REVIEWS

The football team with the most freaks could win the 1970 Grey Cup

JACK BATTEN August 1 1970
REVIEWS

The football team with the most freaks could win the 1970 Grey Cup

JACK BATTEN August 1 1970

MEL PROFIT’S moustache droops in a Fu Manchu curve. His blond hair, despite a token mid-summer trim, still flows to a luxurious length. And he wears long, billowing, hooded caftans and dashikis, the kind of clothes that he stocks in First Asylum, the boutique he owns and runs in midtown Toronto.

Mel Profit is not, as he sounds, a hippie-weirdolong-haired freak. He earns his living as a tight end with the Toronto Argonauts football team (which, like the rest of Canada’s pro clubs, opens its regular season’s schedule this month), and he was tough enough and fast enough to win election to the Eastern Conference All-Star Teams in the 1968 and 1969 seasons. Profit also represents the arrival in Canadian football at long last of the Independent Athlete, the sort of performer who, like U.S. football’s Joe Namath, hockey’s Rod Gilbert and baseball’s Jim Bouton (the author of Ball Four, the irreverent best seller currently enraging baseball’s majorleague brass), makes some small attempt in style, looks and attitude to groove with the times and stand up to the Establishment.

Canadian football has traditionally operated as a bastion of conservatism, a business that exercises strict control over its employees on and off the field. “You’re taught to be regimented in this game,” Profit says. “It’s very military — the coach is the general and all the rest of us have to fall in line, just like privates.”

But a few players are beginning to exercise a sense of independence, and the curious fact is that their attitudes may spell the difference in this season’s drive to the Grey Cup. The rebels, besides Profit, include Bobby Taylor, the Argo flanker who wears his hair extra long and who brings a dead-end kid’s defiance to the locker room; Willie Bethea, halfback, the goateed Hamilton Tiger Cat; Vernon Vanoy, Vancouver’s giant defensive end, whose proudest possessions are his modified Afro cut and his voluminous jellaba, a purchase from Mel Profit’s First Asylum; and another dozen Canadian Football League regulars — not a large number, perhaps, but enough to pave the way and set a new, looser, altogether more human tone for Canadian football.

The list once included Gerry Campbell, Ottawa Roughriders’ All-Star linebacker and the former owner of a dramatic set of moustaches, but Ottawa coach Jake Gotta has taken care of Campbell.

“Eve got a list of fines,” Gotta announced in training camp, “for anyone who’s wearing a beard or long hair by the time the season starts.”

And, in truth, the overwhelming majority of Canadian pros still look and act more like Spiro Agnew than Jerry Rubin. And the fans, sports writers and coaches (like Gotta) prefer them that way. Fred Sgambati, the well-known CBC sports announcer and football commentator, probably reflected the general football feeling when he editorialized against “loudmouthed shaggy-haired performers” in a radio broadcast just before the opening of the season. “For an athlete to assume an identification with that unruly, destructive element that persists in wearing unkempt hair is beyond me,” Sgambati moaned, and letters and phone calls flooded into his office thundering approval.

“What we’re really up against,” Profit says, “is the old North American masculinity hangup. It’s drilled into us, especially in sports, that anything that has to do with long hair or full clothes, such as caftans, or a strange appearance must be somehow homosexual. That’s stupid. There’s absolutely no correlation between long hair and ability on the football field.”

The irony of the situation is that the team with the most certified long hairs, the Toronto Argos, may easily spin off with this year’s Grey Cup. Argos don’t own a rebellious and freaky but brilliant quarterback like Joe Namath, true enough, and it’s the quarterbacks who should make the difference in the 1970 championship struggle. A change in CFL rules almost guarantees supremacy to the team with the superior field generalship; the new regulation permits each team to use 14 American imports provided two of them work solely at quarterbacking duties and since, with the exception of Ottawa’s superb and now retired Russ Jackson, all the fine quarterbacks in the Canadian game are American, the way now lies open for each team to come up with twice as much strength and skill at that key position. And the Argos, with the experienced Tom Wilkinson and the bright new-comer Don Jonas, are loaded in the quarterback department.

All the CFL coaches agree that Argos are the team to beat. They’re dazzled by Toronto’s spectacular running, led by Dave Raimey and Bill Symons, by its hard-rock defensive line and backfield, and by its fleet of speedy pass catchers.

And, of course, Toronto does have all those long hairs.

“We’re known all over the league as the ‘hippies’ and the ‘dropouts’ and all that stuff,” says Profit. “And guys such as Bobby Taylor and Mike Eben and myself take a terrific hassling especially from the fans out on the prairies. But none of us mind because we know we have the best team. We’ve got a winning feeling.”