Dating back to 1996 and the re-birth of pro football in Montreal, it’s safe to say the BC Lions have enjoyed facing the Alouettes. Yes, there was a pair of Grey Cup victories in 2000 and 2006. There was also a 14-year period where they never lost to the Alouettes at BC Place. The two teams also met each other as de facto Labour Day weekend rivals for a short period of time. As the 2020 schedule originally had Montreal paying a visit in a stand-alone Thursday night contest this week, we thought it would be fun to chronicle the Lions’ recent success against the Alouettes.
Before we get started, a quick history note. The CFL keeps all Montreal records together as one franchise. So although the current Alouettes franchise re-located from Baltimore, the two-year history of the Baltimore Football Club/Stallions is considered its own entity. The original Montreal franchise changed its name to the Concordes from 1982-85 and then folded one day prior to the 1987 season. All of those records are kept as one franchise with the current Alouettes. The Lions’ all-time record against Montreal is 44-35-1, good for a .557 winning percentage. And with that, we present you with a few highlights of the Lions and Alouettes over the last quarter-century.
2000 and 2006: True ‘West Versus East’ Grey Cups End With Lions On Top
Baltimore records being kept separate also means that, officially, the Lions and Montreal franchises have only met in the Grey Cup twice. The Lions were victorious on both occasions, but the story of each win could not have been more different than the other. That 2000 season was the culmination of one of the best underdog stories this league will have ever seen.
After pulling off playoff road wins in Edmonton and Calgary, Damon Allen, Sean Millington, Robert Drummond, Lui Passaglia and company represented the first team in CFL history to win the Grey Cup with a sub .500 record. Allen rushed for two touchdowns, Drummond another while Passaglia kicked the eventual winning points on a 29-yard field goal with 1:25 left before the defence prevented Montreal from tying it up on a two-point convert attempt following a late 59-yard touchdown connection from Anthony Calvillo and Ben Cahoon. Never a doubt, as they say. The Lions prevailed 28-26 in the 88th Grey Cup at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium. It was the perfect way to send Passaglia into retirement.
2006 was a totally different story. After knocking on the door the previous two seasons only to have it end in disappointment, the Lions capped off a brilliant 13-5 campaign by shutting down Anthony Calvillo and company 25-14 in the 94th Grey Cup in Winnipeg. Despite a couple of tense fourth quarter moments and having to settle for six Paul McCallum field goals, this one was never in much doubt. Ian Smart’s 25-yard touchdown run put them on top 16-0 early in the second quarter and they would never look back. The 2006 squad could very well stake a claim as being the best Lions team ever. They had ten players named to the West Division All-Star team and a league-high seven were also CFL All-Stars. And lastly, it was great to see Dave Dickenson earn the elusive first Grey Cup ring as a starting QB.
The Streak: BC Place Serves As Alouettes House of Horrors
Yes, the Lions had great teams during this stretch but the streak of 13 consecutive wins over Montreal at BC Place from 2001-14 was also a little bit odd in some ways. For clarification: from 2001-2014, the Alouettes failed to register a win at the downtown stadium. They did, however, manage to squeak out a 16-12 win at Empire Field in July of 2010. As we know, the temporary structure didn’t provide much of a home-field advantage. But despite having a contending team of their own for a majority of that time- they represented the East in seven Grey Cups from 2002 to 2010- the Alouettes only got one win on the west coast in 14 regular season visits after the year 2000.
A couple of memorable results included the Lions clinching first in the west with a 43-1 victory in the 2011 regular season finale. Six years earlier, Alouettes head coach Don Matthews surprisingly attempted a two-point convert for the win instead of kicking for the tie after a touchdown in the dying seconds. The attempt was unsuccessful and the Lions improved to 11-0 on the season, a record they have not had since.
It became such a big story around the league that some members of the national media actually said it had something to do with the Lions having an “unfair advantage” of starting home games at 10:00 pm Eastern time. We’d beg to differ on that, especially when you consider the Tiger-Cats and Argonauts combined to win seven games in Vancouver during that same stretch (we clarified that all of those games were late starts) and the Lions making a long trip out east for just one game is anything but easy on the body clock.
Unfair advantage or not, the Alouettes finally bumped their BC Place slump in August of 2015. That apparently wasn’t worth celebrating for Montreal management as they, despite the victory, fired head coach Tom Higgins the very next day. The Lions have gone on to win four straight at home against Montreal since, making it 17 wins in 19 games in visits against Montreal since 2001.
Labour Day Weekend Appetizer
Another interesting nugget for the modern era of this rivalry is the fact these teams have played each other on Labour Day weekend 13 times, with eight of those matchups taking place in Montreal at either Olympic Stadium or the Alouettes’ current home on the campus of McGill University. This de facto tradition was due in large part of the absence of a team in Ottawa for two separate periods between 1997 and 2013.
The Lions and Alouettes met on either the Friday or Saturday of the September long weekend in every year from 1996-2001 and again from 2006-2010, 2012 and 2015.
Montreal holds an all-time edge of 7-6-0 during these Labour Day weekend matchups. It’s true Lions fans have typically been left out of the traditional CFL rivalries that Labour Day weekend has to offer. But for this brief period of time with both teams consistently at the top of the league, the Lions and Alouettes provided a nice little appetizer to the three big Labour Day weekend rivalries.
And for those of us lucky enough to travel with the team in normal times, we certainly are missing the culture of Montreal, particularly the smoked meat poutine at Dunn’s. Anyway, in the interest of editorial balance, we will also mention the three times Montreal has prevailed in the Eastern Semi-Final.
The Lions represented the first West Division crossover playoff team in 1997. As a fourth-place team with a better record than the third-place team out east, they would qualify for the playoffs under this new format tweak and in the process, become part of some cool piece of CFL trivia.
With Olympic Stadium playing host to a U2 concert, the game was moved outdoors to Molson Stadium on the McGill campus. The Alouettes themselves would finally find what they were looking for. A new, outdoor home. They took down Damon Allen and company 45-35 in the smaller, more intimate venue.
12 years later, the Lions were back in Montreal for the East Final- this time at Olympic Stadium as the Alouettes went back to the larger venue for playoff games for a few years- and were beaten soundly 56-18. And most recently, the 2014 Eastern Semi-Final at McGill saw Montreal cruise to a 50-16 win over a Lions team that was without the services of injured Travis Lulay. Hey, we’ve still got those much more important Grey Cup wins to talk about.
And lastly, we’ll never forget an eventful trip to Montreal in August of 2016 where mechanical issues were to blame for a 15-hour delay in flying home after a convincing 38-8 win. It got so much fun that the players broke out into an impromptu jam session upon return to the Montreal airport terminal the following morning.
14-hour flight delay turns into a fun airport jam session. 🥁🎤🕺🏾🎵
The story behind an epic Montreal layover.
— BC LIONS (@BCLions) April 13, 2020