Byron's Memory: A brilliant Montreal football experience
This memory was shared by a fan.
Mon dieu, quel match !!!
I arrived in Montreal early in the morning after a red-eye flight and it was threateningly cloudy and warm, impending storm weather as the Montreal humidity built up as it's known to do. Throughout the day sudden heavy bursts of rain came straight down, then as quick as they appeared would stop. On Ste. Catherine street I nipped into a dollar store and purchased a $2 umbrella. It would prove a worthy investment.
With hours til check-in time at this eccentric funky St. Denis hotel I found online, I wandered downtown Montreal taking in the familiar and new. I love this town, still feels like home and always like nowhere else in this country. Ah the humidity, all my previous recent visits had been in winter, I had not felt a Montreal summer since about 1992!
In my tramping along, at a superb east Ste. Catherine second hand book/movie/cd shop I found a book I somehow had no idea existed! Written in French by a La Presse sports reporter and published in 2006 titled Montreal Football Un siecle et des poussieres... (Montreal Football A century and a bit...) ! Wow! If you had asked me what i would most like to find while perusing used bookstores my fantasy answer would have been "a book about the Alouettes that I don't know about"! Even with the internet and eBay and all the rest it's neat to know a sweet book like this can show up unannounced, that in this day and age I can still find out about it the old school way, stumbling upon it on a shelf in a shop.
It even has some stuff about the Montreal Machine of the old short-lived World League. Yes, thanks to this book I learned that the second ever championship of this league the World Bowl ll was held in Montreal at the Olympic Stadium in June 1992 where a crowd of 45,000 watched the Orlando Thunder defeat the Sacramento Surge. Ha! there's some Canadian football trivia for you!
So after plenty good wandering I checked in to my funky Marilyn Monroe - themed (!) room. It was now getting close to game-time and I wanted to get there early for the pre-game fan festivities outside the stadium. On the walk there it began to rain and oh did it rain! Cats and dogs!! My dollar store umbrella coming in ever so handy!
Got to the stadium to find a bunch of people crowding under overhanging trees and crowding out the underside of a bbq tent, and another tent crowded out by a troupe of drummers drumming away fiercely while the rain came down in sheets.
Finally the stadium gates opened and priority one was to visit one of the Alouettes team stores where first thing to catch my eye was the familiar red, white, and blue Montreal Expos ball cap. Only replacing the Expos logo was the 1970 Alouettes logo! A perfect tribute. Sold! Essential purchase #2: a $5 plastic poncho, which was to be a wise investment indeed.
Soon the crowd was to be a sea of these ponchos, which came in yellow, red, and blue. I chose red. Primarily over their history red has been the colour of the Alouettes, particularly in the first 3 decades up to the late 1960s where for a few years they went green, then on to the classic Montreal red, white, and blue they've sported since. And while we're briefly discussing history, can we please bring back the nickname the Larks?
The game. The game! It only turned out easily the best football game I have ever attended. Yet it was a game that on paper had nothing going for it other than some possible drama owing to the fact that the Als had about 10 regulars injured. This long list including two top receivers Jamel Richardson and Brandon London, their top running back Brandon Whittaker, two of their top big boys in OLs Josh Bourke and Scott Flory, three linebackers including the hard hitting Kyries Hebert, and most notably their 20 year veteran QB Anthony Calvillo.
Frankly as amazing as he has been - and he has been amazing, having the same quarterback on your fave team for 20 years gets a bit same-y. I was actually looking forward to watching an Als team not QB'd by AC for the first time in 2 decades!
So no AC and likely a pretty green roster vs a solid Lions team was not promising for a win but would at least be interesting and possibly entertaining. That was my hope.
One thing about buying a single ticket is you pretty much can sit where you want. I was 3rd row behind the Als' bench - perfect. Because as you may know the sideline on a football field is like having the team locker room outside for all to see, there are all manner of moments going on there all game for the fascinated fan to watch. This is no hockey bench, this is a clubhouse.
I watched the 2nd string QB start and last less than one quarter. Hmm, ominous beginning. But then I watched the 3rd string QB, a young lad named Tanner Marsh go in and run like crazy - 9 runs for a 71 yards including a touchdown, throw like crazy - 329 yards which absolutely unbelievably included 4 interceptions (3 in the last quarter!) along with the 3 touchdowns he had a hand in. Since when does a QB ever have more interceptions than touchdowns and win the game??
Montreal went into the dressing room at halftime down 21-7. But somehow came out with a spectacular start to the 3rd quarter! They crawled back to within a touchdown only to see a subsequent missed field goal turn into a 100+ yard return for a Lions' touchdown. Amazingly the Als would return the favour when Tyron Carrier ran a Lions punt back 90 yards for a touchdown! Marsh then threw a 16 yard pass to Arland Bruce lll then would himself skip across the goal line for a 6 yard score.
This sort of roller coaster went on throughout the last half of the game until the Als found themselves down only 38-36. And here Marsh would throw his third and fourth interceptions in the last 3 minutes of the game! Ouch. Yes, most incredibly the Alouettes turned the ball over 6 times!!! Who ever wins a game with a stat like that?? Nobody!!
But every time they turned it over, every time poor Marsh tossed it into a Lions' hands I would watch him return to the bench and noticed he stayed focused, didn't look defeated or gloomy and I noticed his team's response as they continuously and encouragingly patted and reassured the rookie as though they believed in him no matter what. This was an amazingly cool and supportive group of Alouettes. A group who after every turnover would turn to the crowd imploring us to make a racket and disrupt Travis Lulay and his Lions' offence.
We went hoarse with the amount of times we had to attempt to drown out the Lions' offensive calls after the Alouettes all too generously gave BC the ball back. Again. And again. Yet every bit of noise helped because in the end BC could not capitalize on the turnover gifts and then Marsh would find Arland Bruce lll for some huge gains and he also ran for some. Half a dozen heartbreaking turnovers and yet nobody on that bench - and I was watching close - ever seemed to show any sign of giving up. Here they were with a depleted lineup and a 3rd string rookie QB and non-stop turnovers and yet watching the bench you would not be able to tell!
And then! With 48 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter the Als scrimmaged from their own 5 yard line. A must succeed completion to the sweet reliable hands of Bruce lll lead to a last gasp play. So with 6 seconds left on the clock Tanner Marsh threw a monster hail mary up high in the air towards the Als bench, 22,456 plastic poncho-covered Als fans held their breath as this beauty sailed an impossible skyward 57 yard arc to Eric Deslauriers who amazingly pulled it out of the air in what seemed like the greatest catch ever at that moment. It was so unbelievable! The soggy crowd went nuts! Click here to watch the final play of this game
After a burst of celebration throughout the stadium the Als bench then returned to business at hand and implored us all to hush while the team set up a snap for a 15 yard field goal with 1.9 seconds on the clock. That kick was calmly nailed by Sean Whyte. The crowd went crazy! The bench erupted onto the field as though they had just won the Grey Cup! Players jumped up and down and mobbed and hugged each other. What a fantastic finish! What an incredible story had unravelled before us, so unlikely under the circumstances!
Shortly after, at centre field, interviewed over the PA Tanner Marsh could barely contain himself as he was asked about what he had just pulled off! He was amazed at what had just transpired and at how his team stuck by him the whole time. I think we all were witnessing someone helplessly falling in love with Canadian Football right there before our eyes. Deslauriers, speaking after the game, said that last gasp pass was so pretty he actually thought at that moment he watched it sail towards him that he wished he could have taken a photograph. Beautiful. The things one thinks when time seemingly stands still.
Only my second Montreal Alouettes home game since the early 1980s turned out to be an event beyond what I could have hoped for. The weather, the fans, the story, the plays, the drama, the ending. A brilliant Montreal football experience.