Oh, say, can you see weirder game?

November 21, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- The 1958 Colts won the greatest game ever played to become part of NFL lore. Their no-name descendants won the weirdest game ever played to make CFL history.

The Cold War is back, in more ways than one. The CFLs' 14-12 victory in yesterday's Eastern Division final is bound to set off a fresh round of anti-American hysteria in Canada. Bring Ollie North to the Grey Cup. It's time to wave the flag.

Those wacky CFLs became the first U.S. team to reach the Grey Cup, and they did it in the most hostile environment imaginable, fighting off freezing temperatures, 35-mph winds and dozens of snowballs thrown at their bench.

It was only fitting that the game reflected the surreal atmosphere. Frenzied, freezing Winnipeg transformed itself into Moscow on the Prairie. Fans waved banners such as "No Grey in the U.S.A.," and held the stars and stripes upside down.

Stop cutting the military!

The enemy is at our border.

In truth, the crowd of 25,067 was only responding to a week of absurd propaganda by Winnipeg management and media. The topper came at 3:30 a.m. yesterday, when Baltimore coach Don Matthews, quarterback Tracy Ham and running back Mike Pringle were awakened by crank phone calls.

For all the fuss made about ugly Americans contaminating the sacred, silly Canadian game, it was downright hilarious that Donald Igwebuike -- a Nigerian native -- kicked the game-winning, 54-yard field goal, the longest of his CFL career.

A true patriot, that Iggy.

And the rocket's red glare . . .

The officials surely were blinded when the CFLs returned a fumble for the game's only touchdown on a play that probably should have been blown dead.

The bombs bursting in air . . .

For the first time in his career, Winnipeg quarterback Matt Dunigan saw a certain touchdown pass bounce off the crossbar.

"Our 13th man," rush end Elfrid Payton said.

"Our best defender on that play," Matthews said.

The Blue Bombers wound up kicking a field goal to take a 12-8 lead late in the third quarter. They could have put the game away early in the fourth, but lined up for a 39-yard field goal against the wind, then botched the fake miserably.

Woe Canada.

Was that Cal Murphy or Bobby Bowden?

The wind, the entire game was dictated by the wind. Ever see a game in which the MVP was the guy who called the coin toss? Reserve quarterback John Congemi chose heads. And the game was over.

Baltimore chose to play with the wind at its back in the first and fourth quarters. Through all the madness that followed -- the 17 penalties, the seven field-goal attempts, the seven fumbles -- Winnipeg never had a chance.

"They told me on the bus yesterday that if I didn't win [the toss], just keep on walking to the other side," Congemi said. "That would have been it. They would have been going to Vancouver instead of us."

But heads it was.

And the fun began.

Ever see a game in which a coach took a safety with an 8-0 lead, figuring he couldn't punt out of field-goal range against the wind and that giving up two points was better than three?

Ever see a game in which a team attempted a field goal on first down? Used three return men on punts? Ran the option on second-and-10 to set up a 54-yard field goal?

In Windy-peg, Baltimore had no other choice.

Matthews went for a field goal on first down at the end of the first quarter, reasoning he might as well try for points while Baltimore still had the wind.

The move didn't work -- Iggy alertly threw an incompletion after a poor hold to maintain possession -- but it was the right idea.

The extra return men? Matthews wanted them to protect against singles and poor field position. The 4-yard option run by Ham? Matthews said it made the call for Iggy a "no-brainer."

John Congemi, MVP.

The Bombers kicked into the wind to start the game. The CFLs returners were so confident the kick would go nowhere, they lined up at the 38-yard line -- and caught the ball at the 44.

Oh, that first scoring drive was a classic, evoking memories of those great scripted openings by Joe Montana in San Francisco's Super Bowl triumphs.

Two runs for 7 yards by Pringle.

A windblown, 69-yard punt for a single by Josh Miller.

"I've never been a part of anything like that in my entire life," Miller said. "It was ridiculous. If you hit a 30-yard punt into the wind, it was a crushed bomb."

Think how poor Lester Smith felt after mishandling two wobbly punts. He had no choice but to try and try again.

"I wasn't dreading it," Smith said, "but at the same time, it was like, 'Here we go again.' "

Better to field punts than to get hit by snowballs.

"I got hit with one, but I didn't care," nose tackle Jearld Baylis said. "I guess they were trying to cool us off, because we were kicking some butt."

America, America, God shed his grace on thee.

And crown thy good, with brotherhood, for the weirdest game ever played.

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