WHY I’M THROUGH WITH SPORTS
To Roy Alvin Storey— Grey Cup hero, lacrosse star and, until last spring, the most colorful referee in the NHL— sport was “my work, my hobby, my education and my claim to a place in the world.” Here’s how it all began
When an athlete retires the sports writers have a word for it. They say he’s hanging up his skates or his spikes or whatever the accessories of his calling happen to be. At one time or another I’ve hung up the pads and pullovers of football, hockey, lacrosse and baseball. Now I’m hanging up my referee’s whistle. After a quarter century in sport I have nothing else left to hang up. This is good-bye.
Last April a whistle I didn’t blow was heard around the Canadian sports world and for the second time the name Red Storey hurdled the sports columns and landed in front-page headlines. When the first set of headlines was printed on Dec. 12, 1938, the news was all good. It was the story of that year’s Grey Cup game between Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the football championship of Canada. In the closing thirteen minutes of the game I scored three Argonaut touchdowns and carried the ball 190 yards. The reporters were as surprised as I was, and most of the headlines said something like: “STOREY RUNS WILD.”
When the second front-page story was printed on April 12, 1959, the news was all bad. Most of the headlines read: “STOREY QUITS,” and nobody was as surprised at the events that led up to it as I was. The report dealt, mainly, with critical remarks made by the president of the National Hockey League, Clarence Campbell, about two decisions of mine in the last game of the Stanley Cup semifinal series between Montreal and Chicago, which I refereed and Montreal won. As Campbell saw the play from his box seat, I should have called penalties in the final period against Junior Langlois and Marcel Bonin of the Montreal Canadiens. As I saw the play
from the ice, neither man earned a penalty.
There’s nothing sensational about this. Campbell was a spectator; expecting a spectator to sit through a hockey game without riding the referee is a little like expecting the players to scramble through three periods without a puck. Even Campbell’s contention that I “froze” on those two decisions didn’t bother me much, as one man’s opinion. I’ve been a referee longer than Campbell has been a president, and I’ve been called names that make his remarks sound like soft soap.
But Campbell was more than another spectator. He was my boss. He spoke for hockey. He chose an Ottawa sports writer for his audience. Every newspaper in the hockey cities of Canada and the U. S. picked up the writer’s story, and thirty-six sleepless hours later I knew there was only one decision I could make. I resigned from the NHL.
Blowing the whistle or obeying it, I’d been in the middle of the action for more years than any athlete has a right to expect. They were high years and low. There were furious moments and funny ones and a few that still wake me up at night. They cost me most of my hair and some of my bones and 1 kept coming back for more. Sport was my work, my hobby, my education and my claim to a place in the world. To tell you why I’m leaving it all behind, I really have to tell you how it was.
It started in the first years of the Depression on the weedy vacant lots of Tiffin Street, a row of railroad workers’ houses in Barrie, Ont. In those days the kids on every street had their own baseball team, their own football team and their own hockey team. In the house where the
five Storey kids lived there was one youngster who could outrun, outhit, outkick and outfight any kid in our end of town. This was — hold on for a minute — my sister Irene, who was two years and several jumps ahead of me. A few years later, when Irene held the senior Canadian women’s record for the 220-yard sprint and won the 60-metre dash at the 1934 British Empire Games, she wore her track shoes in two different sizes. The right one had to be a full size larger to fit a foot that grew up kicking man-size footballs on Tiffin Street.
Anything Irene could do, in those days, I wanted to do almost as well. I can still smell smoke and hear the fire engines screaming across town to put out the fire I’d light in the lot across the street every fall, to clear our ball field of summer growth. When the first hard frost hit, we’d sprinkle our back yard with a garden watering can, over and over again while a rim of ice grew on the spout. When we were finished there’d be a hockey rink just behind our back door. By the time I left school — and Barrie — at seventeen for a job in the Leaside railway yards at Toronto, I had a few cups or trophies for playing seven or eight sports. I packed my gear for all of them.
It was June when I reached Leaside, and that summer I met Teddy Morris, a walking contradiction, who at 165 pounds with his pads on was one of the toughest line-plunging halfbacks the Toronto Argonauts have ever dressed for a football game. In August, when the Argonaut training session opened, Ted brought me into camp.
To do it, he almost had to take me by the hand. On that summer evening in 1936 1 was a raw overgrown small-town redhead, as shy as an end eluding a pass defender, and 1 was wearing a black eye the color of grape juice from a junior lacrosse game the night before. Morris led me up to a small slick-haired man stomping the sidelines in a pair of high continued on page 67
continued on page 67
Why I’m through with sports continued from page 21
“Until my shoulder separated, I had been what the papers called a promising young pitcher”
shiny jackboots. I never quite got over this intimidating introduction to Lew Hayman, who was one of the first football coaches to come to Canada from the U. S. Hayman told me to pick up some gear, and I stayed six years.
There were a few frigid seconds a week or two later, though, when I thought I was leaving on my ear. When 1 came into the fieldhouse after practice one night a couple of the boys came over and asked if I heard the guy splashing around in the shower. Sure, I said. Well, they told me, he was a no-good big-head. If I wanted to make a lot of friends in a hurry all 1 had to do was throw a bucket of cold water into that shower stall to cool this guy out.
The bucket was in the air before my gratitude to these big-leaguers for taking me into their horseplay was shriveled by sanity, but by that time it was too late. 1 knew it had to be Hayman. We worked out an unspoken agreement that kept me with the club. For a few weeks we both pretended I wasn’t there.
That season Hayman taught me and a lot of other youngsters what football is all about. By mid-season I knew I had a steady job; a game later 1 was out of work. What did it was a fairly common football injury known as a shoulder separation. It knit slowly and awkwardly. By the end of the year I had a permanent knob of bone and gristle riding up from my right shoulder and a doctor’s promise that I’d never throw anything worth mentioning again.
How to blow a ball game
This bothered me more than you might think. Until the shoulder separated I’d been what the papers called a promising young pitcher for Barrie in the Georgian Bay baseball league of those days. In fact I may have been the only pitcher anywhere who ever started a ninth inning with a no-hit baseball game behind him and a lead of seven runs to nothing, struck out the first two batters, and with one more to retire to make a perfect game allowed so many hits a relief pitcher had to be called in to save the game by a score of seven to six. In spite of the shelling I took in that inning my pitching record was as good as anybody’s in the league, and for a pitcher I did well enough at bat — my home-run average, I know, was pretty close to one a game.
This was about the time when baseball scouts for the major leagues in the U. S. were first taking a serious interest in Canadians. The following spring the scouts were holding a try-out camp at Owen Sound, Ont., not far from Barrie, for some of the players in our league, and I'd been invited to attend. But with an arm the doctors said would always be useless for throwing, what could 1 show them?
My mother took care of that, or almost. Neither of my parents had been even mildly interested in sport on their own account. The closest approach my father, a brakeman and conductor in the Barrie railway yards, ever made to athletics was swinging his lunch bucket. But my mother responded to her sports-crazy kids by somehow becoming an expert of a kind herself; she was the first coach and the first trainer we ever had, and in some situations the best. When she want-
ed a hundred-yard swath cut through a hayfield so she could coach Irene in sprinting starts and kick finishes, she didn't forget that the scything-and-mowing job would condition my back muscles — although conditioning wasn't the word
I used to mutter to myself as I mowed.
In dealing with her kids’ athletic injuries my mother was what you might call an instinctual physiotherapist, I guess, because it was no professional but Mrs. Beatrice Storey who proved the
doctors were wrong about my lame shoulder. Every afternoon during the winter following the injury she hustled me outside, stationed me beside a snowbank at one end of the yard and took up a place for herself at the other, and
alternately coaxed and needled me into trying to throw snowballs at her. By spring 1 thought I might be a pitcher again.
When the major-league baseball camp opened at Orillia I went down to show the scouts what 1 had, and when it closed they asked me and one other player to move along to the next stage in the long haul up to the majors — a bigger try-out camp in Florida. The other player, a pitcher, went along. His name was Phil Marchildon. and during his pitching career with the Philadelphia Athletics he
became the best-known baseball player Canada has ever exported.
I stayed behind. In the first place, the scouts weren’t interested in my pitching and I couldn’t blame them; after a few innings my arm began to go numb. They thought 1 could hit. though, and I had to agree with them, but even an outfielder needs a dependable arm. Then, too, there was another consideration. If 1 signed a professional-baseball contract I’d immediately become ineligible to play bigleague football or lacrosse in Canada, or hockey in any league but the NHL. With
this one exception, all sport in Canada advertised itself as amateur no matter what its pay scale was, an advertisement that's changed a little but not much in the years since. No professional was or is allowed to play among the amateurs. As an amateur playing football, hockey and lacrosse, I knew I’d earn a little more than a thousand dollars a year. As a professional baseball player with a bad arm 1 could go from comparative riches to the soup line overnight. I decided to stay on as a poor but self-supporting amateur. Later, when first the New York Giants
“Storey runs wild”
and then the St. Louis Cardinals offered me professional - football contracts, my reasons for remaining an amateur were the same.
In 1937, my second year with the Toronto Argonauts, the Argonauts won the Grey Cup in a kickers’ game against Winnipeg, four points to three. Although 1 played in the game the team won it without much help from me — 1 was still a substitute halfback, and I stayed with the second team through all but the last thirteen minutes of the 1938 season.
For the Grey Cup game in those years a team was allowed to dress eighteen players, and when Hayman read off my name in the playing lineup for the 1938 game 1 felt like a winner before I saw the color of the competition's sweaters. For three quarters of the game this looked like misplaced enthusiasm. I sat on the sidelines with the six other substitutes while the Winnipeg Blue Bomber team, which had come from the west with newspaper clippings that proved it was the toughest football club ever fielded in Canada, wore the Argonauts into the ground. At the end of the third quarter the score was Winnipeg 7, Toronto 6.
At this point Hayman sent me into the game, which may have reminded the quarterback, Annis Stukus, that we had what Hayman called a surprise play. As nearly as I’ve ever been able to make out the only surprise was that Storey got to carry the ball through the line instead of around the end, but a couple of minutes after the quarter started Stukus called the play anyway. I don’t think a single Argonaut missed his blocking assignment. There wasn’t much left for me to do except run the ball across the Winnipeg goal line twenty-eight yards away, which I did.
Athletes will tell you that the secret of sport is to be in the right place at the right time. From that play until the clock ran out, I seemed to be in the right place pretty well constantly. A few minutes later I was there to intercept a Winnipeg pass and then plunge for a touchdown. Within minutes Bob Isbister, our kicking fullback, intercepted a Winnipeg pass on our own two-yard line. I happened to be right behind him, and when Bob went down under a hard tackle by Winnipeg’s tough little halfback, Fritz Hanson, he flipped the ball to me. I didn’t stop running until somebody shoved me out of bounds on the Winnipeg three-yard line, 105 yards away. We scored on the next play, and we scored again a few minutes later when I plunged from the Winnipeg nine-yard line. The final score was Toronto 30, Winnipeg 7.
That night. Saturday, there were victory celebrations until dawn. They picked up again where they left off on Sunday. On Monday morning the parties were over but the back-slapping was just beginning: the newspapers were out with their first accounts of the game, and they leaned heavily on the name Storey. I was twenty years old, momentarily famous, and more than a little worried. I was reading the papers beside the highway leading north from Toronto and it was taking longer to hitchhike a ride home to Barrie that morning than it usually did. I was an authority on hitchhiking up and down the Toronto-Barrie road because I did it, both ways, five days a week for practices and Saturdays for games, almost every week during six football seasons. On the morning I'm speaking of there was a winter wind rasping up from Lake Ontario, and I found that I shivered just as bitterly with a hatful of fresh press clip-
pings as I always had without them.
Clippings or no. the three or four best games in my football career came up in the following season, 1939. Most of that year Hayman had me running both ways, on attack and defense, sharing our punting and throwing some of our passes. There was one game against Hamilton Tiger Cats, I recall, when Annis Stukus and 1 completed ten passes out of ten, although the field was four inches deep in mud. He threw five passes to me, I threw five to him, and we threw the soggy ball like a shot-put specialist tossing the heavyweight. As nearly as I can remember my scoring average that year was about two touchdowns a game, and I led the league in total points.
I didn’t know it, but my days as a football player were just about over. In the first game of the 1940 season two Hamilton linemen took me out of play with a high-low block. My right knee couldn't support my weight again until the following spring.
“I always went all out”
Against the advice of the doctors, who more or less predictably said I’d never be able to run again, George Stockwell, the Argonaut trainer of the time, and I worked out a steel-and-leather harness that held my knee together passably. With this piece of saddlcwork on my leg I reminded amateur humorists in Toronto of a horse running the Kentucky Derby in hobbles, but it carried me through another season of football. And, because that was the way I lived in those days, it carried me through another season of lacrosse and one of hockey as well.
Between 1936 and 1942, the only times when 1 went more than three weeks running without playing one of these three games were when I was in a cast of some kind.
Although I came late to lacrosse, I’d learned the game with the Orillia Terriers and later moved to the Hamilton Tigers and then to the Lachine team in the Quebec league. As far as I know I still hold the Quebec record for goals scored in a single game — twelve, which l shot one night in 1942 while I was playing with Lachine.
But whatever I did in lacrosse or football or baseball, the one game I wanted to play perfectly was the one game I never played with more than mediocre results. 1 loved hockey, and maybe because 1 knew I'd never make it, the one ambition that drove me constantly through my playing years was to win a place in the NHL.
Because the hockey and football seasons overlap, I always came to hockey a month or two late and skated most of the season on football legs. This happened during the years when I played for Barrie’s junior team. It happened later when I played for River Vale, N.J., and then Atlantic City in the old Eastern Amateur Hockey Association. In 1942, when I had settled in Montreal and the war had suspended Big Four football, I played my only full season of hockey with Montreal Royals. I was too late.
Harness and all, my bad knee couldn't carry me any farther without an operation. A fistful of bone and cartilage came out and the surgeon, as usual, said I'd never run again. This time he was half right. Although I taught myself to move and finally to skate almost as fast as I ever did, the knee wouldn't stand up to the shock of contact sports. I tried a few games of lacrosse now and then but the knee wasn't good enough; the only way 1 ever played any game in my life was all out, and now 1 couldn't go that far.
Games were all I knew and all I wanted to know. I had to find a way to stay in sport.
This feeling outlasted the heady moments of the game itself, whatever the game happened to be. Sport gave us a thin-enough living in the thirties and early forties but it gave u.s something else that seemed to me more useful. The best way to say it. I think, is that for a few of us sport was a brotherhood when almost everybody else was stumbling along on his own.
Injured or not. somehow 1 had to keep
my membership in that scarred brotherhood. Strangely enough, the idea of refereeing never entered my head. One night in 1943 an official of the Junior B hockey league in Montreal, whose name I can’t even remember, phoned and asked me if I’d consider filling in for a sick referee.
I do remember that my income for the evening was a dollar and a half and most of it went in overhead, like tram fares. I’d paid so little attention to referees that I showed up without a tie. By the end of the first period I'd learned only one thing — most players, including me. know as
much about the rules of the game as most fans, which is just enough to holler when they think they’ve been victimized and no more.
That night l started my second career in sport, if
In the next issue Red Storey describes the Insulted and sometimes endangered life of a referee in smalland big-time sport, and tells why he believes that the incident that led up to his resignation from the NHL was a danger signal for majorleague hockey.