EDMONTON — Ten years ago, I began a new chapter in my broadcasting career, moving up from Lloydminster to become a sports anchor and reporter with Global Saskatoon. Little did I know that move would spark a passion for something I had little exposure to over the years: Canadian University Football.
On Saturday, Nov. 14, Canadians from coast to coast will be exposed to the 79th Hardy Cup Final. You’ll get to experience something that I’ve seen first hand for a decade: A fast-paced, entertaining brand of football that can produce some top stars in both the CFL and NFL.
I’ll never forget my first game.
Nov. 19, 2005 – my fourth day on the job – the Saskatchewan Huskies hosting the Laval Rouge et Or in the CIS Mitchell Bowl (National Semi Final). I remember sitting in the press box and looking around. The atmosphere was electric! Thousands of fans packed Griffiths Stadium… Screaming… Chanting… An atmosphere I thought would only exist in pro sports.
With 30 seconds to go, the Rouge et Or scored a touchdown and were within two points of sending the game into overtime. It was as if time stood still. You could feel the tension in the stadium. The crowd noise rising as Benoit Groulx stepped up for the two-point convert. He rolled out to his right, threw the ball towards the endzone where it was batted down by Jordy Burrows. The crowd erupted. Fans – pressed up along the sidelines – celebrated as their team earned a spot in the Vanier Cup.
I’ll never forget that game.
Since then, I’ve been blessed with seeing some pretty amazing moments. I was sent to Ottawa to cover the 2006 Mitchell Bowl, where the Huskies erased a 21-10 deficit to defeat the Ottawa Gee-Gees and book a spot in the Vanier Cup on home turf.
In 2009, Grant Shaw missed a game-winning 35-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in the 73rd Hardy Cup Final, allowing the Calgary Dinos to stun the Huskies in Saskatoon.
In 2014, Connor Ralph with the biggest tackle of his life. He sacked Regina Rams quarterback Noah Picton late in the fourth quarter, giving the Alberta Golden Bears their first on-field victory in four years. As I stood on the sidelines and with fans storming the field in celebration, you could see the faces of the players and coaches. A weight was lifted off their shoulders.
I’ll never forget those games.
But it’s the players that fuel my passion the most. Seeing these young guys grow into young men who would either further their football career or become outstanding citizens in society.
Players that have gone on to see successful professional careers: Nate Coehoorn (Dinos/Eskimos), Grant Shaw (Huskies/Eskimos), Ben Heenan (Huskies/Riders/Colts (NFL)), Scott McHenry (Huskies/Riders), just to name a few.
Jade Etienne is one of my favourite stories. Here’s a kid who I first met as a kicker with the Saskatchewan Huskies. In 2009, he broke his back and quite frankly, his football career was in jeopardy. Instead, he fought back and overcame his injury. He became an All-Canadian receiver and was drafted fourth overall in the 2011 CFL Draft by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
On Saturday, Canadians will get a chance to forge their own memories.
Perhaps someone will be inspired by two-time Canada West Player of the Year, Dinos QB Andrew Buckley. Maybe an aspiring coach will see just how successful UBC Head Coach Blake Nill is, leading the Thunderbirds to the Hardy Cup Final in his first season with the team. These are the stars of tomorrow and, if given the chance, they would love to entertain you for a few hours, creating new fans in the process.
The (1) Calgary Dinos host the (6) UBC Thunderbirds on Saturday, Nov 14 at 12 p.m. MST. You can watch the game LIVE on Global TV.