Drama the Crowd Misses
The inside story of many a football battle is even more thrilling than the game itself
PERHAPS you were one of the 15,000 pop-eyed fans who jammed Varsity Stadium that Saturday last December when Toronto Argos and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers clashed in the Dominion Final. Do you remember what you saw that day? You saw a great kicking duel between Bob Isbister and Steve Olander, superb downfield tackling by the Argos which successfully hobbled the dangerous Fritz Hanson, and some remarkable plunging by Bob Fritz which kept Argo supporters on the anxious seat most of the afternoon.
You sawr the Blue Bombers score three jxñnts on kicks over the goal line, and the Argos beat them by the slimmest of margins by scoring a single and a placement.
This was the surface show you had come to see. and it w'as plenty thrilling. But perhaps you remember sensing as the game wore on that an underlying motive, as elusive as it was irresistible, seemed to be inspiring the Argos’ play. Argos won that game, as they had won all the tough ones earlier in the season, by exhibiting a spirit superior to anything their opponents had to offer. And as you watched them you actually began to believe that old football cliché. “A team that won’t be beaten, can’t be beaten.”
D)u Hayman is a gocxl coach—one of the best—and he has the knack of getting very close to the boys who play for him. He is wise enough to know how powerfully they react to human warmth and sentiment. To get them to know' and like each other, he takes them away on week-end trips to the country before the season opens, and his teams have to a marked degree that one-for-all-and-all-for-one spirit.
The crow'd never knew that the Argos had dedicated that final game to an injured team mate. Annis Stukus, one of the best liked players on the squad. While blocking on a kick formation in the semi-final with Sarnia the previous Saturday. Stukus had suffered fractures to three small bones in his back. A couple of nights before the game. Hayman took the team to see Stukus in his hospital room. They found the injured player propped up in bed, but football was the only thing in his mind.
“I wanted to break my placement kicking record.” Stukus kidded, trying not to let his team mates see howbrokenhearted he was at being kept out of the game. "I guess you’ll have to do it for me. kid,” he said to Earl Selkirk, who w-as to take up the task of place kicking in his absence.
The crowd did not hear the Argos’ battle cry, "We’ll win this one for Stuke!” in the dressing room before the game. It did not see Hayman get up off the bench and walk over to Earl Selkirk in the second quarter, when the Argos had worked the ball into position to try for a placement. It did not hear him say. “This is your chance. Earl. Remember what Stuke said to you. Now let’s see you make this one1 good for him.” Selkirk trotted out on the field with a light in his eyes that said he couldn’t miss; and he didn’t. The ball sailed squarely between the posts.
It was this great team spirit that kept Teddy Morris and Wes Cutler going in that final game, when they might tetter have been under the doctor’s care. The phenomenal
open-field tackling of Cutler and the knifing plunges of Morris gave the big crowd many chances to rip open the chilly atmosphere that afternoon, but it never susjjected that the pair were playing on nerve alone.
Before Cutler Ux>k the field that day, his legs were wrapped tight in heavy tape from the ankle to the knee. He was suffering from a bad case of “shin splints.” The only relief for this malady is complete rest, and every time he went jxiunding up the field under Isbister’s long punts he must have felt as if sharp knives were stabbing him in the legs. And all during the previous week, with the help of the Argo trainer, Ted Morris was treating a badlyswollen hand with hot and cold applications. He refused to let a doctor lcx>k at it. because he was afraid the doctor might discover it was broken and forbid him to play.
On the field, Morris paid no attention to the hand. He acted as though it were not there. The only concession he made to it was when he asked the quarterback not to throw any passes to him. But he did that, not because he was afraid of the pain, but because he was afraid he might fumble. In the dressing rœm, when it was all over, his hand was as big as a football, but it was only then that he would consider having expert medical attention.
The crowd that witnessed the Toronto Varsity-Western University game in London last fall saw Varsity’s Cam Gray, after a shaky start, settle down and turn in one of the outstanding performances of his college career. He scored all his team’s points, and Varsity earned a tie with the Mustangs almost solely on the strength of his individual performance. But the crowd that applauded his brilliant efforts did not know that all through the game he was carrying as heavy a freight of sorrow as any boy is ever asked to tear.
Only the players and executives of the Varsity team knew that Gray had received a wire that morning saying that his father had died in the night at his home in Sarnia. There was a strange scene in the Varsity dressing room before that game. The players dressed in silence and Gray dressed with them, but nobody knew yet if he was going to play. A few minutes before it came time to go out. Coach Warren Stevens sat down on the tench beside Gray and put his arm around the grief-stricken youth.
“Cam.” he said. “I don’t want to advise you one way or the other about this. Play or stay out of it whichever you think test.”
Gray’s team mates strained forward to hear his answer. They saw the saddened boy’s face working convulsively as he struggled for control. When at last he stoxi up. his face was set as he said quietly, “I think I’ll play. It might help me to forget.”
C^\NE OF the most sensational games ever staged in the history of Canadian fxtball was the Dominion Final between Ottawa and Sarnia in 1936. For the sixty minutes that the watch was running in that epic struggle, situations were developed and reversed so unexpectedly, and thrill mounted upon thrill with such incredible rapidity, that it was almost tx much for the excitement -shocked spectators to bear. At the end, they left the stadium as empty of emotion as a squeezed orange.
Sarnia was a great team that day, but if you catch Bill Hughes with his hair down he will tell you that Sarnia didn’t win that game; Ottawa lost it. Hughes was coaching Ottawa then, and the incident which he believes decided the game was something the crowd never saw.
It happened in the third quarter, when the Sarnia defense was start,ing to buckle before the powerhouse Ottawa offensive. Sprague, Wadsworth and Ross were taking turns at tearing the Sarnia defense apart. The Ottawa steam roller at last had started to roll. It came to an abrupt stop when Bunny Wadsworth, his face contorted wdth rage, came wrestling out of a scrimmage and started throwing lefts and rights to the face and Ixxly, as the saying goes, of any Sarnia player within reaching distance.
The battle along the wing line was smoking hot that afternoon, and a lot of stuff went on that even the trained eyes of the officials failed to catch. Wadsworth claimed, and it’s probably true, that he had been held illegally in the scrimmage. But he was put off for the rest of the game for his belligerence, and the steam roller never again got going with quite the same momentum.
The incident must have taken Bill Hughes back to a day in 1913 when McGill and Varsity were battling it out for the Intercollegiate title in the same stadium. McGill was enjoying a comfortable lead with the big half of the game gone, when the whole complexion of the game suddenly changed. Varsity plungers, who had been stopped dead until then, began to pick up ten and twelve yards at a clip. In a few moments the Varsity offense became a cyclone that threatened to blow McGill right out of the stadium. But the attack stopped just as suddenly as it started, and the crowd never knew what set it in motion or brought it to such a sudden standstill.
Referees did not blow a fast whistle then, and there was a player pile-up on every down. Bill Hughes was playing in the McGill line that day. and in one of these pile-ups Varsity’s Charlie Gage, a rough-and-ready gent, found himself lying on top of Hughes. Gage got to his feet by the simple expedient of putting his hand on Bill’s head and pushing his face deep into the mud. This action turned Hughes into a raging lunatic.
On the very next play he charged wildly across the scrimmage line and tore after Gage. It happened that the Varsity quarterback had called a play that sent the ball carrier catapulting through the spot that had just been vacated by Hughes. For one of the few times that afternoon Varsity made yards. The surprised quarterback tried another play down the same alley. Again the sticks moved, and now he was convinced that he had found a weakness in the McGill line. As fast as they could line up, he sent the Varsity ball carriers careening through the same hole, while the McGill players looked at each other in bewilderment.
Varsity had almost reached the McGill goal line before Pep Paisley, playing in the McGill backfield, noticed Hughes, mumbling incoherently to himself, leave his position the moment the ball was put into play and go after Gage, who led him a merry chase away from the play. Paisley immediately reached down, snapped a shoelace and called for “time out.” While the McGill trainer was digging up a new lace Paisley had time to tell Hughes that Gage was making a fool of him and that, on top of it, he was letting the whole team down. Hughes quickly cooled down, and when play was resumed the McGill defense rallied and threw back Varsity’s bid for a touchdown.
What Bill Hughes learned that day, and what Bunny Wadsworth later forgot, is that one of the main differences between senior football and the schoolboy brand is self-discipline. You have to be a “team player” to be really effective in senior football, and a good team player never does anything prejudicial to the interests of his team. He does as he is told, and is
willing to sacrifice himself at all times. Ottawa had such a player that day against Sarnia in little Andy Tommy, whose devotion to his team’s cause led him to expose himself recklessly in a last-minute effort to pull the game out of the fire.
Tommy had scored Ottawa’s first touchdown by taking a pass from his partner in the Ottawa backfield, Tommy Daley, eluding several tacklers to get out in the open, and then outracing the Sarnia safety man in a hair-raising dash for the goal line. From then on he was closely watched by the Sarnia defense until, late in the third quarter, he had to be helped from the field after a particularly heavy tackle.
The hearts of the Ottawa players and their supporters sank lower in their chests as they watched the little back being borne away to the side lines. As long as he was out there anything might happen, but with him out of the way Sarnia could pack its defense. But he gave them reason to hope once more when, with several minutes still left to play, he again appeared on the field. The Ottawa team then started its magnificent closing rally, a drive that carried it from deep in its own territory to within a few yards of the Sarnia goal line, where it petered out when a desperate attempt at a forward pass went awry. But the crowd never realized the risk Tommy ran to participate in that last-minute effort.
When he was forced to leave the game, he was taken to the dressing room underneath the stand and examined by Dr. Andy Davies, president of the Ottawa Football Club. Dr. Davies discovered that the muscles of Tommy’s shoulder had been tom from their bone moorings by violent contact with the frozen gridiron. It was a painful injury, one that would ordinarily keep him out of the game for several weeks. But even as the doctor was taping the shoulder, the noise of the crowd came faintly to their ears.
Tomnv £ face twitched and there were tears in Ds eyes as he gasped, “You got to do something, doc. It hurts something awful, but I got to get hack out there.” Dr. Davies demurred at first, warning Tommy that it wouldn’t he so good if the injury were aggravated. But the player j pleader! so eloquently that the doctor finally took a syringe and a bottle from his physician's kit and needled the damaged shoulder with novocain. The lines of weariness and pain were sponged magically from Tommy’s face as he raced from the dressI ingroom.
FRANK TURVILLE. ex-Hamilton Tiger backfield ace, was another fine "team player,” though erratic individually because of his penchant for taking long chances. Yet the day he took the biggest gamble of his football career the crowd was completely unaware of it.
This was in the Ottawa-Hamilton game in Hamilton, in 1935. What the crowd saw that day was an uncertain start by Turville, whose fumble of a punt resulted in an Ottawa field goal. Then it saw Turville suddenly catch fire and ignite the whole Hamilton team so that it ran, smashed and passed its way to within striking distance of the Ottawa goal line. Here the Tigers came to a temporary liait when Turville, in an attempt to break a tackle on an end sweep, was lifted high in the air and crashed violently to the earth on his unprotected head and shoulders.
The Tiger players and trainers huddled anxiously around Turville. But after a few minutes rest, he climbed to his feet and went far back behind the wing line to try for a placement. The ball went straight as a rifle shot and the score was tied. Then in rapid succession he kicked two more placements and a single point, and walked calmly off the field.
What the crowd did not know was that the Ottawa team had deliberately set out to make a target of the flashy Turville. Their pre-battle strategy was to try to harry him into making some reckless gesture that would result in an error which could he converted into a quick score. When he fumbled that first catch, the Ottawa players grinned knowingly at each other as they lined up for the fresh kickoff, and one of them shouted. "Good old Fumbling Frank.”
Turville’s team mates, aware now that the Ottawa players were trying to make a goat of him, watched him fearfully to see if he was going to pull himself together or crack wide open. For a minute or two the game resolved itself into a private duel between Turville and the whole Ottawa team. When he demonstrated that he was going to fight back with everything he had, the Tigers quickly fell in behind him and started their victorious march.
The crowd did not see the last act of this ¡ bit of drama, because it txik place in the dressing room. It did not realize why he had voluntarily retired from the game. But the instant the dressing-room door closed ] behind him and he was out of sight of the crowd, his face became screwed up with ! pain. He dropped heavily onto a bench j and his sweaty head slumped forward on his chest. “Hey, help me off with this sweater, will you?” he asked a club attendi ant. “Something’s happened up here.” He ! indicated his shoulder. “I can hardly j move my arm.” And only when they got the sweater off him did it become apparent that he had played through a whole quarter and scored ten points, enough to give his team a safe lead, with a cracked collarbone.
There is always a reason for those startling reversals of form which teams sometimes display in the course of a game, and it is usually something that the crowd never sees. In 1922, Queen’s University won its first intercollegiate title in eighteen long years, and old Queen’s players still talk about the game that won the championship for them. They give most of the credit for the win to the late Johnny Evans.
Evans was a goxi quarterback because he could think coldly while his emotions flamed. He was mercurial by nature, he had fire in his veins, and he liked to burn and exult. The Queen’s offense that year was built around a huge player who was an effective ball carrier when he was in the mood. During the first half of the game, he played as if he had no particular interest in the outcome. But when the teams returned after half-time, he gave such a phenomenal display of line smashing that Queen’s scored a surprise victory.
It was a scene in the dressing room during the rest interval between Evans and the big plunger that made all the difference. When the Queen’s team came off the field at the end of the first half, Evans was literally shaking with rage at his huge team mate. I le pounded the big fellow in the chest with his fists. “What’s the matter with you?” he shouted. “Why don’t you plow in there? Are you yellow?” The big boy would have socked Evans then and there if his team mates hadn’t prevented him. But he was so roused to fighting pitch by the fiery Evans that he took it out on the opposition and played j like a man possessed.
So the lucky fellow with the choicest seat in the stadium doesn’t always see the whole football show. He sees the long runs, the booming punts, the thrilling shoelace tackles in the open, the exciting marches up and down the field and the stirring goal-line stands. But he seldom sees the whole show just the same, because the most significant scenes in the whole fixitball drama are enacted, as often as not. outside the orbit of his fascinated gaze.