TORONTO - There is a long list of players who have been the runner-up for the CFL's most outstanding player award and gone on to win the Grey Cup.
Lately, however, being named the league's top talent is a sign of good things to come. Chad Owens is hoping that recent trend continues on Sunday.
The Toronto Argonauts receiver/returner was named the league's most outstanding player on Thursday night after receiving 41 of 57 votes from the Football Reporters of Canada and head coaches. Owens beat out a man he will be playing against on Sunday in the 100th Grey Cup at Rogers Centre, Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish.
The MOP has gone on to win the Grey Cup two of the last three seasons and four of the previous six. B.C. Lions quarterback Travis Lulay accomplished the feat last year, while Montreal Alouettes pivot Anthony Calvillo turned the trick in 2009.
"Everything that happened to me prior throughout my career, it all happened for this moment, for us being here with a chance to bring a Cup home to Toronto," Owens said after accepting his award at the Royal Conservatory of Music. "I truly envisioned this moment being here and being in this position. And I'm just so thankful that it came true, and it couldn't have been with a better group of guys."
Owens, also known as the Flyin' Hawaiian, broke Pinball Clemons' record for most combined yards in a single season, racking up a whopping 3,863 through the air and in the return game. He was the league's receiving yards leader as well with 1,328, benefiting greatly from the arrival of star quarterback Ricky Ray from Edmonton.
"My teammates, there's no way I would've done what I did out there without them and they know that," said Owens, who had his son, Chad Jr., by his side when he met with the media. "I stress that every single time. It means that hard work, perseverance, dedication, passion "¦ if you do all those things, dreams can come true."
Cornish didn't go away empty-handed on Thursday night, easily taking home the top Canadian award after receiving all but three of 57 votes against Montreal Alouettes linebacker Shea Emry.
"It's a tremendous honour," said Cornish, who became the first Canuck to win the rushing title since 1988. "At this point in my career, it's the biggest award I've ever received."
Besides, there's an even bigger trophy up for grabs on Sunday at Rogers Centre.
"There is one goal on my mind," he said. "I have a big list of people to thank, but that list is secondary in my mind. I have football practice and my playbook. Those things are far more important at this particular time. After the Grey Cup is won, that's a different story."
Even though it came after the votes had been counted, perhaps Owens' best performance of the season was when it mattered most: In Sunday's East final at Olympic Stadium. Owens had 11 catches for 207 receiving yards and finished with 346 combined yards.
Now he has a chance to join Lulay and Calvillo, and Saskatchewan's Kerry Joseph (2007) and B.C.'s Geroy Simon (2006) in making it an MOP and Grey Cup sweep. What he doesn't want is for Cornish to join the likes of Ron Lancaster, Tommy Scott, Brian Kelly and Henry Burris, and turn Thursday night disappointment into Sunday success.
J.C. Sherritt can tackle with the best of them, but speaking to a crowd is not his forte.
Edmonton's middle linebacker, who broke a CFL record this season with 130 tackles, became the first Eskimo to be named the loop's top defensive player since Elfrid Payton won the award in 2002.
"I totally forgot to thank my teammates," Sherritt said after leaving the stage. "I have a fear of public speaking, so I panicked and didn't thank them. I obviously should have, because that defensive line protected me all year long. That's our award."
Meanwhile Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver/returner Chris Williams was named the top special teams player, making him a two-time major award winner after only two seasons in the league. He also took home the top rookie honour in 2011.
This year he broke a CFL record with six return touchdowns and added another 11 through the air.
"It's just fun to score a TD any way you can," Williams said.
B.C. Lions right tackle Jovan Olafioye was named the most outstanding offensive lineman after allowing just one sack this season, and Alouettes receiver Brian Bratton had reason to smile after a heartbreaking performance a few days earlier.
What would have been the game-tying TD bounced off his chest in the East final, but on Thursday he won the Tom Pate Memorial Award for his sportsmanship, and contributions to his team and community.
When they say there's parity in the CFL, they really mean it this year.
For the first time in 20 years, the league's major award winners all came from different teams.
Calgary, Edmonton and B.C. represented the West Division on Thursday night, while Toronto, Winnipeg and Hamilton produced winners from the East.
The previous time all different teams were represented in the winner's circle was in 1992, when the Grey Cup was also held in Toronto. There were only five winners that year, since the top special-teams award wasn't handed out until 1999.
The league's outstanding players in 1992 were Calgary's Doug Flutie (top player, pictured), Saskatchewan's Ray Elgaard (Canadian), Edmonton's Willie Pless (defensive), Ottawa's Rob Smith (offensive lineman) and Winnipeg's Michael Richardson (rookie).