MONTREAL—By the numbers, the Toronto Argonauts did enough to win Sunday's East final several times over. You could write plenty of stories on everything they did right in their 27-20 victory: Ricky Ray's 28 completions on 37 attempts (75.6 per cent) for 399 yards; Chad Kackert's 139 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries (10.7 yards per carry); Chad Owens' 11 catches for 207 yards, an Argonauts' playoff record; Marcus Ball's two crucial interceptions, even the safety and two singles they forced early on. What stood out more was something they did wrong, though, and how an Alouettes' mistake made up for it. This game would have left a very different impression if it wasn't for Andre Durie's late fumble giving Montreal one more chance, and then Brian Bratton being unable to take advantage of that chance; he was open in the end zone, and Anthony Calvillo found him, but the ball bounced right off his arms. In many ways, both plays were reincarnations of the old Argo Bounce, and they're what's sending Toronto to the Grey Cup for the first time since 2004.
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Let's start with Durie's fumble. If the eventual result was the good version of the Argo bounce, this was the bad side of it, reminiscent of Leon McQuay's fumble in the 1971 Grey Cup (oddly enough, that came against the Stampeders, who will face Toronto next week following their 34-29 win over B.C. in the West Final). It really was a tremendous play by Durie, who spun off one tackler and fought through for a crucial first down and more, but then Montreal stripped him of the ball, turning elation into despair in an instant. In the blink of an eye, the game went from an almost-certain Argonaut victory to one where Calvillo and the impressive Alouettes' offence had a final chance. As Durie said after the game, it was an extremely disappointing moment for him:
"You want to get that first down, and I was just about to get it," he said.
Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich said he quickly went from thrilled to worried when he saw Durie's fumble.
"I was pretty excited when he broke that first tackle," Milanovich said. "He got the first down, we could kill the clock."
Milanovich said his team's reaction boosted his confidence, though.
"The encouraging thing was all the guys I saw go over to Andre, and say, you know, 'This game's not over. We've still got a seven-point lead.'"
Durie's been a part of plenty of Argonauts' squads over his six years with the club, but he said this group is special, and the way they encouraged him after his fumble really made that stand out.
"The other groups were good too, but it feels like I've got 60 brothers in here, you know?" he said in the Toronto locker room after the game. "Regardless of what happened in the game, we constantly pick each other up. We say 'I've got your back, I love you, let's do this.'"
That stood out in quarterback Ricky Ray's post-game comments, too. He said this Argonauts' team has proved it can handle adversity.
"I'm just happy with the way everyone responded," Ray said. "We've just got to keep fighting."
Keep fighting they did after the Durie fumble, but in one way, the Bratton bounce wasn't really about the Argonauts; there was a man in coverage on the play, but Bratton got open behind him and Calvillo found him perfectly. In another way, though, Alouettes' head coach Marc Trestman said it was partly thanks to the pressure the Toronto defence applied on the play, which forced Calvillo to roll left and throw across his body.
"If Anthony had been able to go to his right on that play, he probably would have had more on the ball, it would have been just a bit quicker," Trestman said.
For Durie, the Toronto native who easily could have been the goat here if the Argos had lost despite recording a solid six-catch, 66-yard performance on the day, the Bratton drop was a weight off his shoulders. However, he said he was confident something positive would come of it.
"Fate works in mysterious ways," Durie said. "When I lost that fumble, I knew something good was going to happen."
Indeed it did. The Argos shone throughout this game, and their victory was surely deserved. However, don't underestimate the role bounces can play in this game, for good or for ill. It's a similar story with the traditional Argo Bounce; after being cited for years whenever the team got an improbable piece of luck, it came back to bite them in that 1971 Grey Cup. This time around, it was the reverse, though; an improbable piece of bad luck followed by an improbable piece of good luck. Call it hokey, call it random fluctuations in the space-time continuum, or call it destiny, whatever you like. From here, it's the Argo Bounce, and it's what's propelling them into what could be a legendary 100th Grey Cup.