Football appeals to Canadians on many levels. Most of us are pessimistic about ever seeing a Stanley Cup again on this side of the border, but nine of our cities can dream of winning the Grey Cup. Add to this the quirky Canadian rules to prove we are different from the Americans (a point for a failed field goal - how Canadian), regional rivalries, and the pleasure that the rest of Canada feels at the general futility of the Toronto Argonauts, and Canadian football even helps to shade the Canadian identity.
The Grey Cup was donated by Albert Henry George Grey, yet another of those governors general who have left their monikers on our sporting life. A tireless promoter of schemes for improving the moral and physical health of the Empire, Grey was persuaded in 1909 by an Ottawa newspaper editor to donate a cup to the football champions of Canada.
The first Grey Cup game was played December 4, 1909. The University of Toronto varsity team won the game in front of 3807 fans, but had to wait until the following March for the cup. Grey's staff forgot to have it made.
The cup took a while to establish its place at the heart of Canadian sporting life. The western teams, who were always forced to play the game at the convenience of the eastern teams, largely ignored it. In 1912 the McGill Redmen refused to play for the cup, declaring that they could not afford the time away from their studies.
The cup survived its use as an umbrella stand in a hall closet and a disastrous fire that destroyed the clubhouse of the Toronto Argonaut Rowing Club in 1947. After 1948 when Calgarians descended on Toronto with horses, Stetsons and chuckwagons, the cup became the centerpiece of a week-long party and the most watched sports event in the country.
The game's fame has been enhanced over the years because, unlike most events that begin with great expectations, it has delivered on the field. There was the Mud Bowl in 1950, when a referee saved a player from drowning, Jackie Parker's scoop of Chuck Hunsinger's fumble and race to victory in 1954, the dramatic overtime win by Winnipeg over Hamilton in 1961, Leon McQuaig's fumble in 1971 (Toronto lost again) and innumerable last-minute kicks to snatch victory.
Likely the weirdest Grey Cup game took place in Toronto on Saturday December 1 and Sunday December 2, 1962 - the infamous Fog Bowl. As the game progressed into the second quarter, the fog rolled in from the cool waters of Lake Ontario like mustard gas over a battlefield. The Toronto Star reported that the "Metro air was fouler than ever recorded... sulphur and muck, trapped in a layer of stagnant air show levels ten times higher than normal. The fog caused several deaths, chaotic traffic and a crime wave.
|Visibility on the field was adequate to play the game, but the action was invisible to the spectators and the television audience. Here Charlie Shephard catches a touchdown pass (Hamilton Spectator).|
On the field, a really fine game was underway. Garney Henley of the Hamilton Tiger Cats ran for two touchdowns, Bobby Kuntz another. Leo Lewis of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers answered with two touchdowns of his own and tossed another to Charlie Shephard. Most of this was lost to the fans in the stands and to television viewers, including those in the United States who were watching the game on Wide World of Sports.
The players also lost sight of the ball when it was airborne. In the second half, Hamilton's Joe Zuger threw a touchdown pass to Dave Viti. "I threw it up in the air into the fog, he said later, "and I don't know how he saw it coming down. Punt returners could hear the ball being kicked, but could not locate it until they heard it hit the ground. "You'd run over to pick it up, said Garney Henley, "and you could see bodies coming at you, but you could only see them from the knees down.
For CFL commissioner Sydney Halter the game was a nightmare. He visited the field several times, peered into the mist and declared that visibility was not that bad. Finally, with 9 minutes and 29 seconds left, he stopped the game and announced that it would have to be completed the next day. The score was Winnipeg 28 and Hamilton 27.
That Saturday night, the fans kept celebrating in downtown Toronto. Bruised and exhausted, most of the players bedded down in a cheap Lakeshore motel.
The game resumed the following day as the fog lifted. Hamilton moved the ball well but failed to score and Winnipeg won its fourth championship in five years. Former Eskimo great Jackie Parker, who drove 17 hours from his home in Tennessee to watch the game, summed it up: "That was the best ball game I never saw.