|Tense moment for Calgary fans. Hamilton wide receiver Brandon Banks' touch down was called back due to a flag on the play in the fourth quarter during the 102nd Grey Cup in Vancouver, B.C. on Nov. 30, 2014. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Darryl Dyck)|
There was a very brief moment Sunday evening when Calgary Stampeders fan Clint Noble thought the Grey Cup was slipping through his team's fingers.
It didn't last long -- a penalty that nullified a Brandon Banks touchdown late in the game put a welcome end to the drama as the Stampeders defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 20-16 to capture the 102nd Grey Cup at B.C. Place.
With 35 seconds left, the stadium erupted in cheers and gasps as Banks returned a punt into the end zone, but an illegal block penalty scuttled the play.
"When it's live, you don't really see it on the replay, so it's hard to say if it was legit," Noble, 28 said of the penalty. "There were a few calls the other way earlier that were controversial, too."
Calgarian Merlin Radke noticed the penalty before Banks had even finished running.
"I saw the flag drop right away so I kind of sat back and laughed," said Radke, 51.
Outside the stadium after the game, Stamps fans were predictably elated, screaming cries of victory and hamming it up for TV news cameras.
Some Hamilton supporters were declaring their team had been robbed, but others were more sanguine.
Kostas Georgakoulias of Hamilton chalked it up to a "tough call" for the ref. And besides, he added, if Hamilton had played better, that one play wouldn't have been the difference between winning and losing.
"To beat Calgary, you have to play a perfect game," said Georgakoulias, who was wearing a hard hat adorned with Tiger-Cats stickers and a black-and-yellow kilt. "If we played a perfect game we would have won decisively.
"What are you going to do?"
Meanwhile, the Stampeders were so excited while celebrating their win on the field, they broke the trophy.
"I think I'm the one that did it," said Calgary linebacker Juwan Simpson. "I don't know. I grabbed it and was excited, and all of a sudden, it got a little (loose.) Some glue and some duct tape and it'll be good."
Before Grey Cup weekend arrived, there were few signs in Vancouver that a championship football game was about to land in the city. Even in the past few days, outside of official events such as Saturday's parade, only the occasional jersey-clad fan walking along a downtown street provided any indication the Grey Cup was imminent.
Just four days before the game, organizers had 4,500 tickets that had yet to be sold. Resale websites were advertising tickets for as low as $49, and several sellers hawking seats along the route to the stadium were simply shouting at passersby to make them an offer.
The CFL said attendance for the game was about 52,000, leaving roughly 1,400 seats empty. The stadium appeared to be mostly full outside of the far nose-bleed sections, where small blocks of chairs had no one to sit in them.
Vancouver last hosted the big game just three years ago, in 2011, when the B.C. Lions played for -- and won -- the Cup. Tickets that year sold out months in advance.
Even without a home team, the stands were boisterous and rowdy, with loud cheers following touchdowns and significant plays on both sides. Still, geography appeared to give Calgary fans an edge, with chants of "Go Stamps Go" occasionally erupting in pockets of red jerseys, sometimes with large Stampeders flags flying overhead.
B.C. Place's retractable roof, installed in 2011 not long before that year's Grey Cup, remained closed, despite sunny blue skies -- unusual for Vancouver in late November.
Before the game, country musician Dallas Smith, who is from Langley, B.C., kicked off the event, followed by Montreal's Nikki Yanofsky singing "O Canada" with the backing of a 102-person choir.
Las Vegas-based Imagine Dragons put on a high-energy halftime show, playing hits such as "Radioactive" to a throng of people gathered on a patch of field on front of the stage. It was the first time a non-Canadian act has played the Grey Cup halftime show since 2007, when Lenny Kravitz performed at Toronto's Rogers Centre.
"I know that we are visitors to this country, but Canada has always made us feel like we're right at home," lead singer Dan Reynolds said between songs.
The Grey Cup festivities began Sunday morning at a waterfront plaza next to the cauldron from the 2010 Winter Olympics, where bands and dancers took to the stage before the Grey Cup trophy arrived.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Hamilton mayor-elect Fred Eisenberger brought along jerseys from their respective teams, each with the other's name.
Under the terms of a bet between the two, Eisenberger, who will be sworn in this week, will be wearing the Stampeders jersey during his first council meeting as mayor.
Fans who gathered at the Sunday rally represented every team in the league.
Large flags with the Calgary Stampeders' horse held above the crowd. Foam helmets bearing the Montreal Alouettes logo. A man in a Darth Vader costume wearing a Saskatchewan Roughriders jersey.
Tony Dagenais of Moose Jaw, Sask., came with a group of friends adorned with elaborate green and white face paint, jerseys and capes.
Dagenais, 46, said CFL fans are like a "society within a society."
"This is a chance to say, 'Yeah, we're from all over Canada, but we're Canadian and we're all one."'