APOLOGIA FOR THE GREY CUP: CELEBRATING RITUAL MAYHEM
APOLOGIA FOR THE GREY CUP: CELEBRATING RITUAL MAYHEM
Nothing brings East and West together like a Grey Cup game. It mushrooms into a breathtaking panorama of crunching blocks, teeth-rattling tackles, soaring punts, intercepted passes, elbow smashes and huge pileups.
And these are just the spectators trying to get themselves into the stadium.
My spies tell me that the Canadian Football League invited Health Minister Marc Lalonde to officially open the 1974 Grey Cup Game in Vancouver by throwing out the first World Football League franchise. He declined.
Rumor has it Lalonde lost interest in CFL problems both major and minor the day he turned and quietly whispered to a close aide: “If you lined up all the French-Canadian players on the Montreal Alouettes from end to end, how far would they stretch?”
“They would . . . er . . . stretch your imagination,” stammered the aide, “because there aren’t any. But at least all the players on the Alouettes are fluently bilingual. They speak Canadian and American.”
Lest you think I’m being unpatriotic, it’s only fair to say that I think the CFL is every bit as Canadian as, well, General Motors. In this sense it may not be native Canadian, but it sure is typically Canadian. For example, it combines Canadian raw material (17 natives on each team); key American technological experts (15 on each team); and an almost exclusive management cartel stressing that good old-fashioned Yankee know-how (nine head coaches and six general managers) we all have learned to appreciate.
The Grey Cup game itself is often dismissed as Canada’s Grand National Drunk. In fairness, this only applies to those who aren’t playing. Granted, it does bring together people of varied cultures — horticulture in the West, multi-culture in Toronto and a two-way hookup of Anglophones and Francophones in Montreal. It loosens our inhibitions — so much so they sometimes fall right off. Could you imagine Mayor Jean Drapeau square dancing in the lobby of the Hotel Vancouver if it weren’t for Grey Cup fever? You could? So could I, but that’s beside the point. If it weren’t for the Grey Cup, George Springate would never have been able to move centre stage in 1970 and show all of Canada what happens to a Quebec politician when he develops athlete’s foot.
What other sport but Canadian pro football would allow a city like Regina to compete against a metropolis like Montreal? Aside from Canadian collegiate football, junior baseball, track and field, badminton, tennis, bowling, curling, fencing, boxing, wrestling, swimming and golf, I can’t think of a single one unless you also want to count cross-country running and skiing, handball, weightlifting, judo, snowman building and egg-and-spoon races.
If it weren’t for the Grey Cup, untold millions of Canadians wouldn’t have a valid excuse to hold a party and get drunk in the middle of the day on that dismal last weekend in November.
The younger generation, groping for something mean-
ingful in their lives to hold on to, would not be able to grasp hotel chairs and other furniture in the lobby of the Grey Cup hotel of their choice, and smash it to kindling and sawdust. They wouldn’t be able to befriend poor, dumb animals by making Vancouver city police dogs sit up for a bite of wrist.
But after all is said and done, take away the football game itself from the Grey Cup and what have you got? An early start home, for one thing. Plus you save maybe $30 on tickets; you don’t have to sit outside and catch the sniffles; you don’t risk losing a week’s salary betting on the wrong team and you don’t have to fight the traffic. No wonder there’s a move afoot to shift the Miss Grey Cup beauty pageant to Sunday afternoon and play the game on the third Sunday in February in Hawaii.
There are those cynics who make a mockery of the profound meaning of this game and the complete dedication of the players who participate in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Eagle Keys, as Canadian football fans well know, played most of the 1954 Grey Cup game hobbled by a broken leg. Asked if he’d do it all over again, if it meant the difference between winning and losing the championship, Eagle said: “Are you out of your mind?”
And then there was Chuck Hunsinger, who dropped the ball as Jackie Parker ran back for that marvelous game-winning touchdown for Edmonton that year. Asked if he was still haunted by the memory of that fumble and exactly how he felt as he lay on the ground, pounding his fists in despair, Hunsinger said: “Hell, I was just trying to kill a spider so it would rain.”
I’ll never forget the first Grey Cup game I ever saw. It was either 1964 or 1965. I remember it just like it was yesterday, as if I could reach out and touch it. Hamilton was playing BC . . . no, wait a minute, I think it was Winnipeg and Ottawa. Winnipeg and Hamilton, you say. Well, never mind. It’s not important. It was the year Jackie Parker uttered those immortal words: “No thanks, I never drink the day of a game.”
Parker’s Edmonton Eskimo dynasty came to an end when the team came down with a rash of knee injuries — which certainly beats a rash of obnoxious social diseases.
But there is a really crucial question that should be settled once and for all. What does the Grey Cup really mean to the players?
Terry Evanshen said it for all of them on the plane home from an Alouette Grey Cup victory in 1970. “There are a lot of people who think we only play in a Grey Cup game for the money. This isn’t true. I could make more money on a Saturday afternoon cutting lawns in Westmount. Some people say we play it for next year’s contract. This isn’t true because most of us have already signed for next year. Some even say we play it for the loyal Alouette boosters — both of them. To be honest, this isn’t quite true either. I’ll tell you the only reason why we played the Grey Cup in 1970. Because it was there.”
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