For those of you who missed it, the Saint Mary’s Huskies (the home underdogs in the most literal sense of that phrase you’ll ever hear) just defeated the heavily favoured Laval Rouge et Or 24-2. SMU’s defence is the star of this game, forcing five turnovers and scoring their own touchdown. There’s no better way for a defense to help out an injured and sidelined quarterback by putting their own points on the board! I just love it when that happens – it’s even sweeter than a short-handed goal in hockey.
Laval’s points came on a punt return and a missed field goal return by the Huskies – in Canadian football, the defending team has to get the recovered ball back out of the end zone, or they concede a single point to the offense. I like it, because it puts even more emphasis on field position. It’s a three-down game where you always need to be just that little bit more focussed on the big picture than in American football.
Anyway, this victory is one of the sweetest in recent memory – ranking right up there with that first Vanier Cup win in 2001. Back then, everyone knew what Saint Mary’s had, but they hadn’t been able to get the big one, thanks to heartbreaking playoff losses in 1999 at the Vanier (to, guess who: Laval) and 2000 at the Atlantic. In 2001, Saint Mary’s became the first Atlantic* team to win the Vanier Cup since Acadia, in 1981.
* - The nomenclature can be confusing. The Atlantic Bowl was a unique part of Canadian football history; a CIS semi-final game that was always held at Huskies Stadium, except in 1976 when it went up to Acadia. When I say, though, that SMU was the first Atlantic team to win the Vanier Cup (the university championship) in a long time, I’m referring to the Atlantic University Sport conference – the smallest in the country, with only four teams. (There are many more universities, but only four play football!) Interestingly, there wasn’t that much of a home field advantage for SMU at the Atlantic: when they won the Atlantic to be able to play in it, their record is 7-9.
This victory is completely different. Aside from a closer game earlier this year, and forgetting 2001 and 2002 when the Huskies steamrolled virtually everyone they faced, Laval has had our number – most memorably for me and folks my age, we’d had our asses handed to us twice in 2003 (first severely on a rainy day in the regular season (since the Atlantic conference has so few teams, they’ve been playing a few against Quebec opponents in recent years) and then again at the Vanier Cup, where SMU’s defense certainly answered the call… but scored more points than our offense on the way to a 14-7 loss).
They were interviewing members of the pit crew today. None of them remembered where it came from! Geez, it was new when I started at SMU! Where are Mouse and Spaz when you need them? Don't tell me that it's a legend already? Ah, but this is a university, and people don't stay, and memories are short.
This year, Laval went wire-to-wire as the #1 ranked team in the country (our ranking system is far superior to that of the American system, in that our rankings don’t actually mean anything and we actually get to have real playoffs), the Huskies of today are a generation removed from the juggernauts of the turn of the century, and nobody outside the city block of Robie, Inglis, Gorsebrook and Tower were expecting the Huskies to win today.
Yet, they did. SMU played a very smart game with what they had, they didn’t try to do too much, and now they’re going to the Vanier Cup for the fifth time in nine years.