He didn’t see it, but he sure knew it: the kick that won the 1998 CFL Eastern Final

Even if Paul Osbaldiston had turned around and aimed at his own team’s uprights, the attempt would have been only two yards longer.

And the field goal he was about to try was three yards farther than anything he had made in 18 previous games that season, and 16 yards longer than two he had missed earlier in the game: one in each direction.

Oh, and there was also that gale-force wind. Officially at his back, but nothing is official when a berth in the Grey Cup is on the line and you are 10 seconds from elimination. That wind swirled capriciously and, like a bad conscience, arose at the most vulnerable times.

But Osbaldiston — “Oz-zy, Oz-zy” to the Ivor Wynne Stadium masses who would soon be chanting his nickname into the night — had always studied wind the way a general studies the opposing army.

The Tiger-Cats kicker had missed a pair of earlier field goals from 38 yards and had been praying for a chance to trade in his goat horns for angel wings during the 14 seconds since Tracy Ham had marched the Montreal Alouettes 90 yards to a touchdown and an apparent 20-19 victory in the 1998 CFL Eastern Conference Final.

The Als thought they were going to the Grey Cup for the first time since returning to Montreal, and so did most of the 25,739 on hand to witness the final home game of the Tiger-Cats’ Resurrection Year. It was the year they got Danny McManus, Darren Flutie and Ron Lancaster — and still had a prime-time Osbaldiston — and went from 2-16 to first in the east.

With 24 seconds left Osbaldiston, all business and anticipation, immediately told McManus — who hadn’t completed a pass in the five he had thrown in the fourth quarter — that he needed the ball at the Montreal 49 yard line to have any chance of winning the game. McManus, with a neat 15-yard slant to Flutie on the first play after the kickoff and a hand-off to Ron Williams, got it to the Montreal 47.

At the Hamilton bench, Lamar McGriggs willed himself senseless, plugging his ears and covering his head with a towel. Fellow linebacker Calvin Tiggle bent on one knee asking for divine intervention. Safety Rob Hitchcock also engaged in silent prayer.

Montreal stationed receivers Jock Climie and Ben Cahoon and kicker Terry Baker in their distant end zone to punt out a missed field goal and avoid a game-tying single.

The Alouette trio never got the chance. Osbaldiston had mapped the trajectory perfectly. With the wind now gusting right to left, the ball drifted 10 full feet before settling inside the left upright, just over the crossbar. Hamilton 22, Montreal 20, time expired.

“I didn’t see the ball go through,” Flutie, the holder, said afterward. “I just saw his foot and felt it. I knew it. I could tell by the pressure on my thumb that he hit it well enough.”

Osbaldiston didn’t see it go through, either, but he, too, knew by feel: the feel of Flutie smothering his head. Within seconds he was wrestled to Ivor Wynne’s hard turf by several tons of black and gold beef.

For years thereafter a photo hung on The Spectator’s lobby wall showing the Ticats reacting at midfield to Osbaldiston’s improbable strike. At the forefront was Hitchcock, the Glendale boy who had grown up on Ticats lore and was now one of their stars. His squinting, chiseled face was creased in ecstasy, Mount Rushmore spewing tears in the overwhelming joy of erasing a nine-year Cup appearance drought. It is one of my favourite shots ever, and that’s saying something given the depth and quality of Spectator photography.

I talked to Ozzie about that kick this week, and fans from that era say that’s what they remember most.

“One of the things that hit me later in life is, ‘Thank God I made it!'” he said. “What would my footprint in Hamilton football have been, if I missed that kick, given what it meant to the team coming from 2-16 and going to the Grey Cup? And thinking of all the people who had stuck with us.

“My perception has changed. Wow, it’s even bigger than I thought at the time.”

Steve Milton

Steve Milton

Steve Milton is a long-time columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2012.
Steve Milton
Steve Milton
About Steve Milton (235 Articles)
Steve Milton is a long-time columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2012.

15 Comments on He didn’t see it, but he sure knew it: the kick that won the 1998 CFL Eastern Final

  1. Lindsay Wilcox // November 17, 2017 at 12:59 pm //

    Thanks Steve for One of the 2 biggest kick-plays in Ticat history.

    Matched only by last play in regulation time of the ’61 total points play-off game. Argos entered game leading by 18 points. With the teams tied in total points Argos had driven into Ticat territory. Dave Mann punted the ball deep into Ticat end-zone. Sutherin caught it cleanly and punted it back. Mann got the return kick and appeared to attempt to kick the ball out-of-bounds in the end-zone for winning point. Faloney caught the ball about 5-10 yards deep, and instead of kicking with 2 Argos in his face, took off running, deking out the would-be Argo tacklers and ran the entire length of the field to Argo end-zone, BUT with much illegal blocking. So had to go to overtime 2 ten-minute halves like a regular game. Ticats scored 4 unanswered TDs in those 20 minutes to advance to Grey Cup, final score Ticats 48 Argos 2.

    • Don’t forget about Ian Sunter in the 1972 GC my friend! 🙂

      • lovecanada // November 17, 2017 at 2:45 pm //

        While 1998 EF was one the most famous the one that occurred the next week was the most infamous.

        • You mean when the TC’s lost to Howdy Doody? Yeah but they beat Dick the following year so all things considered equal.

    • RabidTicat // November 17, 2017 at 3:16 pm //

      I saw that play on an NFL Bloopers show in the 80’s, on TV. It was the most impressive play I have ever seen. Would love for the footage of that to show up on youtube, or something. I am only in my early forties and my contemporaries can’t seem to wrap their head around the fact that this play could actually occur. It is the quintessential play to illustrate that the CFL is better than the NFL. I have no idea how it never made the top 10 lists on the sports channels at the end of last century.

  2. Lindsay Wilcox // November 17, 2017 at 1:03 pm //

    Greatest game, and most one-sided victory, not just by the score, but 4 TDs in 20 minutes of overtime = 12 TDs in 60 minutes regulation.

  3. Lindsay Wilcox // November 17, 2017 at 6:16 pm //

    Philski, I was at ’72 GC game and it was great too.

    But for sheer drama, Ozzie’s kick and Faloney’s return are tops for me (IMO)

  4. Dundas dude // November 17, 2017 at 8:49 pm //

    Too bad the team piling on Ozzie injured him for the Grey Cup. We need another Grey Cup soon. 2018 would be a great year to start another dynasty. Give the Argos another Cup in 2017 to appease their fan base, and let’s see Hamilton earn the Cup in 2018….if we start 2018 like the last 8 games of 2017, the eastern final will be at the doughnut box in a year. Go Cats!

  5. Even though I was in the stands as a die-hard Als fan, and thought that we were FINALLY going to win the East after 3 years of pushing, it was still the best game I’ve ever seen live. Not just for the finish, but for the intensity all game. But Baker blew the Als kick-off, and that old-fart TiCat QB threw a couple of quick passes to set it up. As the FG sailed up, it was cloudy, windy, and smelled like Hamilton. I still can’t believe it.

    • richinbanff (Rich Wilson) // November 17, 2017 at 9:08 pm //

      So true. I attended 160 Ticat games between 1989 and 2004. It was easily the best one. The Cats were the better team, but Mtl looked like they stole it until this ridiculously long attempt went through. My friends and I called it “Agony to Ecstasy in 24 Seconds.” The climax was all of the fans falling over each other, hugging strangers and jumping around and slipping on the benches. My fondest memory attending a sporting event.

  6. I was at the 1972 Grey Cup game with my buddy, and the 1998 Eastern Final with my son. Both were great wins and memorable, but watching Ozzy boot that ball with my son beside me, is #1 with me.

    Thanks for the story, Steve.

    • I think of the character cast in 1972 – the “Stone Thrower”, Mosca, Henley, Gabriel, Chalupka…that group alone could kick anyone’s ass present day.

  7. I will never forget that kick and the ensuing bedlam at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

  8. Great read but where’s the photo??

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