TORONTO – Over one hundred years after the first Grey Cup was played, the Toronto Argonauts brought the iconic trophy back to where it all started.
A sold-out crowd of 53,208 at the Rogers Centre rose to their feet and erupted into a deafening roar as the final seconds ticked off the Argos’ 35-22 win over the Calgary Stampeders on Sunday in the 100th Grey Cup game.
Argos fan Ben Westerik said it’s fitting that his hometown team was able to claim a place in Canadian football history with this win.
“It means a lot,” said the 22-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., after the game. “Since the first Grey Cup was won here, and now the 100th has been won … it’s pretty fantastic.”
The first Grey Cup was won in 1909 by the University of Toronto Varsity Blues on a field in what is now the upscale neighbourhood of Rosedale.
Westerik says the championship title also comes at an appropriate for a city that has been struggling to hold onto its football fans amid a myriad of other professional sports options.
“I mean this city hasn’t had a championship star for a couple of years now. Everyone kind of feels like we are the sports city that always loses and it’s kind of felt that way for a good long time now,” he said.
“And now we finally have ourselves a championship. So I’m feeling pretty ecstatic.”
The highly anticipated match got off to a quick start with Chad Owens, this year’s CFL outstanding player, scoring the first touchdown minutes into the game.
The crowd — many dressed in Argos blue — waved flags, blew into plastic horns and bellowed out the team’s trademark chant — “Arrrrgoooooooos!” — throughout the high-stakes match between the East and West Division champions.
Those dressed in Stampeders red could also be heard screaming “Go Stamps Go!” at the start, but were given little chance to cheer in the second half of the game.
Defeated fan Dan Schaffer had little to say following the loss.
“The Stamps got crushed,” said the 50-year-old from Fort Erie, Ont. “They stink.”
But says he still believes they have can make it up next year.
“They always have a chance,” Schaffer said.
Calgary native Julie Ward said Toronto just played a better game.
“They played a tough game but Toronto beat us. What can we say?” she asked. “(The Stamps) tried their best and they did their best.”
The atmosphere outside the stadium was rowdy as joyous Argos fans whooped and chanted in the streets. Cars driving by honked their horns and flew CFL flags from their windows.
There was a noticeable police presence outside the stadium before and after the game, but cold temperatures most likely deterred raucous fans from getting into trouble.
Both CFL teams had a lot on the line for a win. Calgary hadn’t won a Grey Cup since 2008 and Toronto hadn’t hoisted the trophy since 2004. And the last time the Argos won the Grey Cup at home was in 1952 when they beat the Edmonton Eskimos.
Governor-General David Johnston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi were among the dignitaries at the game.
Harper, who is from Toronto but has his political riding in Calgary, sent a tweet after the game congratulating the Argos on the win.
Ford and Nenshi had made a bet on its outcome, with the mayor of the losing city promising to donate his weight in food to a food bank and wear the winning team’s jersey to a council meeting.
After the final whistle Nenshi sent out a tweet congratulating the Argos on a great game, and thanked the Stampeders for “an incredible season, and to Toronto for putting on an amazing event.”
Meanwhile, Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty had bet before the game that the premier of the losing province would have to donate 100 warm clothing items to a charitable group of the winning premier’s choice. They agreed towards the end of the game that both would make a donation.
Argos fan Justine Bertrand came to the game from nearby Ajax, Ont., with her mother, father, husband and six-year-old son Aedan.
She says a win will show the rest of Canada that Toronto is a still a football town.
“It would mean a lot to this city because the city has nothing to cheer about right now,” Bertrand said. “It will mean a lot to the fans because there are faithful fans in this city that nobody remembers.”
Bertrand was ecstatic at the turnout for the game.
“This feels good to see everybody out here,” she said.
Inside the stadium, the mood was jovial between Argos and Stamps fans, along with others representing the league’s remaining teams.
But the crowd was quick to show its distaste for the halftime show performer, teen idol Justin Bieber.
Both times when a photo of the Stratford, Ont., native was shown on the JumboTron, the crowd erupted into boos.
And when the superstar hit the stage following performances by Carly Rae Jepsen Jepsen, pop-punk bank Marianas Trench, and Canadian rock legend Gordon Lightfoot, the football fans continued with long and enduring jeers.
Argos fan Jamie Wolodarskym says the Argos are long overdue for a title and a win at home is just icing on the cake.
“It means everything,” said the 40-year-old Toronto man.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Sunday’s game was 100 years after the first Grey Cup.