Hi again, folks. The CFL Beat is back this week with a look at the championship games from one of the most memorable seasons in league history – the 1991 season. Read on!
Date: November 24th, 1991
Venue: Winnipeg Stadium, Winnipeg, MB
Toronto Argonauts fast facts:
- Season record: 13-5 (1st in East Division)
- Head Coach: Adam Rita
- Quarterback: Matt Dunigan
1991 was a really, really good year for the Argos. Under new ownership, with NHL Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall at the helm, backed by Canadian celebrities Wayne Gretzky and John Candy, Toronto made shockwaves across the North American sports landscape with the surprising signing of consensus #1 NFL draft pick Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. Playing at wide receiver and kick returner, Ismail electrified crowds all season long. His contract, $18.2 million CAD over four years, meant an average of $4.55 million per year, which was higher than the salary cap for an entire CFL team up to the year 2014. Thanks to a special clause exempting “marquee” player salaries from counting against the cap, the Argos fit him in. Not only that, but Ismail’s salary was also higher than any player in the NFL at that time, to boot.
Calgary Stampeders fast facts:
- Season record: 11-7 (2nd in West Division)
- Head Coach: Wally Buono
- Quarterback: Danny Barrett
The 79th Grey Cup marked the first appearance by the Stamps since 1971. They hadn’t won a playoff game since 1979, but when Wally Buono came aboard in 1990 as the team’s new head coach, Calgary embarked on a run of unprecedented success. In thirteen years at the helm, the Stamps missed the playoffs only once, winning eight division titles and appearing in six Grey Cup games, winning three. 1991 was a major turning point, and the Stamps would be back next year in 1992.
0:26 – We’re just about ready to kick off here. It’s the first time the Grey Cup has ever been hosted by Winnipeg, and it’s cold as hell right now – the temperature is sitting at -18° Celsius (0° Fahrenheit), making it the coldest championship game in league history.
0:55 – The Stamps have won the coin toss and elected to defer, so Toronto will start with the ball this half.
1:29 – First offensive series for Toronto. Matt Dunigan, a future CFL Hall of Fame quarterback, separated his shoulder last week in the Argos’ win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the East Final. He can’t feel shit, but is still gonna go out there and play. Argos have a quick two-and-out.
4:00 – Calgary takes over. Danny Barrett throws his first pass of the game for Calgary and… pick-six! DB Ed Berry runs it back 50 yards to the house. Bad start for the Stamps. Barrett only threw five interceptions in the regular season, so this is unusual for him.
6:20 – Toronto kicks off, and… the ball is fumbled and recovered! From bad to worse here for Calgary. Argos return to offense.
8:00 – Argos offense has not been able to move the ball through the air at this point in the game. Lance Chomyc, the Argos’ kicker and league scoring leader, misses a field goal, but gets a single point off the returner taking a knee. The Argos now have an 8-0 lead.
9:40 – The Stamps, needing some momentum, pull off a successful QB sneak and keep their offensive drive alive.
10:55 – Nice completion from Barrett to Pee Wee Smith to pick up 23 yards.
12:15 – A deep shot to the end zone draws a PI flag – it’s 1st and 1 thanks to the penalty. Big, big mistake by Toronto.
13:40 – Another QB keep, and it’s a TD for Danny Barrett. Calgary is on the board! The successful convert makes the score 8-7, Toronto.
15:00 – Matt Dunigan with the pump fake and the keep, running the ball himself to pick up the first down. I have no idea how he’s playing on a separated shoulder. It’s crazy, because he’s faced a ton of pressure so far this game. DE Kent Warnock is just eating him for lunch.
22:19 – Argos LB Don Moen swats down Danny Barrett’s pass, stopping Calgary’s drive and forcing them to kick.
23:00 – Mark McLoughlin hits the 37-yard kick to put the Stamps up 10-8.
23:20 – Doug asks Christine to marry him courtesy of a jumbotron proposal. Lucky for him, she says yes.
25:10 – Danny Barrett gets hit hard, and the ball pops out – have the Argos recovered? Nope. Barrett recovers his own fumble and is down, before the ball pops loose a second time.
27:50 – Lance Chomyc hits a 27-yarder to put Toronto back in front again, 11-10.
28:10 – We got a fucked-up lookin’ hot air balloon in the sky. It’s a shopping cart, advertising Safeway grocery store.
28:20 – WR Kevin Simien drops a beautiful pass from Barrett – if he controls it, he’s gone for the touchdown and giving Calgary a little bit of a cushion.
29:00 – DL Mike Campbell brings down Danny Barrett with one hand. What a strong dude. That’s impressive stuff.
29:40 – Calgary punts. It’s the first touch of the day for Rocket Ismail, the Argos’ marquee signing. He’s got wheels. Look at him go! Starting from the 5, he’s down to the Calgary 37… and… fumbles. Wow.
30:04 – John Candy, clad in all black with matching sunglasses, looks on stoically.
33:50 – OL Lloyd Fairbanks, 38 years old, playing in the final game of his 17-season CFL career. It’s his first appearance ever in a Grey Cup game – shocking stuff for a guy named to six all-star teams.
36:15 – Rocket Ismail almost fumbles again… but fortunately for him, he’s aided from actually fumbling courtesy of a penalty flag. As it turns out, Toronto has gone offside. Calgary picks up the first down.
40:35 – Playing at wideout, Rocket Ismail catches the dumpoff pass from Dunigan and… fumbles again!! Lucky that one of his own linemen is right there to jump on the ball, preventing any further damage.
42:28 – At the half, the score is Argos 11, Stampeders 10.
43:00 – Calgary elects to kick to start off… weird. The Rocket is at the ready; this time, fortunately, he brings the ball down to the Calgary 35 for a nice 44-yard return.
44:50 – A pump fake and a bomb from Dunigan to Damon Williams, but he’s covered well deep in the end zone. No dice.
45:30 – Dunigan is sacked, and Calgary’s Tim Cofield knocks the ball loose! It’s Stamps ball at their own 31.
47:00 – Danny Barrett hits Allen Pitts over the middle for a big pickup.
49:55 – Mark McLoughlin comes out to hit the 42-yarder… and it’s wide left, and out of the back of the end zone for a…
The best single point that ever was. The score is now tied at 11 apiece.
53:00 – In redemption, McLoughlin now hits a 27-yarder to put the Stamps up 14-11.
54:25 – Danny Barrett uncorks one to Pee Wee Smith, but he can’t hang on. There’s also a penalty for procedure on Calgary (false start in American rules), so it would’ve wiped it out all the same.
56:10 – Not shown earlier in the footage is the single from Lance Chomyc to put the Argos down by two. Here, Dunigan lets it fly, bad shoulder and all, to Darrell K. Smith, who catches the 48-yard pass and walks it in. It’s a huge, huge score for the Argos, who have had terrible offensive abilities to date in this game. It’s now 19-14, Argos.
58:40 – Danny Barrett is limping. Not great for the Stamps’ hopes.
1:00:00 – it’s Michael “Pinball” Clemons! The most beloved Argo of all-time, who’s once again with the team, this time as GM. He was an absolutely electric RB and kick returner back in his playing days. We haven’t seen much of him in this game due to a previous leg injury, limiting his snaps.
1:02:30 – Steve Taylor, the Stamps’ backup QB, appears to be warming up on the sidelines. Calgary must be worried about Barrett’s status.
1:04:10 – Danny Barrett is picked off by CB Reggie Pleasant!
1:05:40 – WR Paul Masotti almost has the touchdown for the Argos, but he’s covered really tightly and juuust can’t hold on to the pass.
1:06:15 – Lancy Chomyc hits a 19-yard kick to make it 22-14, Argos.
1:06:50 – Toronto fucks up the kickoff, and the ball goes out of bounds. Calgary will have some good field position to work with.
1:08:00 – Allen Pitts scores for Calgary! With the convert, the Stamps are down 22-21. The horse is galloping down the sidelines to celebrate. Oh yeah.
1:09:50 – REDEMPTION. Rocket Ismail finds the hole on the sideline, going 87 yards for the kickoff return TD. A dagger. He made that look absolutely effortless.
1:11:40 – On replay, we see that somebody’s thrown a snowball at the Rocket. Seems on-brand for Canada.
1:12:15 – The Stamps’ Keyvan Jenkins fumbles the kickoff! Toronto recovers the ball again.
1:13:40 – What a bomb from Dunigan! Paul Masotti catches it, making it a 36-yard score to put the Stamps to bed for good. With the convert, the score is 36-21.
1:15:45 – Danny Barrett is sacked again. He’s been pummelled by the Argos’ D-line all game long.
1:18:37 – The Cup makes its first appearance on camera!
1:18:55 – Nice run by Matt Dunigan. What a week. A Grey Cup and a new baby all at once!
1:19:20 – Wayne Gretzky, part-owner of the Argos, makes an appearance of his own!
1:20:50 – CFL Commissioner Donald Crump (yes, that’s his actual name, I’m not making this up) is wearing a very stylish Hudson Bay Company jacket, hat and mittens as he carries the Grey Cup out from the sidelines.
1:21:50 – Attendants are getting the Argos’ locker room ready for celebrations.
1:22:45 – Another shot to the end zone for the Stamps. Allen Pitts goes up, but can’t haul in the pass.
1:24:20 – Danny Barrett looks end zone again… and is picked off again by Reggie Pleasant! That’ll do it.
1:27:00 – The Argos lift the Grey Cup, at long last.
Some might argue that 1991 was the pinnacle of Rocket Ismail’s career. While he broke franchise records for kick return yards in 1992, the Argos missed the playoffs the year after winning the Grey Cup, and Ismail was unhappy in Canada. He left for the NFL in 1993, where he never quite lived up to his lofty draft expectations. Bruce McNall, the Argos and LA Kings owner, was eventually arrested and convicted for conspiracy and fraud, and was also implicated in widespread art smuggling. His actions bankrupted the Kings hockey team, and forced a sale of the team to Labatt Brewing Co. in 1994. John Candy died prematurely of a heart attack that same year, shortly after selling his own shares in the team.
The Stampeders, bummed by the loss as they were, had much to be hopeful about: they were only just embarking on their run of greatness under Wally Buono. They would be back next season in the Grey Cup game, defeating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Toronto for the title. They would go on to win again in 1998 and 2001, and even after Buono’s departure, Calgary’s success as a CFL franchise has persisted, with consistent division titles and Grey Cup appearances and victories over the last three decades.
Thanks for reading! Next week, we’ll be looking at the 1989 Grey Cup, which is considered by tons of CFL fans to be the greatest Grey Cup game every played. I look forward to diving into it with you! Cheers.