Friday, September 2, 2016

Ottawa RedBlacks 19 at Montreal Alouettes 14 - September 1, 2016

Montreal football has a long history that started in 1872 and has seen the local team play under many monikers and in many stadiums. The team joined the CFL in 1946 and took the Alouette name then, after the famous song about plucking a skylark. After playing at Delorimier Stadium (also home to the Montreal Royals) for seven seasons, the team moved to Percival Molson Stadium, which had opened in 1915. They subsequently changed venues twice more, settling in Olympic Stadium in 1976, where they stayed until they folded in 1986. Ten years later the franchise emerged from the ashes of the Baltimore Stallions franchise and again moved into Olympic Stadium. Poor attendance for the first two seasons there led many to think the team would fail yet again, but in 1997, U2 saved the day. A playoff game was scheduled for the same day as a concert by the Irish band, so the team moved the game to Molson Stadium, where it sold out. Somebody finally realized that playing in one of the worst venues ever created is not a good way to entice fans to attend, and the team returned to Molson Stadium permanently in 1998 (playing 1 regular season game and any playoff encounters at Olympic Stadium), selling out every home game there until a renovation in 2010 increased capacity by nearly 5,000. The Alouettes were the most successful team in the league during the 2000s with three Grey Cups, and no doubt the move to Molson Stadium was a key reason for this run of good fortune. To confirm this fact, you can see all of the Grey Cup banners just inside the main entrance (below), though note that the team does not recognize the 1995 championship won in Baltimore.

Percival Molson Stadium

Originally dubbed McGill Graduates Stadium, the venue was renamed in 1919 for Percival Molson, a great-grandson of the famous brewer, who was killed in action in France two years prior and who provided $75,000 to the university in his will to help complete the stadium. It is located on Mount Royal just northwest of downtown, so you will have to walk up a small hill to get to the main entrance. At the bottom of the hill is where you will find your friendly neighbourhood scalpers, who are definitely your best bet for getting into the stadium as box office prices are quite high: an upper deck seat at the 40-yard line is $113!

The cheapest ticket at the box office is $34 to sit in the end zone (below) and prices go up from there, generally with a different price for every section you get closer to midfield and little difference for the upper and lower decks.

Street parking is not free, but is still the best option. Should you attend a weekday evening game that starts at 7:30, my advice is to drive along Avenue Des Pins east of Avenue Du Parc just before 6:30, which is when the no-stopping period expires. You can stop in a parking spot at 6:25 and wait five minutes in your car to ensure the authorities are not lurking nearby. Once it hits 6:30, you can pay for 2.5 hours parking ($7.50, a good way to get rid of all that Canadian change) and walk a few minutes to the stadium. From here, it is easy to get back to the highway should you be staying outside of downtown.

There is a small tailgate party (above) next to the main entrance should you get there earlier and want to enjoy the atmosphere outside. Just inside the main entrance is a series of panels detailing the history of the venue that is worth a look. Like most things here, it is in both English and French.

There is also a small plaque commemorating the 2012 ceremony that honoured the 1981 Expos. This brought a tear to my eye.

The stadium was originally used as a track-and-field facility and hence the seating bowl curves around the field, not ideal for football. As well, there are only benches in all seating areas, so it is not the most comfortable place to watch a game.

Still, the location is one of the most scenic of any football stadium, with the east side looking up the hill, where the Mount Royal Cross is located. It is barely visible in the top of the photo below.

Looking southeast you get the Montreal skyline, which lacks an iconic building but it still quite nice at night.

Concourses here are narrow and dark, as you would expect from a stadium enjoying its second century of use. The upper concourse on the east side is the best place to relax, as you get the view above and are protected from any rain by the seats above you. Food menus here are only in French, but should be understandable for most fans. The only thing you really need to know is "Viande Fumée", which is smoked meat. A sandwich of this variety is $8 and excellent even though it is pre-made and served in aluminum foil.

The best thing about seeing the Alouettes is the game day experience. From well before the game, an in-game host tries to get the crowd into things and generally succeeds. The most commonly used phrase is "Faites du Bruit" (make some noise) which is uttered only in French to get fans cheering. Another cheer is heard whenever the Alouettes get a first down as an announcer shouts "Premier essai! First down!" followed by the fans yelling "Montreal!!!!" in tandem with him.  Individual plays are announced in both languages, with one sentence in French and the next in English for the same play, which might make scorekeeping difficult if you are not bilingual. I could go on, but you should definitely experience it for yourself.

Overall, this old-school venue is probably the best place to visit for CFL football. Most of the stadiums in this league are simple and clean, but Molson's location is unbeatable, the atmosphere unique, and the smoked meat sandwich a great final touch. Unfortunately, the team is struggling this season, as I found out to my chagrin.

The Game

The Ottawa RedBlacks were in town and leading the East at 4-4-1, while Montreal was 3-6 with one of their wins a 43-19 thumping of the RedBlacks in Ottawa two weeks prior. So I was hoping for a good game, but it didn't take long to realize that it was to be a defensive battle (or perhaps just crap offense on both sides). Ottawa knocked down two field goals while the Alouettes managed a rouge in the first quarter. A cold rain fell for a few minutes midway through the second, sending many fans scurrying for cover, and they missed a Montreal touchdown when QB Kevin Glenn completed a short pass to Nik Lewis that made it 8-6, which is how the half ended.

The second half was just as ugly, except for a 31-yard touchdown from Trevor Harris to Ernest Jackson that gave Ottawa a 13-8 lead midway through the third. The Alouettes added a field goal at the end of the quarter to get close, and grabbed a 1-point advantage with another FG early in the fourth. But Ottawa scored yet another field goal on their ensuing drive, and when Glenn was intercepted on the first play of the following Montreal possession, Ottawa tacked on 3 more points with just 3:32 left. The Alouettes had a chance to take the lead but their offense couldn't accomplish anything and Ottawa escaped with a forgettable 19-14 win.

There were 20 penalties and 16 punts on the evening, which seems to be a typical CFL affair these days. I love CFL stadiums, but damn, these games are tough to watch.


The Alouette logo shows a charging skylark holding a football, which you might be able to make out on the giant helmet below. I never had any idea what an Alouette was until I finally went to a game here.

This completes the CFL East venues for me, not much to brag about as there are only four of them. Next year (or in 2018) I plan to see the remaining three stadiums in Edmonton, Calgary, and Regina and finally complete the league of my native land.



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