After nine long years, the Western Mustangs football team is finally returning to the Vanier Cup finals. With the Laval Rouge et Or standing in their way, they'll vie for a seventh national championship in their 13th appearance in the game.
What exactly is on the line, though? Arguably the most prestigious trophy in Canadian university sports — there's a lot of history behind the prize Western will play for on Saturday at Tim Horton's Field in Hamilton.
Of course, the Vanier Cup isn't the oldest football trophy out there. That title belongs to the Yates Cup, which the Mustangs claimed for the 31st time two weeks ago. It does go back further than the Super Bowl, though; Canadian college teams have fought for the trophy since 1965.
When Canada needed a prize for its university football teams, Governor General Georges Vanier stepped up. He donated the trophy, just as former Governors General did before him.
Originally known as the Canadian College Bowl, the game was first contested between two teams chosen by an independent panel, NCAA-style. Since 1967, though, it's been the official national championship for university teams.
In the inaugural game, the Toronto Varsity Blues won the first of their two total championships, downing the Alberta Golden Bears 14–7.
The Mustangs' first Vanier success came in the trophy's seventh year, 1971. A far cry from the high-scoring blowouts Western has produced this year, the game was scoreless until the fourth quarter. Both Western and Alberta came alive late in the game, with the Mustangs pulling an inch ahead to win 15–14.
Ever since, the Mustangs frequented the national bowl game. The Mustangs dominated Canadian football in the '70s, winning in 1974, 1976 and 1977 but losing the final in 1979.
The '80s were tougher; although Western appeared in the championship game three times in five years, they fell twice to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, and once to the University of Calgary Dinos. They capped off the decade on a high, though, winning the 1989 Vanier Cup 35–10 over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
Today, Western finds themselves in a bit of a cup drought. Their last national title was in 1994, when over 28,000 people at the SkyDome watched them beat Saskatchewan 50–40 in overtime.
The 30th Vanier Cup was the first ever to be decided in overtime. Saskatchewan's coach at the time called it "the best Vanier Cup ever," despite the loss. Mustangs kicker Frank Jagas thumped a 42-yard field goal to tie it at 40 with just four seconds left, and defensive back Anthony Lane won it with a 77-yard touchdown run.
For the first 39 years of the trophy's life, it was never played for outside of Toronto. Varsity Stadium hosted the game 21 times, until the SkyDome took its place as venue for 15 years.
In 2004, though, Canadian Interuniversity Sport (today U Sports) began diversifying the game's location. The cup has been played for in Hamilton four times (five including this year) and Quebec City another four, as well as one-off games in Saskatoon, Montreal and Vancouver.
This year's game at Tim Horton's Field is the second in a row at the stadium, which became Hamilton's football hotseat and the new home of the Hamilton Tiger Cats when it opened in 2014.
This year, the Mustangs will be hoping for a reversal of fortunes from the last time they played in the Vanier Cup. Circumstances were similar all the way back in 2008, when Western squared off with Laval at Hamilton's Ivor Wynne Stadium.
Then, it was Laval who completed a perfect 12–0 season against Western. The Mustangs will want to flip the script this time around, entering the championship game with an 11–0 undefeated streak of their own on the line.