanted to share.
I've heard many folk refer to this game as boring, or a bad game, because it was a low-scoring affair. But I beg to disagree. It just so happened that both defenses were functioning at peak efficiency, and as a result, points were very hard to come by (well, leaving aside Duval's performance). Watching the defenses of both teams, I was struck by the great scheming from both coaches (Burke and Etcheverry), and the unwillingness to give up multiple big plays in succession. It's a reflection of the high quality of the 2010 game that its first turnover came in the last minute of the fourth quarter and basically sealed the deal for the Alouettes. This wasn't some fumble-fest marked by offensive ineptitude and poor decision-making by the quarterbacks: it was a total war in which every inch of ground was contested.
It's no secret that I haven't always (or even frequently) been a big fan of Tim Burke's approach to defense. In the past, I thought he was too passive, too cautious, too given to turning our players into checking machines and not willing to unleash the dogs, so to speak, and let the players play ball. But I have to swallow those words after the 2010 game. Put simply, Burke's game plan was magnificent, and the players executed it at a consistently high level. He mixed in one big sneaky change-up -- the switch to primarily zone coverage -- with a host of different looks and formations. I saw all-out linebacker blitzes. I saw lots of stunting and show-blitz looks at the line that were effectively disguised (Guzman almost picked off Durant by showing blitz effectively, then dropping into coverage). I even saw our rush ends lined up inside as tackles, with cornerbacks rushing off the edge. Burke clearly used the time off between games to deadly effect. In hindsight, it seems evident that his ability to properly coach up his players must have been significantly compromised by our lack of a permanent practice facility, because as soon as we didn't have to lose an hour of practice time on the bus, the defense just looked worlds better.
Jamel Richardson, Billy Parker, S.J. Green, and Anthony Calvillo. These four players came through and delivered clutch performances under tremendous pressure. Parker was on the hotseat all game long, as Saskatchewan went after him with Dressler, Fantuz, and Getzlaf, but he didn't retreat and start giving receivers big cushions: instead, he stood his ground and played tight, lock-down coverage. To top it off, he came up with the game-winning interception in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter. Calvillo, though he didn't pass for a touchdown, showed why he's a future Hall of Famer in the second half of the game. Just a masterly performance moving the ball by any means necessary -- sometimes running to pick up the first down, sometimes playing cat-and-mouse with the SSK blitzers (pump-faking to get a rusher to jump and take himself out of the play, then side-arming a pass into the soft spot in the zone for a first down). Green was a short-yardage machine all night, rumbling for big yards after catching screens and other short passes; in effect, he showed why we should be just fine at slotback when Ben Cahoon retires. And Richardson turned in a dominant performance, backing up his trash talk with an elite level of play. He wasn't flashy; it wasn't about the highlight reels or 70-yard romps into the end zone. It was about quietly being a game-breaker every time the ball came his way. He made tough catches in traffic with a man on his back; he moved the chains when we needed momentum; and he compensated for an underthrown Calvillo deep ball and basically took a pick away from Omar Morgan to set up Cobourne's second TD.
The Art of Coaching
For anyone who thinks that just having a good team is enough and that we could have won Grey Cups with just anybody in charge, go back and watch this game. In a nutshell, we out-coached Saskatchewan in the second half in two areas: on-field strategy, and game management. The former is fairly obvious, judging by how Trestman and Milanovich went to the short-passing game to get our offense into a rhythm, eat up the clock, and wear down Etcheverry's defense (I don't think the Riders ran more than four or five plays in the entire third quarter). The latter was evident in how well Trestman managed the game in a pressure situation. From the direct snap to Deslauriers to the decision to go deep following the Calvillo-called timeout in the fourth quarter, Trestman simply didn't put a foot wrong as the coach. By contrast, I'm still trying to figure out exactly why Miller spent his timeout trying to ice an already ice-cold Duval after letting about 10 seconds run off the clock inside the three-minute warning. If Miller had just let Duval kick, who knows how the complexion of the Riders' subsequent possession would have gone?
Since this game, I've debated with myself over which victory is sweeter: the incredible 2009 comeback, which got the championship monkey off the team's (and Calvillo's) back, or the hard-fought 2010 repeat performance, which effectively silenced all the detractors who thought we were lucky to win in 2009. I still can't choose. In terms of pure drama, you can't beat the 2009 game, with the improbable fourth-quarter comeback and the contributions of so many players on offense and defense. On the other hand, the 2010 win cemented our legacy as the model CFL franchise of the past decade, proving that even in a difficult year marked by injuries, tragedy (the Spencer stabbing), and other types of adversity, we could still step up and win the biggest prize in hostile territory against the top team in the West.
I only became a diehard Als fan during the 2002 season that gave us our first Grey Cup in 25 years. But we all know what happened in Montreal through the '80s and early '90s. I hope we Als fans treasure these days, because there will come a time when we are not so fortunate as we are now. It's been a privilege to watch the team execute at such a high level for so long, and it's been a privilege to follow special athletes like Calvillo and Cahoon.