Surrounded by players, coaches and fans, the Montreal Alouettes' 2010 season quietly passed away Sunday night of natural causes after Montreal's 21-18 Grey Cup victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Unlike each and every one of our other CFL obituaries, none of the Alouettes' fans mourned the passing of the 2010 season, as it came after glory had been achieved rather than prematurely. The 2010 season had accomplished all it could, and for that, it was celebrated both Sunday (below right) and in today's Grey Cup parade (above).
It wasn't all clear sailing for Montreal this year. Coming off a dominant 2009 campaign where they went 15-3 and won the Grey Cup, high initial expectations proved somewhat burdensome for the Alouettes. They lost an epic Grey Cup rematch 54-51 to Saskatchewan on Canada Day, but rebounded with a reasonably close 33-23 win over Edmonton. These weren't looking like the dominant Alouettes of old through two weeks, but they still weren't a team to write off.
Montreal proved that in the third week with a 16-12 road win over B.C. For most teams, that might not be all that impressive, but when you consider the Alouettes' almost decade-long streak of losses in Vancouver, it marked significant progress for them. They followed that up with a 37-14 thumping of the Hamilton team that was supposed to challenge them for first in the East Division, mercilessly beat Toronto 41-10 and got revenge on the Riders with a 30-26 victory. It looked like they were rounding into form and would be set to dominate the league once again.
Things went downhill from there, though. The Alouettes got thumped 37-22 by Toronto and then eked out a win over Winnipeg, but lost quarterback Anthony Calvillo to what appeared to be a rib injury in the process. Without him and with regular backup Adrian McPherson also hurt, Montreal was forced to turn to former Florida star Chris Leak on Labour Day weekend, and that didn't exactly go so well. McPherson was able to right the ship the following week in a 27-6 win over Hamilton and Calvillo returned to lead a beatdown of Edmonton, but Montreal was still looking somewhat vulnerable.
There were plenty of up-and-down moments for the rest of the season, including narrow victories over Winnipeg, a thumping by Calgary on the road that the Alouettes returned at home, the craziest ending to a CFL game I've ever seen and a final-day 30-4 loss where Montreal was playing backups from the opening kickoff. Still, when the smoke cleared, the Alouettes were once again atop the East Division standings (even if their record was only 12-6 instead of 15-3), and they thumped Toronto in the East final to head back to the Grey Cup for the eighth time since 2000.
Even from there, things didn't really smooth out for Montreal. The week started with some of the questions around head coach Marc Trestman's future that had been circling all year, and it progressed to questions about the legendary parties of the 2002 Alouettes (even if this team is quite different), questions on if Calvillo should have won the Most Outstanding Player award instead of Henry Burris, and even a debate about league bias and hotel accommodations, as well as Montreal's role in keeping the CFL from expanding to Quebec City. The Alouettes were able to put aside all that and even overcome the game-day distractions of a crowd heavily against them, but it wasn't a particularly easy victory for them. Still, they won in the end and became the first repeat champion since Toronto in 1996 and 1997, and that says plenty about what this team accomplished in this season.
There are plenty of questions about this season's successor, though. The 2010 season was predeceased by the tenure of club president Larry Smith, who likely stepped down to focus on politics. The season will certainly be survived by general manager Jim Popp, but whether Trestman will return or jump to the NCAA or NFL remains an open debate. It's also up for debate if Calvillo will be back under centre next year; he can certainly still play, but moments after the Grey Cup celebration, he announced that he'll be having surgery next week to remove a potentially cancerous lesion in his throat, and he hasn't decided on if he'll return yet even if all goes well.
The rest of the roster could see a major makeover as well, as they have a number of free agents, including running back Avon Cobourne (pictured at top with the Cup), receiver S.J. Green, linebacker Chip Cox, defensive end Anwar Stewart, defensive back Jerald Brown and kicker Damon Duval. Receiver Ben Cahoon doesn't appear to have decided yet if he'll be back or not either. Still, regardless of how the offseason plays out, Montreal may well still be a strong Cup contender. Their fans are celebrating the 2010 season's life today, and there may be more celebrations in store down the road.