Winnipeg & Montreal Meet In First Ever Grey Cup Matchup
By Chris Lawton
It is quite a surprise that the two teams have not faced each other for the trophy before when you consider that the Blue Bombers have been playing since 1930, and the Alouettes since 1946. That too in a league that has often only had eight or nine teams in it. However there have been some historical reasons why this matchup has not occurred before.
Montreal's Variable Franchise History
Montreal had a period without a team. The original team was founded in 1946 as a member of the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union, and amalgamated into the CFL when it was founded in 1958. That franchise folded post 1981 to be replaced by the Montreal Concordes.
That Montreal franchise was subsequently renamed the Alouettes in 1986 on the 40th anniversary of the inception of the Alouettes franchise. However, they folded before making the 1987 season.
The US expansion experiment saw the Baltimore Stallions be a huge success. But when the NFL’s Ravens came to town, the Stallions headed north to Montreal and the Alouettes were born again. For reasons lost on me the CFL and the Als do not consider the Stallions to be part of the Montreal franchise’s continuity; rather, all Montreal teams since 1946 are included in the team’s history with a ‘hiatus’ from 1987 to 1995.
Which means there was a nine-season period where the two teams could never have faced off in the Grey Cup.
Winnipeg: The Westerners In The East
While the Als were on their hiatus the CFL reconfigured their divisions for the sake of balance, and Winnipeg, a proud West Franchise, found themselves in the East Division between 1987 and 1994. In 1987 ownership of the Arizona Outlaws of the recently disbanded first USFL suggested joining the CFL but were rejected.
Interestingly the Blue Bombers lost the East Final to Baltimore 14-12 in 1994. Which could have been the first time these franchises clashed in the CFL playoffs, but as we have seen, Baltimore are not counted as part of the Alouettes history.
Winnipeg got one season back at home in the West in 1996 before being placed back in the East in 1997. This time to replace the folded Ottawa Rough Riders franchise. They would then spend five seasons in the East before the Ottawa Renegades appeared. Sadly, they only lasted until 2005 so Winnipeg spent another period in the East, until 2014 when the Ottawa REDBLACKS arrived. Similarly, to how they treat the Alouettes, the CFL regards all these teams as part of one single non-continuous Ottawa based franchise for historical purposes.
What all that means then is that the Blue Bombers spent a total of 13 seasons in the East Division at the same time as the Als.
The Big Playoff Clash Of 2000
🇨🇦🏈🏆 Montreal Alouettes and Winnipeg Blue Bombers meet in the Grey Cup for first time this year. That leaves only B.C. Lions and Ottawa as the only current East-West-based cities to have never met in the championship. Winnipeg and Ottawa (then Rough Riders) last met in 1941. pic.twitter.com/uJzjAijSNF— Daryl Slade (@Stampeders1945) November 14, 2023
Looking at the history then we see that the Alouettes and Blue Bombers have historically been capable of meeting in the Grey Cup since 1946. That’s 77 years.
However, Montreal had a nine-year absence. Whilst Winnipeg were in the East Division for thirteen years at the same time as the Alouettes. That still leaves well over 50 years, during most of which they would have been two teams in a nine-team league that they managed not to face off in a Grey Cup game. All the more staggering when you consider that since 1946 and the inception of the Alouettes, Montreal have appeared in 19 Grey Cup games, and Winnipeg in 21 Grey Cup games.
But they have had one big playoff clash at the end of the 2000 CFL season when they met in the East Division Final. That year the 12-6 Alouettes had led the East, and in the East Final hosted the 7-10-1 Blue Bombers who had upset Hamilton in the Semi-Final. Despite Winnipeg taking a 13-0 lead after one quarter, the Alouettes won that one 35-24 to go to the Grey Cup. That time around the Als were favourites over the Blue Bombers. This time Winnipeg are the clear favourites, but we won’t know what happens until the game plays out of course.
The Routes To The Grey Cup
The 100th Grey Cup, which will be held at Hamilton’s home stadium, Tim Horton’s Filed this Sunday, November the 19th will pit two teams against each other who have very different recent histories, and who arrived here in very different ways.
Winnipeg will be appearing in their fourth consecutive Grey Cup game. Having already won two in a row (2019 & 2020) before being upset last year. No wonder their social media team have been using ‘reclaim the throne’ so prominently. This is a great time for Winnipeg fans. Since 2016 they have amassed an 84-38 regular season record and made seven consecutive playoff appearances.
Last year they set a team record for wins at 15-3, and this year they didn’t slip far from those lofty heights finishing 14-4. During the regular season they faced the Alouettes twice. Beating them in Montreal 17-3 in Week 4 and drubbing them at home 47-17 in week 12 of the CFL season. They are on a five game winning streak heading into the Grey Cup game.
Montreal have not been to the Grey Cup since recording back-to-back victories in 2009 and 2010. After losing in the East Final in 2014 they hit a rough patch going 21-51 between 2015 and 2018 and failing to make the playoffs. However, since 2019 they have turned a 37-31 record into four consecutive playoff appearances.
Finishing 11-7 this year is their best performance of that run. They were at 6-7 at one point and were notably beating teams with a losing record and losing to teams with a winning record. They have gained momentum of late though, going on a seven game winning streak (including two playoff wins) and toppling the record setting 16-2 Argos in this years East Division Final.
The Blue Bombers will be strong favourites having beaten the Als twice, but Montreal will have been given huge confidence by their recent run and win over Toronto.
As ever it will be fun to see how it all plays out. Check it out this coming Sunday from 11PM UK time.
Feature Image Credit: Peter Power/The Canadian Press
Chris originally started following the NFL with the ‘first wave’ of fans when it was shown on Channel 4 in the 1980’s. He has been a keen supporter of the Miami Dolphins since 1983. Chris first encountered the CFL in 2016 and instantly fell in love with the Canadian game. He has been writing about the CFL 2017. Chris has a degree in history, postgraduate degree in librarianship and can be found on twitter as @CFLfanUK