Articles

It's time to bring back Canadian Football

This year television is bringing a game called Canadian football to millions of U. S. viewers. One man whose pride is not stirred is this veteran official who says American influence on our game has gone so far that Canadian fans and Canadian players are both being cheated

HEC CRIGHTON November 1 1954
Articles

It's time to bring back Canadian Football

This year television is bringing a game called Canadian football to millions of U. S. viewers. One man whose pride is not stirred is this veteran official who says American influence on our game has gone so far that Canadian fans and Canadian players are both being cheated

HEC CRIGHTON November 1 1954

It's time to bring back Canadian Football

This year television is bringing a game called Canadian football to millions of U. S. viewers. One man whose pride is not stirred is this veteran official who says American influence on our game has gone so far that Canadian fans and Canadian players are both being cheated

HEC CRIGHTON

TRENT FRAYNE

ANYONE who reads a newspaper, looks at television or listens to his barber knows that Canadian football today is big business. A big part of that business this year was the $350,030 the eastern Big Four received for television rights to games played by its professional teams in Hamilton, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. For that money the American NBC and the Canadian CBC got permission to transmit certain games to an estimated 40 million viewers.

Anyway you look at them, these are impressive figures. Most people connected with professional football in Canada would like you to look at them

as a tremendous pat on the back for their game. Fve heard that argument but Fve also looked at a lot of other evidence. I don’t think that what passes for Canadian football today deserves an unqualified pat on the back. If you’ll go back with me to this season’s opening game at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium I’ll tell you why.

In this game between Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Rough Riders the play was somewhat dull just before half-time. Suddenly an Argonaut backfielder cut through the Ottawa wingline with the ball, swept toward the open field and ran 43 yards for a touchdown. If was done swiftly and expertly

and the Toronto fans, surprised and elated, clapped their hands and shouted acclaim for the runner.

And then, all around me, I heard people asking, “Who was it? Who’s No. 89?” And the answer came, “It’s Ted Toogood—a Canadian.”

“Hey,” I heard one man say excitedly to a neighbor, “he’s a Canadian. It was a Canadian scored that touchdown.”

You could have knocked me over with an onside kick. To me this was a good touchdown by a competent player who had scored maybe a dozen like it in his college days with Toronto Varsity. But to those around me the important thing about the touchdown was that it was scored by a Canadian. What’s become of Canadian football when it’s a sensation for a Canadian to score a touchdown?

It was at that precise moment that I began carefully to re-examine this game on which the American imprint has been stamped, to an everincreasing degree, for twenty years. Now, on the eve of another Grey Cup game for the championship of Canadian football, I think I know what’s become of our game. Its personality has changed over the years, sure; but so has its nationality. It’s not Canadian football now so much as it’s American football. The spectacle that five western and four eastern Canadian cities support with about four million dollars a year — and have every right to believe they own is act ually no more or no less than a good road show, largely written, directed and performed by our friends of the IJ. S.

I say it’s time to get the show off t he road and get back to Canadian football.

I’m not saying our football has been ruined by Americans; in many respects it has been improved. Canadians are getting more money and better coaching, and the game as a whole pulls better crowds. But these improvements have also been gained at the expense of Canadians. There’s room for fewer of them on the teams today and the jobs they get are unpublicized, underpaid (in relation to what U. S. players receive) and difficult, such as running back kicks or filling anonymous positions like flying wing or guard. (And there’s another Americanism: middle wings, inside wings, snaps

and centre halfs have become tackles, guards, centres and fullbacks, and no modern fan would be caught dead calling them anything else.)

When the Grey Cup game comes up Nov. 27, two American coaches, who have American assistants helping them, will be matching brains. They’ll both have American quarterbacks throwing passes to American ends. Holes will be opened by mammoth American middles (okay, tackles) and the key ball-carriers will be American backs. The rules they’ll play will Continued on page 57

To Beat the East the West Hired U. S. Help. Now Americans Run the Show in West AND East

Canadian Football

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 25

be nominally Canadian but they’ll be played with an American interpretation which, I insist, completely ignores the tremendous potential and flexibility of our rules.

That’s because eight of the nine head coaches in Canada’s two recognized professional leagues—the Western Conference and the eastern Big Four—are Americans. Annis Stukus, a former Toronto sports writer who coaches Vancouver Lions, is the only nonAmerican tutor in Canadian professional football, and he has an American a - 'tant and all the U. S. players the

.es allow.

I think many Canadians in the stands will agree that the Grey Cup game ought to spread its spotlight on Canadians equally with Americans, if you like, but not to the almost complete exclusion of Canadians that you’ll see Nov. 27. The fact a Canadian scores a touchdown, instead of surprising people, ought to illustrate that Canadians can do many of the jobs Americans are brought in to do.

1 might say that the main reason Ted Toogood hasn’t been scoring touchdowns for two seasons with the Argonauts prior to this year is that he’s been an obscure if effective defensive halfback. The same thing’s true of Royal Copeland, once the greatest touchdown-getter in Canada. He’s now in his third season as a defensive back with Toronto Argos. I)o you mean to tell me that given the blocking that, say, import Ulysses Curtis got for three years from the Argos, Copeland couldn’t have found the same holes?

To our detriment we’ve also for-

gotten about the onside kick, crowdthrilling lateral passes, (he kicking game that utilizes the single point, and wide sweeping end runs featuring lateral passing.

If we haven’t gone too far in Americanizing our game already—and 1 rather suspect we have—then 1 say we’ve definitely gone far enough. The trend will continue because of television. When the Big Four sold television rights to the National Broadcasting Company and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, it also sold another little part of its Canadian identity. Just last March at the annual CRU meeting, the two pro leagues, in the latest move to control imports, agreed that each team could sign ten Americans, although only eight would play in any one game. It also agreed that the number of Americans who had played more than four consecutive years in Canada and thereby qualified technically as Canadian players, would be limited to three.

The first thing the Big Four did when it got its TV money was to increase the number of American imports from eight to nine. That meant that one less Canadian got to play the game.

If TV rights are sold again next fall, what’s to prevent the teams from importing still more Americans? And what happens if American television, while dangling a quarter of a million dollars, pointedly suggests that its viewers in the U. S. would like to see downfield blocking permitted in Canada, as it is in U. S. football?

All Backs in Motion

If the trend continues we might well see the same thing happen to our football as happened to hockey. Many | people believe hockey—a Canadian game—was ruined by our blind insistence on catering to American tastes.

Well, you might ask, if our football is appealing to so many millions of people, what’s all the shouting about? Just this: I feel the U. S. emphasis has

sapped our game of the rich potential that our rules allow and the U. S. code does not allow. I feel that, instead of becoming a poor carbon copy of U. S. football, we ought to utilize the ability of American imports and Canadian home-brews in Canadian football. In a nutshell, I charge that Americanimported coaches have adapted their game to our rules to the detriment of the Canadian player and, more important, the Canadian fan. The majority of American coaches who come to Canada are 49th-parallel blind.

Our rules permit a far more diversified attack than American rules permit. For one thing, all of our backfielders can be in motion before the ball is snapped. In the American game, only one man is permitted in motion. And that’s the way the American-imported coaches are playing our game—with only one man in motion. They do this because under their standard offensive formations they have never learned to do anything else. In the T formation, for example, the quarterback is stationed right at the centre’s hip pocket until the ball is snapped. Therefore all other backs, except the one permitted by U. S. rules to start running, stand motionless too, because they have to wait until the quarterback gets the ball to get the correct timing in their U. S. plays. Because American football has only four backfielders no imported coach has yet found a way to use our fifth back, the flying wing. He’s a nuisance to them.

I insist that American coaches are stereotyping our game. Here’s another example of their insistence on fitting their game to our rules:

The forward pass is symptomatic of

American football thinking. With all except one man in the backfield stationary until the ball is snapped, the forward pass has become the standard way to open up the opposition defense. Thus we’ll see more and more passes as defenses get tougher, and our kicking and running games—once the outstanding features of Canadian football will be more and more ignored.

In the 1947 Grey Cup final Joe Krol kicked four single points for the allCanadian Toronto Argonauts, three in the fourth quarter and one on the last play That beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 10 to 9. Also, it perfectly illustrated the value of the single point in Canadian football.

In the 1953 Grey Cup game Winnipeg’s Indian Jack Jacobs threw 49 passes, an all-time high. He completed 29. Although the Winnipeg team lost to Hamilton 12 to 6, big Jake was acclaimed as the game’s dominant figure. But I suggest the game wasn’t football. And I insist it wasn’t Canadian football.

These two Grey Cup finals reveal how much our football has changed in six years. Kicking, which made household words of the names of Bummer Stirling, Steve Olander, Huck Welch, Charlie Harrison, Jack Isbister and Ab Box, has become a minor feature. The single point, which has no place in the American rule book, is all but dead in Canada now, dragged out only when a team can’t pass or carry the ball across the goal line.

How Hamilton Won the Cup

Curiously, while American coaches complain about our rules — most of them would like to see unlimited downfield blocking (our rules permit blocking only ten yards past the line of scrimmage) and a few have campaigned for four downs (our game allows a team only three plays to make ten yards) - usually it’s the Canadian player who must adapt to American methods. Canadian stars like Joe Krol and Royal Copeland, who were accustomed to moving freely around a backfield, suddenly found themselves tied down by the American practice, which doesn’t permit backs in motion until the ball is snapped.

Perhaps this has made for winning football, but it has also seriously handicapped Canadian players, dulled the play itself and shortchanged the fans.

Only one coach in the Big Four

Carl Voyles of Hamilton—has shown that he appreciates the flexibility of Canadian rules. In one game last season Voyles came up with a truly Canadian play that indirectly led Hamilton to the Grey Cup. It was the kind of play that all of us used to see all the time and some of us would like to see still. Yet when Voyles used the play it was such a rarity that it caused a sensation. You may remember it.

With less than a minute to play in a league game last October Montreal was leading Hamilton 20-15. Tex Coulter, Montreal’s great tackier who also kicks, had to punt from behind his own goal line. None of the Montreal players realized that Voyles of Hamilton wasn’t worrying about his men blocking that kick. He was worrying about a specific Canadian rule and how his players could exploit it. Just before Coulter got his kick away Voyles had sent young Cam Fraser, the Hamilton kicking artist, into the safety position, where he would have a chance to receive Coulter’s kick. He also told Ray Truant, the other safety man, to throw the ball to Fraser if Coulter’s kick came to him.

That’s what Truant did. And Fraser —in the tradition of great Canadian

punters—returned Coulter’s kick and raced down the field after it. The ball landed near the Montreal goal line and rolled over the line and came to a stop at Tex Coulter’s feet. In American football the ball would be dead at that point: in Canadian football it isn’t. While Coulter, uncertain what to do, stood there, Fraser, the Canadian, raced into the end zone and with a headfirst slide recovered the ball for a touchdown.

That tied the score and Tip Logan’s point after touchdown won the game, 21-20. Without that victory Hamilton

might not have gained the Big Four play-offs and the Grey Cup might not be resting in Hamilton.

Johnny Metras, who coaches the University of Western Ontario in the Intercollegiate League, is another American coach who has learned it can pay to make use of Canadian strategy.

“They play lousy football in the Big Four,” Johnny told me recently, “because nobody can run wide with the ball. The reason is that all the imported ends are pass-catchers. Few of them can block, and how are you going to run wide if your ends can’t block?

They bring in tough defensive tackles, so the only place you can run is inside the tackles. Or you can throw it. And, man. how those Big Four teams throw it, and throw it, and throw it.”

This adds weight, I feel, to my claim that American coaches fit their game to our rules to the detriment of our game and our fans. Our field is 65 yards wide. The American field is 50 yards wide. Now, 1 ask you, if all the ends are pass-catchers and few are blockers, how can the coaches possibly use that extra 15 yards of field? As Metras says, with nobody

to block for them, the ball arriers can’t go wide with any consistency. And there, precisely, is the answer to a question I’ve heard scores of fans ask, “Whatever became of the old Argonaut end run?”

That was a play in which three backs would run wide, flipping the ball laterally or, optionally, faking a lateral and then cutting in sharply. They could pass off that extension play. In fact, in the mid-Forties when the Argos were using Joe Krol, Royal Copeland and Byron Karrys as their halfbacks. Krol often used to quick-kick off it.

I must say here that western teams today seem to take a broader view of our rules than eastern teams. This is particularly true of Edmonton which has usually had a tremendous running game, largely because their offensive ends, such as Rollie Prather, are good blockers. However, even Edmonton has proven singularly inept in the Grey Cup. In the 1952 game, for example, Claude Arnold got a march going against the Argonauts that featured wide sweeps by Rollie Miles and Jim Chambers. They moved some 54 yards along the ground but when they reached

the Argonaut 17-yard line, quarterback Arnold suddenly forgot how he’d moved so far. He threw three straight passes, all of which were knocked down, and that ended the threat.

While fans have shown no sign of flagging interest in western Canada, there’s definitely a touch of ennui in the east. Even the most loyal supporters of the Toronto Argonauts appear to be yearning for the old days of diversified attacks. There has been an average of 7,000 empty seats in Varsity Stadium for the past two seasons (just last Sept. 11, a crowd of

13,910 watched the Argos play Ottawa meaning that nearly 14,000 seats wert' empty) and it’s nearly always easy to buy tickets at game time in Ottawa and Montreal.

I mentioned earlier that 1 felt Canadians are underpaid compared with Americans. They’re paid less because there are more seeking positions. Also, most of them have jobs and if they want to stick to them and still play football they have to play in their own city. The club managements realize these factors and consequently are able to keep the pay scale down. Americans are different. The majority move to Canada to play football and return home when the season is over. To entice them to Canada our teams must make attractive offers.

Canadians in the two pro leagues average $3,000 to $3,500 and American salaries are just about double. An outstanding Canadian lineman like Eddie Bevan, say, of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will receive about $4,500; playing right beside him, import tackle Vince Mazza is paid about $8,500. Flying-wing Rod Smylie of the Argos, who got around $3,500 last season, was replaced temporarily at that position by import Hal Faverty, who received about $7,000. Some of the top-paid eastern imports last season were John Kissell of Ottawa and Tex Coulter of Montreal, both of them tackles who were paid around $12,000. It is doubtful if any Canadian last year got more than $5,000.

I don’t feel a boy should be discriminated against in his own game simply because he lives here or works here and can go nowhere else if he wants to play football.

The fact he has to keep up his job makes it still tougher for the Canadian player. While imports are able to do nothing but play football they make enough in a season to live for a year the average Canadian works all day and then goes out for football. Take Rod Smylie of Toronto as an example. This is his tenth season in senior football.

Actually, Rod’s not complaining. The extra money he’s picked up in football has enabled him to make a down payment on a home for his wife and two children, and buy an automobile and a television set.

But let’s see how Smylie earns the $3,000 to $3,500 he gets for football. Like most Canadians, he has a yearround job. He’s in charge of the recreation program for 14,500 employees of the A. V. Roe aircraft company. He gets to work at eight in the morning and he’s through at four in the afternoon. During football season, then, here’s a typical day: he gets up at seven and goes to work. He goes directly to football practice when he’s finished at the plant and practices anywhere from ninety minutes to two hours. He showers, changes his clothes and goes across the street from the practice field to the Diet Kitchen on Bloor Street where Argonaut players eat. By now it’s nine o’clock. By the time he gets home in west Toronto it’s almost ten. To enable him to go through another 15-hour day tomorrow, lie’s asleep by 10.30. That doesn’t give him much time with his family and that’s a schedule he follows every day from the middle of July, when pro teams start training, until, depending how his team fares in the play-offs, sometime in November.

A point to remember, if it appears that $3,500 is pretty good money for four months’ work, is that players usually are not paid if they’re hurt during the six-week training season or in pre-season exhibition games. A broken leg would not only cost a player his place on the team but it could

jeopardize his job. On most teams Canadians aren’t paid during preseason training; Americans get a living allowance of about $50 a week.

Pro teams now carry ten Americans, plus the three Americans who have played more than four years in Canada and are thereby classed as “CanadianAmericans.” During the season a coach is allowed to use any nine of his ten Americans in any game, plus the three “Canadian-Americans,” plus 15 Canadians on his 28-man squad. Most teams carry another three or four Canadians to guard against injury. These attend every workout but, unless a regular is hurt, they seldom dress for a game. They are paid a basic minimum of around $1,500 and get extra money if they dress. Consequently, on a squad of roughly 32 men,

13 are Americans and 19 are Canadians. On nine pro teams, then, there’s room for about 170 Canadian players in all of Canada.

The game has become, as I’ve indicated, a high-pressure business in which victory is more important than the individual. AÍ Dekdebrun, who quarterbacked the Toronto Argos to the Grey Cup in 1950, was fired suddenly and dramatically early in the 1951 season because, his coach Frank Clair announced, “his arm is dead.” Although Dekdebrun was a fine ball-handler, he’d developed a sore arm that apparently prevented him from throwing a long pass. He might as well have committed a hatchet murder for all the sympathy he got.

The First Forward Pass

It’s a curious fact that this was our game long before the Americans ever heard of it. Soccer was the only football in the IJ. S. back in 1875 when Harvard invited McGill to Cambridge, Mass., for “a game of football.” the McGills sent down their rugby team, and Harvard, in an effort to accommodate their guests, suggested half the game be played under American soccer

or “football” as they called it—and half under Canadian rules. Picking up the ball and running with it intrigued Harvard and in 1876 they invited Yale to a joust. Thus, the great HarvardYale football rivalry was born and thus, too, was the game introduced in t he U. S.

Interest spread quickly in the heavily populated U. S., but in hockey-minded, sparsely populated Canada except for Hamilton, Toronto, Kingston and Ottawa poor teams played before poorer crowds. This was the era of twohucks-and-a-kick and the forward pass wasn’t, recognized by the CRU until 1931. It had been in the American game since 1906.

The west agitated for the pass in the l'wenties and the CRU gave permission to use if on a trial basis in 1929. In October of 1929, in a game between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Calgary Tigers in Edmonton, Jerry Seiberling, who had been imported by Calgary from Drake University (he was the first American import), threw the first forward pass in Canada. Calgary naturally won, 33-0.

Seiherling also was the first American to bring his influence to bear on Canadian football rules. At first, if a forward pass was incomplete the ball was dead at the point where it hit the ground and the defending team was given possession there. In one game between Calgary Tigers and the University of Alberta, the Tigers were on their own one-yard line and were forced to kick. Instead of kicking however they gave the ball to Seiberling and he threw it—85 yards over the heads of all his opponents. The ball thus became dead deep in the Varsity end

of the field. The rule was changed to prevent further skulduggery of that kind (the ball was returned to the line of scrimmage instead).

The CRU adopted the forward pass in 1931 and Warren Stevens, a Canadian who had graduated from Syracuse University, threw the first forward pass in the east.

After Seiberling’s success other western teams began bringing in Americans. Regina imported Curt Schave from the University of North Dakota in 1931 and Winnipeg went south a year later to employ Russ Rebholz and Carl

Cronin to teach and play. In 1933 Winnipeg’s three teams, St. John’s, Tammany Tigers and Varsity, amalgamated under the name Winnipegs and a line coach named Greg Rabat was brought in from Wisconsin.

In 1935 Winnipeg imported American beef in freight-car lots to plug up enough holes and open enough gaps to win the Grey Cup for the west for the first time. And in 1936 the CRU, struggling to cope with this wholesale importing, threw up a makeshift tariff wall by barring Americans from the Canadian championship unless they

had lived one year in Canada. The Regina Roughriders, who won the western championship with half a dozen players who could not meet this rule, refused to enter the Grey Cup final with a skeleton line-up and no game was played.

There was also a sharp division between east and west on playing rules. The western code had a ten-yard blocking zone beyond the line of scrimmage and permitted backs to block as well as linemen. The CRU, whose members were (and are) made up of delegates from all organized football leagues in

Canada above the level of high school, had a majority of eastern delegates and therefore the CRU rules were, in effect, eastern rules. These allowed only three yards’ interference and did not permit backs to block. Also, where the west permitted forward passing from any point behind the line of scrimmage, the CRU said that the passer must be at least five yards behind the line. Thus the western champion had to scrap many of its plays before engaging in the Grey Cup final.

Salaries Just Get Rigger

By 1940 any team that did not play CRU rules throughout its league schedule was not eligible for the Grey Cup final. So, for the second time in five years, there was no final and the west indignantly withdrew from the CRU. The breach didn’t last long. The west came back when the CRU permitted five yards blocking instead of three.

What the west really was clamoring for all along was to make Canadian rules conform more closely to the American code, and in 1946 it was agreed that ten yards’ interference would be permitted and that teams could import five Americans each, with no residence stipulations. In 1950 the number of imports was boosted to seven and in 1952 any American playing four successive seasons in Canada was classed as a non-import.

The east always lagged in the numbers of Americans imported but it was an eastern team that started the trend of big money for name players. Joe Ryan, who’d helped build the prewar Winnipeg teams and then

moved to Montreal, used Alouette money to lure outlawed U. S. pro Frank Filchock to Montreal for $22,500 for two seasons. Then the Als signed quarterback George Ratterman at an even larger salary, and western teams began producing money as though it were wheat to corral such American players as Glenn Dobbs and Indian Jack Jacobs and Dick Huffman.

Today more Americans than ever before play a game that more and more patterns their own. Where will it end? Who knows? Every year there’s talk that the teams simply can’t stand the growing salary lists but every year they get bigger. Frank Bliss, the president of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, recently remarked that he’d never seen anything like football for turning hardheaded businessmen into out-and-out fools. “Why, in private business we wouldn’t take the risks we’re taking for ten times the potential profit,” he groaned. “A city like Hamilton simply can’t stand the strain.”

The strain was eased somewhat, as I mentioned earlier, when the NBC decided to televise Big Four games in the U. S. and paid $200,000 for the privilege. Earlier, the Big Four had agreed to sell TV rights in Canada to the CBC for $150,000. That money is split up according to population of the teams’ cities and because of their greater audiences Toronto and Montreal get $40,000 each from the CBC. Ottawa and Hamilton get $35,000 each. The NBC’s money is divided evenly so that each club gets $50,000. Altogether, then, the Argos and Alouettes collect $90,000 each, and the TigerCats and Rough Riders get $85,000.

Contrary to some rumors, none of the money is given to the west where TV facilities do not yet permit telecasts.

Will some of the fresh money go toward higher salaries for Canadians? For the development of minor football? Your guess is as good as mine but history suggests that more money means more—and costlier—Americans.

Yet this is the moment in our football evolution when we must resist further change and backtrack enough to pick up some of the Canadian flavor that’s been bypassed. Our American coaches should be sharing a great deal more of their superior know-how with high-school, junior and intermediate coaches. And the professional teams might provide money so that amateur teams can better equip their players. These American coaches also might pause in their wild recollections of a picture pass during some recent Rose Bowl game to realize they are operating with a different, and no less efficient, set of rules. Canadian boys trying out for professional teams ought to be getting the same opportunity to play on the offensive side as the Americans.

Banish the American? Of course not. The Yanks have given a tremendous stimulus to our game and thousands of fans love to watch ’em.

But I can’t help remembering what befell Norm Perry, a former Sarnia player who was president of the CRU last year, a man who has long battled for Canadian rules. The all-Canadian Sarnia team of the ORFU was beaten in the play-offs last fall by Balmy Beach, a team that had four Americans. Perry and other Sarnia executives called the players together after the last game and asked them if they’d like to import a few men.

“We’ll have to pay them ten times as much as we’re paying you fellows,” Perry warned. (The top-priced player was getting $500.)

“Well,” one of the players replied, “everybody else has ’em, so it looks like we’d better if we want to keep up.”

And so the last stronghold of the Canadian game decided to employ four Americans this year, even if it meant that four Canadians couldn’t play. To get a good selection, the executive brought in seven men. Coach Red Douglas eventually cut two imports and then tried to make up his mind on the final cut. It was a difficult job.

Just before the season opened, Perry was called to a CRU mee'ing in Ottawa. When he arrived he heard a good many jibes.

“So you think there ought to he fewer Americans, eh?” grinned one CRU member.

“We’ve got to retain the Canadian flavor, eh?” chuckled another.

Perry, baffled, asked what all the shouting was about.

One member produced a letter bearing the Sarnia Imperials letterhead. It was a request from Perry’s coach, Red Douglas, that the import limit in the ORFU be raised from four to five! ★