Articles

Why the west will win the Grey Cup this year... and next... and next... and next

JOHN KERNS November 23 1957
Articles

Why the west will win the Grey Cup this year... and next... and next... and next

JOHN KERNS November 23 1957

Why the west will win the Grey Cup this year... and next... and next... and next

It makes the most of Canadian rules Its hard-running teams say—and prove—"you can't score if we've got the ball" It has better officials, better organization and a better spirit And the west is going to keep winning, says this expert, till the east gets wise

JOHN KERNS

TRENT FRAYNE

Here are the big reasons why Kerns says west will clobber east in the year-end showdown

On the last Saturday of this month, every Canadian who knows that a halfback is not fifty cents change, and thousands more who don’t, will find themselves in the grip of a fashionable paralysis called Grey Cup fever. Debating the great annual question—Will the east win? Will the west win?—taxi drivers will draw up to the curbs of a dozen cities, escort their passengers to the sidewalks, and punch them on the nose. Milquetoasts will threaten their bosses and bosses will shout at their wives. Wives will go home to mother, whereupon they’ll fight about football.

But speaking as a man who has been in the middle of this fantastic emotional bender called the Grey Cup final—played in it, coached in it, and sat in the stands and reveled in it—speaking from this point of vantage I’ve got news. The east hasn’t got a chance. It hasn’t got a chance this year of 1957. It hasn’t got a chance next year, 1958, and, what’s more, unless it mends its ways, it hasn’t got a chance for maybe five years to come.

They play tougher, sharper, more imaginative football in the west. I’m not speaking specifically about the Edmonton Eskimos, with their three straight Grey Cup victories; I mean the whole league. Don’t forget that the western league’s all-star team pulverized the eastern allstars 35 to 0 in the annual Shrine game in Vancouver last December. Western - Conference

coaches take greater advantage of Canadian rules and they make more judicious use of Canadian players. In every aspect of the game— expansion, recruiting, financing, treatment of the fan, administration and progressiveness of thinking—the west is away out in front.

I’ll show you what I mean. I remember once hearing a puzzled fellow American ask Bill Swiacki, a former Argonaut coach, what they did in Canada with their fifth backfielder (there are only four backs in U. S. football).

"Well,” said Swiacki, “we just flank him wide and settle down to a little American football.”

What he meant was that Big Four coaches send the “extra” backfielder jogging toward the sideline just before the ball is snapped so that when the play starts he’s flanked maybe ten to fifteen yards from the centre of action. To counter him, the defensive team sends out a man, too. Thus you've got eleven-man football because both men are out of the play except for the few times that the quarterback passes to that wide man. Certainly there’s no other use to be made of him.

Worse still, they’ll sometimes flank two men wide, one to each side. That leaves only two backs in a position to take the ball from the quarterback for a running play.

On Grey Cup day watch that western club when it lines up. In the west they take full advantage of every man. They run a lot of plays in

which any one of five backfielders can be the ball-carrier. Most people are familiar with the names of the Edmonton backfielders, so we’ll take them as an example, although this applies to other western teams too. Edmonton quarterback Don Cietty stands close up to the centre to take the ball when the play starts. Lined up four abreast behind him are Johnny Bright, Normie Kwong, Jackie Parker and Rollie Miles. When the ball is snapped to Getty and the four backs arc rolling, he has several options. He can give it to Kwong, who resembles a small tank, or to Bright, who resembles a large one, as they rumble past him and crash up the middle. Or he can fake it to Kwong or Bright but instead flip it to Parker or Miles bounding wide like startled fawns. Or he can fake the handofï, fake the pitchout, but pass downfield instead. This may be getting a little dizzying, but the guy can eschew all these opportunities to frighten the defending team, and run with it himself if he chooses.

This is why the confused defenders tend to acquire sprained ankles trying to decide which shadow to grab. It explains why Montreal’s defense has been ripped to shreds in past Grey Cup games and why I say the eastern representatives will be running around with tongues hanging out this year. All season long in the Big Four, linemen and linebackers have had only two, or at most three, continued on page 81

Why th~~ west will win the Grey Cup this year . . and the next continued from page 21

“Hamilton coach Jim Trimble has seen the light: ‘The way to control the ball is to run it’ ”

ball-carriers to defend against on ground plays. Comes Grey Cup day and there are five, each resembling a footloose caboose.

No line in the east has had to worry much about the quarterback running with the ball. Bernie Faloney. of Hamilton, and Tom Dublinski, who stayed around Toronto long enough for the Argonauts to be eliminated from contention, would have trouble catching a slow-moving bus, and Sam Etcheverry, of Montreal, runs only in case of emergency, like a man heading for the fire exit.

The single exception is Ottawa, whose quarterbacks Hal Ledyard and I om Dimitroff can run some. Ottawa, in fact, has had surprising success in the Big Four this year and I’d like to tell you a little story about that. When Frank Clair was appointed to coach Ottawa in 1956 after being fired by the Argonauts after the 1954 season, he inherited the worst-looking football team I've seen in the Big Four, the 1955 Ottawa Rough Riders. First thing Frank did was get prints of the 1955 Grey Cup films—that was the game in which Edmonton walloped Montreal 34 to 19 at Vancouver— and study that Edmonton offense until his eyes were bloodshot. He diagramed every play, and the Eskimo system thereby became the Ottawa system that brought order out of chaos in the capital. That idea of using the fifth man as a fullback instead of flanking him wide uselessly gave Ottawa an offense that has been giving everybody fits for two seasons and has made Clair the toast of the east.

There are other signs that the east is beginning to smarten up. but they've been so fitful that I can't see eastern clubs really catching the west for some years. Only last month 1 read a Toronto newspaperman’s report on an interview with Hamilton's coach, Jim Trimble. It said that Trimble, a second-year man at Hamilton, “has seen the light. Quoting Trimble, the story said, "The first thing you have to have in Canadian football is a sound defense . . The next thing is ball control. The way to control it is to run it. Punch it out, five, six, four yards at a time. You have to run it.”

The point is that that's been the Western Conference pattern for four seasons!

You might suggest that it seems pointless to keep grinding out the yardage on the ground and score a touchdown in, say, twelve plays when Sam Etcheverry can flip a pass to that wonderful ball player Hal Patterson and score with that one play. Looking at it that way, you're right. But look at it this way: in last year’s Grey Cup game at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium there were 180 plays by both teams, not counting punts. Ordinarily, that would mean each team had 90 plays, give or take a play. Except that last year Edmonton controlled the ball for a staggering 1 13 plays, and Montreal had it for only 67. At the end of the first half Edmonton was leading by five points and the two teams had about the same number of plays; but in the second half, when the Alouettes desperately needed to get the ball, they had it only 19 times, compared with Edmonton’s 61. What all this adds up to is this: Montreal’s usually devastating

aerial attack was actually cut in half because they had the ball only half as

often as they usually do. It's hard for Etcheverry to throw a TD pass to Patterson if his team hasn't got the ball.

And that’s been the secret of all three of Edmonton’s victories over Montreal. The Esks haven't been able to stop the

Montreal offense when Montreal had the ball—in fact, the Alouettes have scored 71 points in the three games—but they've been able to keep them from getting possession of it twice as successfully as Big Four clubs have.

Another reason why I say the west will whip the east is that the western teams play smarter defensively. Take the way Edmonton defensed the Alouettes in the 1955 game at Vancouver and the way the Alouettes defensed Edmonton.

Peahead Walker, the Montreal coach, was visited a couple of days before the game by a western coach who asked him how he planned to defense the Eskimos’ renowned split-T, and Walker told him he'd use what football men call the Eagle defense.

“If you do,” the western coach informed him, “you’ll get killed.”

The Eagle defense is essentially a fiveman line with two linebackers up close behind the ends and two other linebackers outside the ends. That leaves a gaping hole in the middle of your defense from tackle to tackle. The western coach pointed out to Walker that the Eagle defense would be ineffective because those barreling Edmonton fullbacks, Normie Kwong and Johnny Bright, were always slamming up the middle where, as I’ve indicated, there were no linebackers.

“Well, now, I don't know,” drawled Walker. “The Eagle has been mighty good to us all season.”

Of course it was good to him in the Big Four. The Big Four is a passing league in which those corner linebackers can jam the offensive ends heading downfield on pass-catching assignments. But what’s the point of holding up the ends against a team like Edmonton that runs most of the time?

On the other hand, there was a defensive problem confronting Edmonton’s coach, Frank (Pop) Ivy. The west had used twelve American import players all season, and the east had used ten. The Canadian Rugby Union ruling was that ten were permitted, so the west had to drop two men. Who was Ivy to drop? Well, one fellow you’d figure he would not drop was Rupe Andrews, his defensive safety man who had been knocking down passes all season, and had made twelve interceptions. You’d figure Ivy couldn’t drop a man like that against Etcheverry.

Yet Ivy made the big gamble—really, the smart gamble. He didn’t want to weaken any other position and he figured that Jackie Parker could do the defensive job as well as run the offense at quarterback (this was a year before Canadian Don Getty became the regular quarterback and Parker moved over to halfback). Parker had played defensive football in college and with the Eskimos in ’54 but he hadn’t played defense in 1955. That meant he'd have to go sixty minutes in the Grey Cup game.

Well, to show you how the thing worked out, the Alouettes matched touchdowns with the Eskimos through the first half, and led by one point on a kick by halftime. But in the second half, with Bright and Kwong still banging up the middle for big gains and the Alouettes helpless in their Eagle defense, the Eskimos started to pull away. Late in the third quarter, trailing by a touchdown. the Als’ passing started eating up the mileage again. They got deep into Eskimo territory and Etcheverry went back to throw another one. Out of nowhere came the Edmonton safety man. named Parker, to intercept the pass on his own five-yard line. Then he took his ball club methodically up the field, with the Als desperate to get their hands on the ball again, and scored another touchdown. I feel that interception by Parker was the turning point of the game. Alouette spirits were never the same, and Montreal didn't score in the whole second half, the first time that had happened to them all season. Any time they did get the ball, everybody in Empire Stadium knew they’d have to throw it because they were now two touchdowns behind and time was running out. The Esks knocked down the desperation passes, took over the ball as though they owned it and drummed inexorably up the field again. They won 34 to 19.

A number of intangibles go into the construction of a winning football team, and if *you’re sitting in the stands on Grey Cup day this month or if you're watching the game on television, you’ll actually be able to see one in that western line-up. I mean spirit, or, if you like, pride. There’s an eagerness and an enthusiasm about western teams that I suppose is acquired from their hometown fans who seem to regard football as a civic undertaking. You can’t fault Big Four players because their fans treat them in a blasé fashion. I’ll agree, but still the pride that western players take in their ball club and their town is another reason for my insistence that the west will win the Grey Cup. I remember walking out of an exhibition game at Varsity Stadium last September after the Regina Roughriders had beaten the Argonauts, and running into Ted Punchard, an Argo executive. He invited my wife and me to a reception the Argos were holding across the street in the Park Plaza Hotel, where I was delighted to encounter an old friend from my pro-

íessional days in the United States, Jack Russell, the assistant coach of the Roughriders. Jack was a great end for the Roughriders: in fact, he played with them in 1951 when Ottawa beat them for the Grey Cup. A knee injury ended Jack’s career and he returned to Texas where he was an assistant coach at Texas Christian in 1953. He quit that job after one year and when I met him at the party last September I asked him why.

"John,” he said. “I know this sounds crazy, but I was homesick for Regina. I’m a native Texan but when I got back to Texas, football just wasn’t football any more. I wrote to Regina and applied for an assistant’s job. When I got it, all my friends down home thought I was nuts. But that’s only because they haven't seen Regina. 1 know where I want to live.”

That sort of thing goes on all over the west. Jackie Parker, a native of Mississippi, decided last year to live the year round in Edmonton, in spite of the freezing winter temperatures. He has opened a service station there and they tell me you can’t get near the place for people wanting to buy their gas from Jackie Parker. Sure, it’s smart business for Parker, but where do you find this sort of thing in the east? Same thing with Buddy Tinsley, the great import tackle at Winnipeg who has taken out his papers and is now a Canadian citizen.

Bill Boivin, the general manager of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, was telling me recently that it’s a picnic to listen to the big businessmen who are members of the football team’s executive when they are standing around at a cocktail party. Their conversation runs to how well this player and that player is doing in the job the executive found for him, or gave him. Why, those guys feel it’s a personal affront if one of their boys doesn’t do well in business. They give players business advice, often advance them salary so they can make down payments, and make them feel a part of the community. This helps them off the field and gives them a tremendous lift on it.

It may be this way in isolated cases in the east but I’d like to tell you the story of Merv Collins, which I think is general. Merv played for the Argos when I was line coach and he asked me if I’d help him find a job. I went to two companies where I know top executives and I told them about Merv. One fellow was very excited and wanted to know where he could contact Merv.

“Well, I’ll see him at practice tonight,” I said, “and I’ll tell him to call you.”

“At practice?” the man said. “What does he do?”

“He plays for us,” I said. “You know, Merv Collins who plays guard.”

The man coughed and sputtered. He was embarrassed. It turned out that his firm had a company rule forbidding the hiring of professional athletes. Same thing with my other executive friend, and I say you can’t take pride in your team and town when things like this happen.

There are other factors, not directly connected with the game the fan sees on the field, but which contribute greatly to the result they see. The west was the first to have quarterback clubs (Winnipeg had the first in Canada in 1935), booster clubs and membership clubs to which citizens pay dues that help defray the ball club’s expenses. These playerfan organizations stimulate interest in the team and in the game itself. To make their fans feel more a part of the team Regina changed the name of its club to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Vancouver called its team the B. C. Lions. There isn’t this kind of rapport between

the clubs and fans in the east. I can’t imagine a more unlikely football fan than a guy running a farm out on the prairies a couple of hundred miles from the nearest stadium, and yet the west is full of them. The Roughriders run a weekly quarterback club for the fans at Swift Current, 163 miles from Regina, to which players and coaches travel for every meeting. There are two seasonticket holders for Regina home games who live in Carrot River, 350 miles from Regina!

This sort of loyalty is contagious, and I think it explains why the Western Conference all-star team went into last year’s Shrine game in Vancouver with pride in its league and determination to win. One of the first things the eastern players did when they got to B. C. was demand more money. The west should have been sick to death of football. They’d played a sixteen-game schedule, with a double-header every weekend involving thousands of miles of travel stretching all the way from Vancouver to Winnipeg. In the east it was a fourteen-game schedule and the longest hop was Montreal to Hamilton, less than four hundred miles. Yet those westerners seemed to thrive on it and I think it’s because football is organized for the enjoyment of everybody in the west.

Another important point, I think, is that it was the west which first hired a commissioner, although the east has seen the necessity for one in all of my eight years in Canada. Sidney Halter of Winnipeg was appointed four years ago, and his primary job is to direct the game’s officials and handle club disputes. Halter has an official observer at every game in the Western Conference who takes notes and fills out reports on the officials’ work. If a referee, say, or a head linesman is lax, Halter has all the details and

is in a position to administer a decision immediately. There is no such arrangement in the east. In addition Halter and his assistant, Andy Currie, see every conference game, one of them in one city and the other in another, wherever the double-headers are played. Before Halter’s appointment, the referees were given a hard time by coaches and fans who disapproved of a decision. I remember one night in Calgary in 1951 when the Argonauts played an exhibition game there. Les Lear, then coaching the Stampeders, and Archie Gillis, the team manager, created a wild scene in front of the bench when an official’s call riled them. They slammed their ten-gallon hats onto the ground and shook their fists at the official. Then Lear grabbed him and loudly spouted some language usually reserved for an alley fight. This roused the fans, too, and the official could do nothing except try to walk away. That sort of thing has long since passed. Halter has the power to fine coaches, managers or players, and the rowdyism is gone.

When the east finally got around to appointing a commissioner last year, it named Judge Allan Fraser whose only previous connection with sport was that he’d once been an official of the Ottawa Valley Softball league. Thu Big Four declined to give the judge jurisdiction over the league’s officials. Can you imagine Ford Frick trying to run baseball with no authority over the umpires, with every one of them at the mercy of the club owners, as the football officials are in the Big Four? One time Fraser went to a game in Montreal and the gateman wouldn’t let him in. He finally found an Alouette executive who knew him and the league commissioner was able to get a sideline pass which got him into the park but didn’t include a seat.

I wish a commissioner with the league’s full backing had charge of the officials in the Big Four because the officials i:i that league run a game as though they owned the concessions and wanted to allow time for the hawkers to sell all their hot dogs. Ten times a game I’ve seen Seymour Wilson, our most experienced referee, stop the teams like a traffic cop as they whipped out of a huddle and prepared to put the ball into play. He’d hold up that hand until they went back to their huddle and then he’d blow his whistle to signal the start of play, heaven knows why. Some day, a firedup ball club is just going to keep on going as it heads for the line of scrimmage and the centre is going to snap Wilson.

Chief of referees in the Big Four this year is Cec McFaddin, a school teacher who until his appointment was a member of the Argonaut board of governors. He has never been a referee and his appointment, far from settling disputes, immediately caused one involving veteran official Jimmy Simpson. The Argonauts in the past had often complained about Simpson’s work being unfavorable to them, and just by coincidence, no doubt, his name was not included in McFaddin’s list of Big Four officials for 1957.

So what I’m saying is that from top to bottom the WIFU is a better league. The whole mish-mash of the east at the executive level permeates down to the last bench-warmer and has a direct bearing on what you see on the field. That’s why I’m saying that the west will win the Grey Cup a couple of Saturdays from now, and that’s why I believe they’ll win it next year, too. It’s hard to overtake the kind of running start the west has built up and unless or until eastern thinking clears away the cobwebs I know of no reason why the west shouldn’t just go right on winning it. ic