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Hi again, folks. The CFL Beat is back this week with a look at the championship game from one of the most memorable seasons in league history – the 1989 season. Read on!
Date: November 24th, 1989
Venue: SkyDome, Toronto, ON
Saskatchewan Roughriders fast facts:
- Season record: 9-9 (3rd in West)
- Head Coach: John Gregory
- Quarterback: Kent Austin
Nobody had the Riders making it to the Grey Cup in 1989. To get there, they beat the Calgary Stampeders 33-26 in the West semifinal, and then went on to shock the record-setting 16-2 Edmonton Eskimos with a 32-21 victory in the West final. QB Kent Austin, who was a focal point of the Riders in the late ’80s and early ’90s, would later go on to coach in the CFL, including for the below-mentioned Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where he served as head coach, GM, and VP of football operations.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats fast facts:
- Season record: 12-6 (1st in East)
- Head Coach: Al Bruno
- Quarterback: Mike Kerrigan
The Ti-Cats won the East with a 12-6 record, and went in to the Grey Cup game as major favourites. They had seven CFL All-Stars (receivers Rocky DiPietro and Tony Champion, offensive linemen Jason Riley and Miles Gorrell, defensive linemen Mike Walker and Grover Covington, and linebacker James West) in the lineup, not to mention the Eastern All-Stars in QB Mike Kerrigan, RB Derrick McAdoo, OL Dale Sanderson, LB Frank Robinson, and DB Stephen Jordan. Not only was the team loaded with individual talent, but the Ti-Cats had beaten Saskatchewan twice in the regular season – 34-17 in Regina and 46-40 in Hamilton.
0:02 – The SkyDome had just opened in the summer of 1989, and the shiny new building was the talk of the continent thanks to its newfangled retractable roof. Built primarily for baseball, as the American League’s Toronto Blue Jays desperately needed a better home than the shoddy, freezing and windy Exhibition Stadium, it also was the home of the CFL Toronto Argonauts from 1989-2015. It was never a great football venue, despite what some say. The roof was closed for the game.
0:18 – The Riders kick off to begin the game. Hamilton starts on offence from their own 37.
2:30 – Mike Kerrigan gets sacked on 2nd and 10 to end the drive. Saskatchewan takes over after the punt.
4:15 – Saskatchewan goes 2-and-out to give the ball right back.
5:05 – Earl Winfield with a big runback and… fumble! Did Winfield accidentally kick the ball out of bounds? He did… but it was unintentional. Hamilton keeps the ball.
7:00 – Ti-Cat Richard Estell is down, and needs to be helped off the field.
8:50 – Paul Osbaldiston kicks the field goal, and puts Hamilton up 3-0.
11:50 – Saskatchewan slotback Jeff Fairholm is down on the field, but is able to walk off under his own power. Commentary notes the disdain amongst players for the artificial turf in the SkyDome.
13:20 – Kent Austin is picked off by Frank Robinson!
13:55 – Mike Kerrigan is almost picked off by Saskatchewan DB Harry Skinner – he got very, very lucky that Skinner couldn’t quite hang on.
14:30 – Tony Champion makes a big catch and moves to the outside; as he gets thrown out of bounds, he goes down hard.
17:50 – Paul Osbaldiston connects for another field goal, and it’s now 6-0, Hamilton.
18:25 – Commentary says that Hamilton’s Tony Champion has bruised ribs – he’s such a key part of Hamilton’s offence and it’ll be a big loss if he can’t go.
21:30 – The Riders get a single point thanks to a booming punt from Terry Baker. It’s now 6-1, Hamilton.
23:10 – The Joker is in attendance. I get more of a Jack Nicholson vibe for this particular version.
25:15 – Earl Winfield has a great catch to pick up the first down for the Ti-Cats.
25:50 – HOW DID RICHARD ESTELL CATCH THAT???
26:30 – Tony Champion is back, and he just hauled in the ball deep in the end zone for the first major of the game! After the convert, it’s 13-1, Hamilton.
28:10 – An impressive runback from Saskatchewan’s Tim McCray! He picks up 55 yards.
33:20 – Man, Tony Champion can catch anything. What a player.
34:45 – Jeff Fairholm is back, and picks up a nice 22-yard gain on a slant route to the inside followed by a good cutback.
37:00 – The commentary is fawning over the concept of private boxes in a stadium. This, of course, seems quaint to us now, but in the late ’80s in Canada, this was legitimately a huge deal to get a venue with such amenities in the country. Hilarious to think how far we’ve come in just 30 years.
38:55 – Kent Austin hits Donald Narcisse at the 5-yard line, and Saskatchewan is poised to strike.
39:25 – Riders score! Ray Elgaard hauls in the pass, and after the convert, the score is now 13-8 for Hamilton.
40:25 – Elgaard’s moustache is glorious.
42:30 – Rocky DiPietro, at the time the CFL’s all-time league leader in receptions, picks up a first down for Hamilton.
43:50 – Ti-Cats answer back! Derrick McAdoo has a beauty 30-yard run to score, and Hamilton is now up 20-8.
45:35 – Saskatchewan wastes no time in responding once more. What a play – it’s a 75-yard catch and run from Austin to Jeff Fairholm! Ridgway makes the convert, and the score is 20-15, Hamilton.
49:05 – Tony Champion. Right place, right time. I am so impressed.
49:45 – Derrick McAdoo is making the Saskatchewan D-line pay with his running.
51:25 – Rocky DiPietro picks up another first down for Hamilton!
52:00 – McAdoo just refuses to be tackled. What a beast. This is Marshawn-esque.
53:05 – McAdoo again – down to the 1.
53:40 – McAdoo – who else? punches the ball in. Hamilton scores again, and after the kick, it’s 27-15, Ti-Cats.
55:25 – Mark Guy’s kickoff return sets Saskatchewan up from their own 47 for a chance to respond once more.
57:25 – Ray Elgaard gets the first down for the Riders.
59:30 – Kent Austin hits James Ellingson to put the Riders in the red zone once more!
1:00:05 – Donald Narcisse hauls in a pass right at the goal line! Saskatchewan refuses to go away. With the convert, it’s 27-22 for Hamilton.
1:01:50 – Narcisse’s hair is awesome.
1:04:10: “If Margaret Mead, the famed anthropologist, saw this, she might launch another expedition.” A scathing indictment of Saskatchewan’s fans.
1:04:35 – Rocky DiPietro makes the catch, but upon getting swarmed by defenders, ends up fumbling the ball away, and Saskatchewan recovers!
1:06:30 – Dave Ridgway attempts a 50-yard field goal, but misses. It’s 27-22, Hamilton, after 30 minutes.
1:07:35 – Al Bruno looks like he should be in the, uh, “sanitation business”, rather than the head coach of a football team…
1:13:25 – Dave Ridgway DOINKs the upright, but the kick is good! The score is now 27-25, Hamilton.
1:16:15 – Tony Champion makes another unreal catch for the Ti-Cats!
1:18:15 – Paul Osbaldiston kicks another field goal for Hamilton, and it’s now 30-25, Tiger-Cats.
1:18:40 – Foster’s, which was licensed for North American brewing by the Carling-O’Keefe Breweries and later the Molson Brewing Company, was the title sponsor of the Grey Cup game during the late ’80s. Commentators are announcing the prize package the MVP award winners receive for their play; it is as follows: 1) a soapstone sculpture; 2) a wall clock, and 3) a Pentax camera. Absolutely VIP stuff here, folks.
1:23:40 – Paul Osbaldiston can’t handle the high snap, and is forced to give up a safety. It’s now 30-27, Hamilton.
1:25:30 – Donald Narcisse cuts to the middle, grabs the checkdown, and goes on an incredible 52-yard run to move the Riders deep into Ti-Cat territory.
1:28:00 – Kent Austin airs it out super deep to Ray Elgaard, but it’s incomplete; thanks to a DPI call, it’s 1st and goal from the 1-yard line.
1:28:50 – Tim McCray punches it in – and Saskatchewan has their first lead of the game! With the convert, it’s now 34-30, Roughriders.
1:34:30 – Kent Austin connects on a bomb to Mark Guy, who puts Saskatchewan deep into Hamilton territory once more.
1:36:50 – Austin can’t connect with Jeff Fairholm in the end zone, and the field goal unit comes on.
1:37:28 – Dave Ridgway connects on the kick, and the score is now 37-30, Saskatchewan.
1:39:25 – Mike Kerrigan gets picked off over the middle by safety Glen Suitor (now a TSN football analyst)!
1:40:15 – On the very next play, the Riders run a little flea-flicker – Ray Elgaard makes the throw trying to connect deep with Mark Guy, but is picked off by DB Will Lewis, who’s in perfect position to snag the underthrown ball.
1:41:40 – Mike Kerrigan is sacked at his own two-yard line. Not great.
1:49:30 – off the punt, Earl Winfield pitches the ball to RB Sunny Gordon on the reverse, who has an awesome return!
1:53:10 – Paul Osbaldiston hits a field goal from 47 yards, and it’s now 37-33, Saskatchewan.
1:55:00 – James Ellingson has a first down for the Roughriders.
1:56:05 – Don Narcisse has another first down for Saskatchewan, who are driving very effectively!
1:58:20 – Another first down, this time by Ray Elgaard. That’s Saskatchewan’s 13th first down in the second half alone. Wow.
1:59:40 – Austin looks end zone again, but it’s incomplete. Will Lewis thinks he’s picked him off, but he’s out of bounds as he rolls with the ball.
2:00:30 – Another field goal. It’s 40-33, Riders.
2:01:00 – The Grey Cup is paraded out on to the field by uniformed RCMP officers, as has become tradition at Grey Cup games.
2:01:45 – First down Hamilton, thanks to a catch from Rocky DiPietro.
2:02:10 – Derrick McAdoo picks up another Hamilton first down, and the clock stops due an injury to Saskatchewan LB Steve Crane.
2:03:55 – Incomplete to Tony Champion, but he draws the penalty flag for pass interference. A very poorly timed infraction by the Riders.
2:04:20 – Oh shit. There is no flag. Oh wow. How the hell do you not call that? Hamilton fans are absolutely losing it in the stands. Al Bruno is absolutely furious. I don’t blame him in the least.
2:05:37 – Incomplete to Earl Winfield. THIS time, there’s a flag.
2:06:20 – Derrick McAdoo is stuffed. 2nd down coming up.
2:07:00 – Mike Kerrigan is in trouble – he gets the ball away, but it’s incomplete to Rocky DiPietro, who’s getting his jersey pulled quite blatantly.
2:07:40 – TONY. FUCKING. CHAMPION. WHAT A CATCH. With the convert, it’s now tied at 40 – overtime looms. There’s only been one OT Grey Cup game to date at this time – the 1961 championship between Winnipeg and Hamilton, won by the Blue Bombers. What an incredible comeback.
2:10:15 – Kent Austin tries to get the ball to Don Narcisse, but it’s incomplete. 32 seconds left.
2:11:05 – Austin gets it to Ray Elgaard, who immediately turns to the sideline and runs out.
2:11:40 – Mark Guy, the rookie, has another excellent catch to keep the drive going. Guy has had a fantastic game – he only had 114 receiving yards in the entire regular season, and with 100 yards tonight, he’s taken a huge leap forward. There’s 19 seconds left.
2:12:10 – Mark Guy, again! Sideline. 9 seconds left.
2:12:48 – Riders kneel, and there’s 7 seconds left. Dave Ridgway is coming out.
2:14:40 – “It’s up – it’s good!” Bedlam in Regina. Saskatchewan leads 43-40, and there’s only three seconds left on the clock.
2:15:35 – Dave Ridgway is a hero forever in Saskatchewan. Like all heroes from the Prairies, he sports an absolutely glorious mullet.
2:16:55 – it’s a squib kick, and sent back the other way (in CFL rules, any man behind the kicking player is eligible to touch the ball), but it’s no good. The Saskatchewan Roughriders win their first Grey Cup since 1966!
The province of Saskatchewan rejoiced in victory, scarcely able to believe the Roughriders’ incredible run. The ’80s had been a challenging time for the team; they hadn’t made the playoffs since 1976, and it took a province-wide fundraising lottery in 1987 to keep the team from folding, as the Montreal Alouettes had done in the same year. When John Gregory arrived as head coach in 1987, the team’s fortunes began to turn around at last. The 1989 Grey Cup remains one of the most improbable victories in the history of Canadian football, and the last-minute heroics, known as “The Kick” in Saskatchewan, almost certainly did a lot to keep the team afloat during some very lean years. Believe it or not, the Roughriders actually lost $196,000 in 1989 – the costs of post-season travel ended up being a gigantic expense for the team, which would have posted an $85,000 profit if they had missed the playoffs.
As for Hamilton, they wouldn’t be back in the Grey Cup until 1998, and wouldn’t win until 1999. The Tiger-Cats declined to 6-12 and last in the East in 1990, costing Al Bruno his head coaching job. With the early-90s Argos the team to beat, and with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills the class of the AFC, the franchise almost folded due to lack of attendance. Fittingly, it was another fan fundraiser that kept the team in Hamilton, and when CFL Hall of Fame QB Ron Lancaster (of Saskatchewan Roughriders fame!) was hired as the team’s head coach, the team’s fortunes rebounded significantly.
If you’re interested in learning more about the ’89 Grey Cup, consider checking out this article from Rogers Sportsnet, which is an oral history of the championship game from former CFL players, coaches, and media members covering the game. A fascinating read.
That’s it for this week! Check back in a week, when we look at the 93rd Grey Cup, featuring one of the greatest quarterback duels of all time between CFL Hall of Famers Ricky Ray and Anthony Calvillo.