MONTREAL — Kristian Matte still hasn’t come down from cloud nine since the Montreal Alouettes won the Grey Cup.
Matte, a 12-season CFL veteran offensive lineman, was the only remaining player from Montreal’s last title team in 2010 on the Alouettes roster this year.
"It's been 13 years, it's a very long time — I lived it," said Matte on Tuesday at Olympic Stadium.
The 38-year-old from St. Hubert, Que., was also the first to hoist the Grey Cup after Montreal upset the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28-24 on Sunday at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.
"The day before the game, Marc-Antoine Dequoy came to see me and said 'when it's time to grab the Cup, you're taking it,'” said Matte, with tears running down his face as he reflected on the moment. “A guy saying that shows everyone wanted it for each other.”
“We all talked about who would lift the Cup first and agreed,” said Dequoy. “It’s Kristian Matte.”
The Alouettes had some tough times between championships, including a run of four straight years of missing the playoffs from 2015 to 2018.
At his age, Matte could consider ending his career on a high note. But even as the game clock struck zero Sunday, the thought of going for a repeat crept in.
"It might be a little silly, but I said to myself, 'OK now we won,' and I already started thinking about what would happen next season,” said Matte. “I said, 'hey, two in a row would be pretty fun.'”
After starting free agency in February without an owner, the Alouettes defied expectations this season by going 11-7 before defeating Hamilton, defending Grey Cup winners Toronto and perennial contender Winnipeg en route to the title.
Is this the start of a run akin to Winnipeg’s two Grey Cup victories — and four appearances — in the last four years? Matte says they’ve steadily been building toward it.
"It's been a few years now that something's been building, it didn't just happen today, yesterday or last week, or even the start of the year,” said Matte.
He noted the arrival of general manager Danny Maciocia in 2020, head coach Jason Maas last December, and new owner Pierre Karl Péladeau in March, to go with an influx of new players, as key building blocks.
"There's a foundation to build off of,” said Matte. “I’m not sure I want to say we can be even better than we were, but I think with what we've got we can build something that will last longer."
Mid-season additions Darnell Sankey and Shawn Lemon played key roles for a Montreal defence that led the team much of the season.
Including the playoffs, the Alouettes went 12-4 after signing Lemon and 8-1 with Sankey. But with both free agents this off-season, will they be back?
"I want to be back. Management understands that and the feeling's mutual," said Lemon.
"That's definitely on the table,” said Sankey of a return. “I'll put it like that."
A lot of plays contributed to Montreal’s Grey Cup win, but a game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left on the clock takes the cake.
Quarterback Cody Fajardo led the Alouettes downfield with a 78-yard drive in the final minute before connecting with Tyson Philpot in the end zone from 19 yards out.
"I've watched that play probably 1,000 times now,” said Philpot.
Next up, the wide receiver from Delta, B.C., who earned top Canadian honours at the Grey Cup, is looking for a picture to frame the “surreal moment.”
RESPECT FOR QUEBEC
Dequoy lit social media on fire with his passionate post-victory interview on French television station RDS, taking issue with the league’s lack of respect toward the French language during and leading up to Grey Cup Week.
The CFL received criticism after the national anthem was sung exclusively in English during the East Division final and also placed little to no French language signs in Hamilton.
Alouettes coach Maas, of Beaver Dam, Wisc., emphasized the importance of Quebec’s official language with little things like having every player know how to say their number in French.
“Just small things like that are special, because we are in Montreal, we are in Quebec, and we’re extremely proud of it,” said Matte.
Philpot, No. 6, had no trouble doing it.
"My number's pretty easy,” he said. “Some of the guys in the 80s, they got a little confused."
The Alouettes had 10 players from Quebec on the championship roster.
Local fans will get the chance to celebrate with their during the Grey Cup parade beginning Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. ET in Montreal at the corner of De Maisonneuve Boulevard and Crescent Street.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2023.
Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press