After a 13-year drought, the Montreal Alouettes are preparing to play their first Gray Cup game.
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The Belle Province team will face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this Sunday for the top honors of the 2023 campaign. To get into the swing of things, here’s the story of the seven wins in the history of the Montreal organization:
The Alouettes’ first win came in Game 37 of the Gray Cup. It was also the first appearance in the final game of the CFL season for the franchise that was only four seasons old. It was founded by Léo Dandurand, Eric Cradock and the famous trainer Lew Hayman in 1946.
With a 12-8 record, the Als finished second in the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union, the forefathers of the Eastern Division. The Sparrows defeated the Ottawa Rough Riders during the first stage of the playoffs, which consisted of two home and away games. They then humiliated the Hamilton Tigers 40-0 in the sectional final.
The first triumph of the club from Montreal was 28-15 against the Calgary Stampeders. It was in front of more than 20,000 spectators and at Varsity Stadium in Toronto.
Fans had to wait 21 years before seeing their favorites lift the big trophy for the second time. In the meantime, the Alouettes have participated in the finals three times. The 1970 victory was somewhat of a surprise, as the Als had missed the playoffs in the previous three campaigns and finished third in their division during the regular season.
Led by head coach Sam Etcheverry, the Alouettes beat the Stampeders 23 to 10. The game played at CNE Stadium in Toronto was marred by disastrous field conditions. It was the last Gray Cup game played on natural grass until the 1984 game.
This victory in 1970 would mark the beginning of what many consider the best decade in the club’s history.
The Alouettes again achieved their third victory against a team from Alberta, but this time at the expense of the Edmonton Eskimos.
During the 1974 campaign, the Als alternated between two guards, Jimmy Jones and Sonny Wade. He was the first to start against Edmonton. Jones, however, was ineffective, and Wade replaced him in the second quarter when the score was 7-0 in favor of the Eskimos. The Alouettes eventually triumphed 20-7, and the pivot earned his second Finals MVP title, the one he won in 1970.
The famous “Ice Bowl” from 1977 remained etched in the collective imagination. Played at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, the showdown against the Eskimos resulted in a 41-6 victory for the Alouettes. However, the state of the field attracted attention again.
Two days before the game, the metropolis of Quebec was hit by a snowstorm. Keepers used coarse salt to melt the snow, but the next day the temperature dropped and a layer of ice formed.
The Alouettes were the best thanks to the genius of defenseman Tony Proudfoot. The American considered putting cleats under his boots to get better traction and urged his teammates to do the same. This gave the ‘Sparrows’ a significant advantage and dominance of the audience’s favourites.
This is the Alouettes’ third and final championship of the 1970s, after participating in six Gray Cup games (1970, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1979).
Photo credit: PIERRE-YVON PELLETIER/LES ARCHIVES/LE JOURNAL DE MONTREAL
After a name change to the Concordes (1982 to 1985), the team’s demise (1897 to 1995), and its return from the Baltimore Stallions (1996), the Alouettes finally returned to the top of the mountain at the end of the 2002 season.
The club, led by head coach Don Matthews, was dominant, finishing first in the East Division with a 13-5-1 record. The stars were running back Anthony Calvillo, running back Mike Pringle, wide receiver Ben Cahoon and defensive back Barron Miles.
In the grand final, the “Alsa” beat the Eskimos 25 to 16 at their stadium. Many will remember the parade that followed two days later through the streets of Montreal. About 250,000 people came to cheer on their champions.
Author of the photo: REUTERS
Between the 2002 and 2009 wins, the Alouettes lost in the finals three times (2005, 2006 and 2008). In his second season at the helm, head coach Mark Trestman helped his team go 15-3 and finish first in the East.
After defeating the British Columbia Lions 56-18 in the East final, the Als made an incredible comeback to win the final game 28-27 against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Club West was leading 27 to 11 with a little less than eight minutes left in the game. The Calvilla-led offense scored two touchdowns, including one that set up an interception by Jerald Brown. Down 27 to 25, the Alouettes got the ball for the final sequence at the 1:45 mark.
Several important catches followed, but the victory was still Damon Duval’s. With five seconds on the clock, the kicker missed a 43-yard attempt. However, the Roughriders had one player too many on the field. So they got a 10-meter penalty, and Duval got a second chance. He missed his 33-yard field goal to help the Alouettes win the sixth Gray Cup in their history.
Author of the photo: REUTERS
A year later, the same two teams met in a revenge game. The Alouettes triumphed again, this time by a score of 21 to 18. The Montreal club became the first CFL team to win two consecutive Gray Cup games in 13 years.
This matchup with a much less spectacular finish than the previous one was marked by the great play of receiver Jamel Richardson. The American had eight catches for 109 yards, earning the game’s MVP award.
This championship was the third and last in Calvillo’s career. He, Cahoon, Scott Flory and Anwar Steward are the four members of the team that have hoisted the Gray Cup in the organization’s last three wins.
1931 and 1944
You might be surprised to learn that the Alouettes aren’t the first “Montreal” team to win the Gray Cup. That honor goes to the Montreal AAA Wingred Wheelers, who defeated the Regina Roughriders 22-0 on December 5, 1931 at State Percival-Molson. The amateur team existed from 1872 to 1936.
The second championship belongs to Navy St. Hyacinthe-Donnacona, an amateur club founded during the Second World War. The team, which played its matches at the same venue as the current edition of the “Alsa”, won the precious trophy by defeating the Hamilton Wildcats 7:6 on November 25, 1944 in Ontario.