- 2002 -
13 Wins 5 Losses - 1st Place East Division
The '02 Als were young, brash and arrogant.
They were also the greatest Grey Cup champs of this era.
Arash Madani - Sportsnet - November 24, 2010
EDMONTON -- Daybreak in Edmonton on the final Sunday of November in 2002 was frigid. Commonwealth Stadium, just hours before kickoff of the 90th Grey Cup, was covered in snow and frost. But the tranquility at dawn was interrupted inside the team hotel of the CFL franchise that had gone a quarter-century without a championship.
"We woke up Grey Cup Sunday and heard someone screaming in the hallway," recalled Adriano Belli, then a young, towering Montreal Alouettes defensive tackle. "I opened the door of the hotel room and there was Lawrence Phillips, in his underwear, in the hallway screaming, "We're gonna kick their ass… we're gonna (expletive) up those (expletive).
"And everybody came out in the hallway, standing there, and looked at one another and was like, “You're goddamn right we are. Let's go do this.'"
"It was one for the books," grinned Jeremaine Copeland, then an electrifying receiver finding his way in a new league after being cut by the Dallas Cowboys. "When it comes down to it, we had a little bit of everything. And man, it was a special time."
Those were the 2002 Alouettes, the greatest Grey Cup champions of this era. Young. Brash. Arrogant. Aggressive. And a certain dose of crazy.
Phillips, after all, was their running back, and now is in jail for the next 30 years. His convictions: i) attacking his girlfriend; ii) driving his car onto a field at a park and hitting three kids after a touch football game in Los Angeles.
Ahh, the 2002 Alouettes: ruthless between the lines, ridiculous away from them.
"It was like Entourage, almost," reminisced defensive end Anwar Stewart, his whiskers now grey. "We did some crazy stuff, man. Out in the clubs, and what not. I thank the Lord for looking over us to keep us from getting into more trouble than we should have."
"We played as hard off the field as we did on the field, there was no doubt," recalled Ed Philion, a hard-nosed defensive tackle who played each of his eight CFL seasons in Montreal. "There was the playboy type mentality around the team and we were a fun group to be around."
After home games, and they were joyous that summer and fall, what with only two losses at Molson Stadium late in the season when home field was already locked up, downtown would turn into what was effectively a bi-weekly bachelor party. The players, so many of them young and in the same place -- before the wives and children and those graying hairs -- would bolt out of Molson Stadium for Dundee's, a downtown pub on the corner of Crescent Street, just north of St. Catherine.
"And dude, we got after it in there," said a guy from that team, no longer even playing in the CFL, but still asked not to be identified because of the specifics of the story he was telling. "I remember showing up and there would be some guys sitting in a car beside the place and all you could see was smoke in that car -- you couldn't even make out which of the fellas were in there. Then they'd come into the bar smellin' all funny and slam shots and order rounds and we'd hit the town looking for ladies."
When the Alouettes thumped the Toronto Argonauts 35-18 in the East final that November to go back to the Grey Cup for the second time in three years, Jeremaine Copeland went on the city's all-sports radio station and ended his post-game show interview yelling, "We're hitting Club Extreme tonight, baby!"
Those were the 2002 Alouettes, who would not be stopped.
"We had characters," said Philion. "And we were damn good."
It wasn't always that easy. Sure, the Alouettes had made it to the Grey Cup two years prior, but it was the collapse of the 2001 team that led to a complete re-haul. After starting the season 9-2 and appearing to be on a collision course with the title game again, Montreal lost its next eight games, including the East semi-final in Hamilton. Head coach Rod Rust was fired and, within the walls, trouble brewed.
"Guys were pissed off. There was a lot of division in that locker room," Bryan Chiu, the man in the middle of the offensive line for 13 seasons, including seven Grey Cup trips, reflected Tuesday. "Guys were getting burnt out and there were trust issues."
"A lot of guys were turned off about football," said Philion. "And there was just so much animosity between guys because of the year we just had."
The 2001 Grey Cup was played in Montreal and the 8-10 Calgary Stampeders winning at the Big O was overshadowed by the news of the week: Don Matthews was hired as head coach of the Alouettes.
"That," says future first-ballot Hall of Fame receiver Ben Cahoon, "changed everything."
Matthews watched tape that off-season and the guys who he believed didn't play hard during the slide of the previous autumn were gone. He had no time for them. By the time training camp rolled around there were 27 new players on the roster.
"He brought in his new identity with a lot of speed and a lot of younger players to compliment the core of guys already there," said Philion. “He changed the face of our football team and we took on the identity of our coach."
Which, with that group of players, became the stuff of legend.
"I remember Belli busted into a meeting room one day, wearing nothing but a jockstrap and a Fire Marshall Bill helmet and boots on. Man, we were dying in there," laughed Stewart. "We were all just so close. And we knew we wouldn't be beat."
"That was it," said Copeland. "We had a cocky swagger about ourselves that nobody could stop us and we were gonna go out on the field and do what we needed to do to win."
"Don brought in the belief," added Chiu, "that we would win, and win big, over everyone."
They ran the town hard. They ran opponents hard. They ran their mouths hard. Reggie Durden, an exceptionally-talented defensive back who loved the Montreal nightlife like no other, once called Saskatchewan's Nealon Greene a Pop Warner quarterback.
They went wire-to-wire as the unquestioned team to beat.
"We were the best and we knew it and we played like it," said Philion. "We knew when we were going to win football games; it was just by how much."
It was the attitude brought on by Matthews, who launched the first year of his regime in Montreal with a boastful arrogance. So much so that the dozen people from that team interviewed for this piece (players and then assistant coaches) say the boastfulness has never been matched in their CFL career. He changed the culture by giving every player confidence.
"We believed nobody was better than us, and that came from coach Matthews," said offensive lineman Scott Flory, one of the four current Alouette players from that team.
Many went back to the message Matthews passed along on the first day of training camp to the team.
As the story goes, the coach stood before the group at the military base at St. Jean sur Richelieu and proclaimed "There is one rule around here: Nobody, and I mean, nobody, gets more (women) than me."
And there was more.
"Don always used to tell us: ‘The fatter my wallet, the better looking I get’ and then this 55 or 60-year-old guy would parade around with his 20-something year-old girlfriends," laughed Philion. "Man, it was something."
If the ladies worked in the city's adult industry, you'd be sure they were around the head coach. Some of them would accompany Matthews on team flights to road games.
"That's just how it was," shrugged Chiu with a smile. "But it didn't matter. We loved it."
Said Cahoon: "We goofed off all practice long and when it was time to work, we worked hard. When it was time to strap it on and play games, we played hard and played well.
"It was a totally unique atmosphere than other years and in subsequent years."
Do this. Kick ass. Scream bare-chested for all to hear.
"Look at the defence we had -- they were always cocky, with that huge swagger and they didn't think anybody could put up three touchdowns on them," said Copeland, one of four 1,000-yard receivers that season. "And offensively, you had a receiving corps that was going to go to work and that's really what it takes to win a championship."
And that is exactly what they did.
With the bravado came ability and talent, and there was just so much of it. Tim Strickland was as good an off-the-edge blitzing linebacker as the league has ever seen. Thomas Haskins became a one-of-a-kind hybrid running back to compliment the great (yet oft-injured that season) Mike Pringle and the bruising Phillips; the offensive line was young, and as nasty as they ever were with that core group; middle linebacker Kevin Johnson was terrifying; the secondary: Durden, Barron Miles, Mark Washington, Wayne Shaw and Will Loftus -- the latter two Canadian -- made up perhaps the most complete defensive backfield the team has ever had.
Copeland was part of a gifted receiving corps with the ageless Cahoon, then in his prime, and two exceptionally gifted and lanky burners -- Kwame Cavil and Thyron Anderson -- who flirted back and forth to the NFL. Montreal had three Canadian targets who were always threats: Cahoon, Sylvain Girard and Pat Woodcock, who was named the Most Outstanding Canadian in that Grey Cup game.
Keith Stokes was the best return man the city had seen in a generation.
The defence brought heat on almost every play.
"It wasn't complicated -- just bring one more guy than they had to block," Stewart said. "We had about three or four different calls on our defence and it was about bringing the house and teams knew it, they just couldn't stop it."
The mantra was to give quarterbacks less than two-and-a-half seconds to throw the ball. But not only that.
"Our idea was to hit them and make them remember those hits," said Philion. "We had plenty of speed off the edge and we wanted to have quarterbacks thinking even before they saw us; some were scared coming into the games."
Do this. Kick ass. Scream bare-chested for all to hear.
But then, as it is today, it was about the incomparable Anthony Calvillo. And it was that season when a fundamental philosophical alteration was made that changed the course of the Alouettes forever.
"It was the move," general manager Jim Popp said last fall, "that is probably why so many of us are still here."
Until 2002, Calvillo, like his predecessor Tracy Ham, ran the Alouettes offence from under centre. The system had been built around a Hall of Fame tailback and Pringle, already enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, was as sensational -- and durable -- an athlete the franchise has ever had. But with Matthews's hire came a new coaching staff and a significant change.
That spring, on a conference call with local and national media about a month before training camp opened, the new coach proclaimed that the Alouettes would no longer have Pringle as the focal point of their offence. Popp said the announcement had been in the making for weeks.
"Don went and watched tape of Anthony and came into my office and said, ‘We have to find a way to have A.C. make as many plays as possible. He's the ticket.'"
He was, but before handing over the keys, Calvillo had to buy in to operating an innovative offence from the shotgun, and there was resistance. He was uncomfortable and unfamiliar with it, after all. There were other maneuvers in store and the quarterback was not alone in his apprehension toward what was ahead.
An already-established wide receiver had begun to develop a nice chemistry with his pivot. Suddenly, this new coordinator wanted to move Cahoon inside to slot back.
"It was Jim Barker's offence and it was a simple offence and it was a great offence," said Cahoon, who did, at last, agree to the switch, which, combined with Calvillo from the gun, has altered the course of Alouettes history. "We were initially against it because we didn't know how it would work and if we could make it happen the way it was drawn up.
"But we did. And it worked. It was just that one year, but that offence was fun."
Barker had so much speed at the outside with his receivers, and the reliability of Cahoon's hands inside made the Alouettes lethal. They had Haskins, who could do so much, and the offence became electrifying. That season Calvillo became the film rat he has become renowned for -- arriving long before other players to prepare daily for the week's opponent.
What made those 13-5 Alouettes so dominant was finding every mismatch and punishing them, then adjusting well when opponents tried to overcompensate. The end product was magnificent. Calvillo finished with his first 5,000-yard passing season -- one of five so far in his career (to put it into perspective: he has not done that in each of the last two seasons). The team's lowest point total in a game that year was 23, and they won that one on the road in Saskatchewan by two touchdowns.
"There was little reading and reacting to defences (in Barker's offence). They told you exactly what to do, and it was full speed ahead," said Cahoon.
In the week leading up to Grey Cup, Barker discovered an opening where the host Eskimos could be exploited. About 12 hours after Phillips became the impromptu wake-up call for the group, the championship was still in its feeling-out stages in the first half of a low-scoring affair. The natural grass at Commonwealth had turned to ice and the wind was swirling. Just under two minutes had elapsed in the second quarter and Montreal had a 1-0 lead.
Barker dialed up the play call that would eventually get him Calgary's head coaching job the next season, and a 25-year-old Woodcock national notoriety, not to mention significant money in free agency when he signed with his hometown Ottawa Renegades in 2004. The offensive coordinator called for 'D-97', with the Alouettes pinned deep in their own territory, believing Edmonton would come out in zone coverage. The genesis of the play was designed for the receiver to move to the field side, into the slot giving him more space, then at the snap go deep across the middle of the field to draw the mismatch against the strong-side linebacker.
It worked just as it was drawn up. Woodcock ran a diagonal route across the frozen, chewed-up sod, slipped through the zone and got lost enough in there that by the time Calvillo, who had plenty of time in the pocket, fired toward the target, defender Jackie Kellogg was behind the diminutive receiver. Montreal caught a break when Kellogg slipped on the tundra, just as the pass was completed.
From there, with Malcolm Frank hopelessly trailing him, Woodcock turned and bolted the remainder of the 99 yards into the dark, cold Edmonton night. The longest touchdown in Grey Cup history won a championship for one of the greatest teams in CFL history.
"I'll always remember 2002 for that championship," said Calvillo. "We knew that night we were the best."
There was no reason why that edition of the team did not end up a dynasty. Though they would play in four of five Grey Cups beginning with that 2002 title, which was their only ring with the nucleus that celebrated for a week together in Montreal after they returned home from Alberta. Many of those players, to a man, admit the 2003 Alouettes were just as good -- if not better -- with the continuity and carryover from the year prior. But the next November they were terrible offensively in Regina and lost in the Grey Cup to those same Eskimos, who just happened to have a fired-up running back named Mike Pringle, who was more than motivated to show he was not an afterthought with his new team. Montreal's defence hit Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray 18 times that night, but he remained unfazed and simply would not rattle.
From there, slowly, the pieces began to crumble, shift around, sign elsewhere and simply fade away.
"Even to this day I still think we should have won it in '03 and we let it slip away," said Copeland. "I mean we made it there like we wanted to but we didn't finish whenever it came down to it. We had a team that could have wrote the record books, we could have won back to back and easily went for three in a row."
Montreal's coaches, and what a staff it was, eventually went its separate ways. Barker to Calgary, and now, Toronto; offensive line coach Doug Berry became coordinator before Winnipeg hired him as head coach (and ironically will coach against the Alouettes Sunday as Saskatchewan's offensive coordinator). The inimitable Chris Jones, whose schemes still have much of Matthews's blitzing roots, is running Calgary's defence superbly. Noel Thorpe is the special teams boss in Edmonton, for now on the same staff as Eskimos offensive coordinator Kevin Strasser, then the Als receivers coach.
Matthews was pushed out of Montreal during the 2006 season, no matter how the organization spun it. His message, which four years prior gave the team such fire, had not been getting through for quite some time. He surfaced again as Toronto's head coach for the final eight weeks of the 2008 Argos season, lost every game, and is off in the sunset, in Oregon, enjoying retirement.
The Alouettes of yesteryear have become stuff of folklore, and so too has Calvillo, who last Sunday admitted, "We are still writing our legacy and my legacy." But Father Time has claimed so many over the years, the latest being Chiu who on his drive to training camp in June had an epiphany and realized it was time to leave the game.
Everything with that Alouettes team was done to excess: winning, scoring points, partying, celebrating. More than 250,000 people gathered downtown at the championship parade. To this day, Calvillo still tells young players who have never experienced one before that they'll never quite believe what is in store when they win a title. Like their team, Montrealers are known to have a good time.
The success of the 2002 Alouettes propelled the franchise forward after going 25 years without a title. When it became abundantly clear that the city was truly gripped in the imagination -- and because outgoing president Larry Smith's vision included the success of the team translating into grassroots football exploding -- people took notice. Montreal's model of an intimate downtown stadium became the envy league-wide. Smith was able to secure two different rounds of multi-layered government funding to turn an archaic, decrepit Molson Stadium to a 25,000-seat marvel on the mountain.
Before 2002, there were no championships, there were no parades, there wasn't that legacy being written about the quarterback and there certainly were not eight Grey Cup appearances over 11 years, like the streak the Alouettes are in the midst of as they return to Edmonton for a week of cold temperatures in the Rockies.
Phillips was plenty of things: a nut, said Philion: "LP was a little chemically unbalanced. When you looked in his eyes, you could see all the way into his soul.” Yet also, per Chiu, "One of the best teammates I ever had." He was also the man who threw away incredible opportunities before him his entire life. But nearly a decade later, as four of his former teammates get set to battle for what he called “the biggest trophy you can win in professional sports” on the game telecast that frostbitten November night, his image still resonates with one of the best CFL teams ever assembled.
Do this. Kick ass. Scream bare-chested for all to hear.
"Lawrence called our room at 6 a.m. and I've never heard anything in my life like it," remembered Chiu. "The cuss words, the excitement in his voice, the ranting -- I just never saw that side of him and that just got us going.
"That was our team: A whole bunch of characters, a group who could flat out play and guys who loved to have fun. It was the most enjoyable time of my career."
2002 Team Statistics
Avg Att: 20,002
Week 1 v BC
Lawrence Phillips rushed 18 times for 104 yards and three TDs as
Montreal won in the rain. It proved an impressive debut for Phillips, who
last played pro football outdoors in 1999.
Week 2 @ Toronto
Anthony Calvillo cooly picked apart an
Argonauts defence as the Alouettes converted three Toronto turnovers into
TDs. Calvillo completed 19 of 28 passes for 241 yards and a TD.
Week 3 v Saskatchewan
S William Loftus recovered a Nealon Greene
fumble with 1:32 to go, but lost the ball on a blown fumble call. Montreal
ran out the clock to improve to 3-0 for the sixth straight year.
Week 4 @ Calgary
Montreal jumped out to 24-4 lead by
intermission. Calgary has now been outscored 86-22 in the first half.
Anthony Calvillo completed 23-of-37 passes for 265 yards and three TDs for
Week 5 v. Winnipeg
Pat Woodcock caught eight passes for 178
yards and two TDs as Montreal remained undefeated.
Milt Stegall posted 161 receiving yards and
two scores for the Bombers.
Week 6 v Edmonton
Keith Stokes returned two punts for TDs as
the Als remained undefeated. Stokes had 224 yards in punt returns, to
break the team record of 194 set in 1976 by
Week 7 @ Ottawa
The Ottawa faithful got what they wanted
early on as
David Miller-Johnson scored on a
37-yard FG to open the
Week 8 v. Calgary
The Als beat a franchise record with their
eighth straight win to start a season. QB Anthony Calvillo threw two long
TD passes as Montreal beat their franchise record set by the 1977 champs.
Week 9 @ BC
Week 10 - Bye
Week 11 v. Hamilton
Troy Davis was stuffed on an attempted two-point conversion with 40 seconds remaining as the league-leading Alouettes held on. Hamilton fell to 0-6 on the road.
Week 12 @ Hamilton
Week 13 @ Winnipeg
Bombers QB Pat Barnes came off the bench in
the second half to toss the game-winning TD. With Winnipeg trailing,
24-17, after three quarters, Barnes replaced
Week 14 v. Toronto
Anthony Calvillo threw two TD passes as
Montreal clinched first place in the East. Calvillo completed 23-of-32
passes for 287 yards, helping Montreal amass 479 total yards.
Week 15 - Bye
Week 16 @ Edmonton
Anthony Calvillo threw a pair of
third-quarter TD passes as the Alouettes won a battle of first-place
teams. Calvillo threw for 310 yards, helping Montreal to a slim edge in
Week 17 v. Hamilton
Dana Segin kicked five short FGs in his CFL
debut as the Tiger-Cats claimed their first road win of the season. The
Alouttes suffered their first home loss of the season.
Week 18 @ Ottawa
The Als beat up on Ottawa, as Don Matthews
became the first coach in CFL history to break the 200-career win plateau.
QB Anthony Calvillo threw three TDs in the win.
Week 19 v Ottawa
Archie Turner had an 85-yard punt return for a TD with 2:10 remaining as the Renegades rallied. Montreal had a 23-10 lead entering the fourth, before Lawrence Tynes kicked three FGs.
v Toronto - Sun Nov 8
The Alouettes advanced to the Grey Cup for the 12th time in their history. Montreal used a pair of defensive TDs to win. Reggie Durden ran back a fumble 27 yards and Dan Derricott brought back an interception 35 yards for a TD.
A Grey Cup rivalry which was born in the
1950s and intensified in the 1970s re-emerged in the new century on a
frozen field at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. Montreal had not been
home to a Grey Cup champion since 1977, including nine years when it
didn’t have a CFL team at all. But Anthony Calvillo and the rest of his
teammates brought prestige back to the franchise by defeating the hometown
Eskimos. Leading 1-0 after 15 minutes, the Alouettes gained 99 yards on
one play for the longest touchdown reception in Grey Cup competition.
Calvillo connected with Pat Woodcock on the historic play. Terry Baker
kicked a 42-yard field goal with 1:15 remaining in the second quarter to
give the Alouettes an 11-0 lead at halftime. Wanting to avoid becoming the
first team to lose a Grey Cup game in their own building since 1983, the
Eskimos rallied in the third quarter. On their opening drive Edmonton
finally got on the scoreboard as Ricky Ray threw a pass to Ricky Walters
for a 17-yard touchdown. Sean Fleming kicked a 12-yard field goal later in
the quarter to pull the Eskimos within one. But early in the fourth
quarter, the Alouettes struck again. This time Calvillo hit Jeremaine
Copeland on a 47-yard passing play for a touchdown, giving Montreal an
18-10 advantage. With less than six minutes remaining in regulation and
the Eskimos offence facing a third-and-10 on the Montreal 36, head coach
Tom Higgins opted to go for it rather than attempt a 43-yard field goal.
The gamble failed. The Eskimos would make things less than uncomfortable
for the Alouettes in the final minute. Ray connected with Ed Hervey on a
17-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds remaining in regulation. Needing a
two-point convert to tie the score, Tim Strickland broke up a pass
intended for Terry Vaughn. Edmonton tried one last ditch effort with an
onside kick attempt, but Copeland grabbed the football and ran 47 yards
for his second touchdown, sealing the win for Montreal. Calvillo was named
the game’s Most Valuable Player completing just 11 of 31 pass attempts for
260 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Woodcock was the Most Valuable
Canadian. It was Don Matthews’ fifth Grey Cup title as a head coach, tying
him with Lew Hayman, Frank Clair and Hugh Campbell for the all-time record