Toronto’s Checkered Grey Cup Past
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Toronto’s Checkered Grey Cup Past

An up-close look at the Grey Cup trophy reveals countless dents and scratches attesting to the long and colourful life of probably the most disrespected and abused trophy in sports. Since being donated by Canada’s 9th Governor General, Earl Grey, the trophy has been head-butted, sat on, and snapped in half. It’s been abandoned for years at a time in bank vaults and hall closets. It’s been forgotten in empty stadiums and hotel rooms by over-celebratory teams. It was even the only trophy to survive a devastating fire at the Argonaut Rowing Clubhouse in 1947. Like the trophy’s countless misadventures, the championship game itself has never been boring. There have been countless memorable plays and victory celebrations. As the city which has hosted and won more Grey Cups than any other, Toronto has its fair share of lively Grey Cup anecdotes. To get into the spirit of this weekend’s game, these are just a handful.


1st Grey Cup

December 4, 1909 at Rosedale Field, Toronto
University of Toronto 26, Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club 6
When U of T won the first championship, no trophy could be awarded because Earl Grey had forgotten to have it made. When the Varsity Blues finally got their hands on the Cup three months later, they refused to relinquish it. Despite not reaching the championship game in 1912 or 1913, the trophy U of T refused to make it available to subsequent champions until 1914. After winning the Cup in 1915, the Hamiton Tigers exacted their revenge for U of T’s fit of self-importance. They added a (wholly fictional) inscription to the trophy’s base proclaiming the Tigers as the 1908 champions. According to rumour, the inscription remains, as a reminder of this early chapter in the Toronto-Hamilton rivalry.

26th Grey Cup

December 10, 1938 at Varsity Stadium, Toronto
Toronto Argonauts 30, Winnipeg Blue Bombers 7
Heading into the fourth quarter of a close, tense game, the home town spectators were disappointed to see their team losing to Winnipeg 7-6. Then, Alvin “Red” Storey entered the game to become one of those rare mediocre players who, with everything at stake, emerges with an incredible individual performance to become the unlikeliest of sports heroes. The twenty-year-old Barrie native was a talented, but inauspicious substitute player, whose main contribution throughout the season had been to sit on the bench and keep the team’s spirits up through clownish behaviour. Upon entering the game, Storey’s bright clean jersey stood out from the rest of the mud-covered Argos. On his first touch of the football, Storey eluded five defenders to score the first of his three touchdowns. He gained 190 all-purpose yards, including a hundred yard dash up the sideline. His performance, one of the greatest in Grey Cup history, inspired his downtrodden teammates to victory. The fans raised him above their shoulders to carry him off the field to the post-game celebrations. Storey never matched this performance, although he did enjoy a long career as a well-known NHL referee.

36th Grey Cup

November 27, 1948 at Varsity Stadium, Toronto
Calgary Stampeders 12, Ottawa Rough Riders 7
Until the 36th Grey Cup the Calgary Stampeders had never before reached a Grey Cup final. They were followed across the country by two train-loads of supporters in cowboy hats, multi-coloured western shirts and boot spurs. Shortly before the fans’ arrival, the Stampeders were shepherded to the reasonably quiet safety of Oakville while the fans kicked off the Grey Cup’s first great party. Moments after disembarking from the train, Calgarians had turned the Union Station rotunda into an impromptu square dance with accordion, guitar and fiddle. Toronto commuters were bewildered. Infected by the enthusiasm of the fans, Toronto Mayor Buck McCallum attended the first ever flapjack breakfast on the steps of (Old) City Hall and rode a horse in the Grey Cup parade. On game day, the havoc of Stampeders fans and Rough Riders fans marching to Varsity Stadium caused huge traffic delays on Bay, Yonge and Bloor. The game was sold out, but the fans just crashed the gate. The fan festivities surrounding the 36th Grey Cup far outshone the game itself, initiating a tradition which continues to this day.

38th Grey Cup

November 25, 1950 at Varsity Stadium, Toronto
Toronto Argonauts 13, Winnipeg 0
Inclement weather has never raised the quality of on-field play, but has often added distinct character to championship games. The 1950 Grey Cup was baptized the “Mud Bowl” for good reason. The night before the game, bulldozers were used to clear the field of a week’s worth of heavy snowfall. With grass stripped away with the snow, the field was left pockmarked and pot-holed. Then, on game day, the weather turned to heavy rain, and the field filled with deep puddles. Partway through the mucky and poorly-played game, Winnipeg player Buddy Tinsley was sprawled face down in a puddle at the bottom of a pile-up. As play moved on, screaming spectators alerted the referee to Tinsley’s motionless body. Rolling the player on his back, the ref lifted his arm, only to see it crash limply to the ground with a great splash of water. He managed to escape unharmed, but the “Mud Bowl” would be remembered as the Grey Cup in which a player nearly drowned.

40th Grey Cup

November 29, 1952 at Varsity Stadium, Toronto
Toronto Argonauts 21, Edmonton Eskimos 11
For much of the first half of the twentieth century, the Argonauts were the most dominant team in Canadian football. Repeatedly, they overcame impossible situations with lucky bounces—the Argo Bounce—to find a way to win. As one football historian wrote of those days: “In Toronto, Grey Cup appearances were regarded not so much as signs of success but confirmations of destiny.” The Argo’s last great dynasty—when they won five championships in eight years—ended in 1952. The game also ushered in the television era, as CBLT showed it live for an audience of 700,000. The first broadcast was not without its mishaps. During the third quarter, the video feed was lost. The announcer continued to call the game, as a repairman frantically tried to repair the station’s signal. After nearly a half hour, viewers were able to watch the exciting conclusion of the game and one of the most famous plays in Argos history. Quarterback Nobby Wirkowski passed deep into Edmonton territory, arching the ball into the hands of a stumbling Zeke O’Connor, who then ran up the sideline into the endzone to seal the 21-11 victory for the Argos. In jubilant celebration, the 27,291 fans in attendance swarmed the field and tore down the goal posts, not knowing it would be the last chance for such celebrations until 1983. In the years to come, the Argo Bounce began referring to, in the words of Jay Teitel, the “Argos’ uncanny ability to lose critical games in the dying minutes by committing an improbable blunder” just when victory seemed assured. With this change of fortune, the Argos would suffer twenty-one losing seasons over the next thirty years.

45th Grey Cup

November 30, 1957 at Varsity Stadium, Toronto
Hamilton Tiger-Cats 32, Winnipeg Blue Bombers 7
The 45th Grey Cup wasn’t particularly memorable—Hamilton won handily—but for one truly unique incident. Hamilton’s star defensive back, Ray “Bibbles” Bawel, was the hero of the game. Late in the game, he picked off an errant Blue Bomber pass deep in his own zone, and sprinted up the sideline for what seemed an easy touchdown. Then, out of nowhere, a fan stuck his out his leg from the crowded sideline and tripped the streaking player at the Winnipeg forty-yard line. By the time Bawel jumped up looking for a fight, the culprit had already melted back into the crowd and out an exit, laughing. Speculation swirled over the identity and motivation of the attacker. Although they received no formal complaints from fans, players or league officials, the police launched an investigation into the incident. David Humphreys, a prominent Toronto lawyer (and later Justice of the Ontario Court General Division), eventually admitted his guilt. Years later, he explained that upon seeing an adversary who’d condemned one of his clients to death, Humphreys took out his aggression on the nearest thing he could find: Ray Bawel racing up the field.

50th Grey Cup

December 1-2, 1962 at CNE Stadium, Toronto
Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28, Hamilton Tiger-Cats 27
Featuring the era’s two powerhouse teams facing each other for the fifth time in six years, the stage was set for a classic Grey Cup showdown in 1962. That script, however, didn’t take into account the wind and wacky weather caused by CNE Stadium’s lakeshore location. The combination of cold lake water and unseasonably warm temperatures blanketed the field in a thick fog. Despite the atrocious weather, TV contract obligations and the arrival of a huge crowd compelled the CFL commissioner to press on with what became known as the “Fog Bowl.” On the field, the players had acceptable visibility, and those who could actually see the action were impressed. An American reporter witnessing his first CFL game wrote: “This is the greatest spectacle of them all. I’ve not seen hitting as hard as this in any game…what a pity the fog had to spoil it.” Fans watching at home on TV could see very little through the haze, and visibility in the stadium deteriorated so badly that the scoreboard disappeared from view. After consulting weather officials, the commissioner finally suspended the game partway though the fourth quarter. Under clear blue skies the following day, only 15,000 fans returned to watch Winnipeg hold on to their 28-27 lead and Grey Cup victory.

58th Grey Cup

November 28, 1970 at CNE Stadium, Toronto
Montreal Alouettes 23, Calgary Stampeders 10
On the night of December 20, 1969, thieves broke into the offices of the Ottawa Rough Riders and stole the Grey Cup from a display case. One can imagine the hue-and-cry if the Stanley Cup suddenly disappeared, but on this occasion, the reaction of everyone involved was positively nonchalant. The Ottawa police unworriedly hoped it was a prank. League officials noted that, despite its immeasurable sentimental value, the trophy had only cost Earl Grey $48 and promised a replica would be built in time for the 58th Grey Cup. Having been completely ignored, the kidnappers simply gave in. On February 16, 1970, the Metro Toronto Police were instructed by anonymous phone call to retrieve a key from a phone booth at Parliament and Dundas and unlock a locker at the Royal York Hotel, which contained the trophy. Before turning the Cup over to the league, the police decided to crown themselves champions and affixed a piece of tape reading “Metro Police ETF” to the trophy, but never nabbed the thieves.

70th Grey Cup

November 28, 1982 at CNE Stadium, Toronto
Edmonton Eskimos 32, Toronto Argonauts 16

71st Grey Cup

November 27, 1983 at BC Place Stadium, Vancouver
Toronto Argonauts 18, BC Lions 17

The 70th Grey Cup featured one of the most ignoble franchises squaring off against a team in the midst of one of the most remarkable sports dynasties. New Argonauts head coach Bob O’Billovich led the team from the wilderness of irrelevance (a 2-14 record in 1981) to a 12-4 record and first place finish in the East. He implemented an innovative run-and-shoot offensive scheme to take advantage of the athleticism of the star quarterback-receiver tandem of Condredge Holloway and Terry Greer. Dreams of winning the Cup before a home crowd were dashed in this encounter with the Edmonton Eskimos. Behind the quarterbacking combo of Tom Wilkinson and Warren Moon, Edmonton won five consecutive Grey Cup titles between 1978 and 1982. Toronto fought gamely and had a chance to tie the score late in the game. From the Edmonton 7-yard line, Holloway passed to Cedric Minter, only to see the Argo Bounce strike again when Minter fumbled the ball.
The following season, the Argonauts were finally able to break the thirty-one year drought with a narrow, come-from-behind victory over the BC Lions in Vancouver, sending Torontonians spilling into Yonge Street to celebrate the victory late into the night. Since breaking the curse, the Argonauts have been crowned champions again in 1991, 1996, 1997, and 2004.

77th Grey Cup

November 26, 1989 at SkyDome, Toronto
Saskatchewan Roughriders 43, Hamilton Tiger-Cats 40
The 1989 showdown between Saskatchewan and Hamilton is regarded by many as the greatest Grey Cup ever played. Both teams—who’d faced off in the 1972 final—upset heavily-favoured opponents to reach the final. As expected, the two offensively efficient (and defensively weak) teams entertained the massive SkyDome crowd an exciting shoot-out. The teams matched each other play-for-play and score-for-score. When Saskatchewan quarterback Kent Austin, hit Jeff Fairholm for a highlight-reel 76-yard touchdown pass, Mike Kerrigan, Ti-Cat quarterback and hero of the 1986 Grey Cup rout, matched it with breathtaking plays of his own. His pass to Tony Champion late in the game resulted in a spectacular acrobatic catch and the game-tying touchdown. Then with only forty-four seconds remaining, Austin drove the Roughriders 56 yards down the field to set up a 33-yard field goal attempt by Dave Ridgway. The entire stadium fell silent as the ball was snapped before roaring in unison as the ball sailed through the uprights. One of the most iconic moments in Grey Cup lore, it has become simply known as “The Kick.”
Not all traditions from the Grey Cup’s colourful past will be repeated this year in Toronto. Inside the Rogers Centre, weird weather won’t be a deciding factor in the game; nor will the Cup likely be stolen out from under security’s watchful eye. But some traditions are sure to continue. The festival-atmosphere pioneered by Stampeders fans in 1948 is already underway. And, the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers will certainly enough highlight-reel plays and cliff-hanger moments to satisfy any sports fan. Even if the banged-up trophy still doesn’t always get the respect it deserves, it’ll continue to enliven Canadian life for years to come.
All photos courtesy of the Toronto Argonauts Football Club.