Sports Column

When the ball kept crossing flight paths they just had to do something

Trent Frayne July 30 1979
Sports Column

When the ball kept crossing flight paths they just had to do something

Trent Frayne July 30 1979

When the ball kept crossing flight paths they just had to do something

Sports Column

By Trent Frayne

Looming is the first anniversary of a rare moment in Canadian football. Time to break out banners and bunting along Jasper Avenue. Time for that old football hand Peter Lougheed to gift-wrap an oil well, for this is one hell of an event to celebrate. It’s one year, practically to the toe twitch, since Dave Culter missed that convert. If a hunk of Skylab had split the blessed uprights at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, who could have been more surprised?

Dave’s a square-set, moustached, modest, 33year-old place-kicker for the Grey Cup champions, the Eskimos of beautiful Edmonton. He’s a native of Biggar, Saskatchewan, near Saskatoon, who grew up in Victoria and graduated from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby,

B.C. Cutler may just be the greatest kicker of an air-inflated stationary object ever to tread the upper two-thirds of North America. Dave is so good that football’s tallest foreü heads have tried to legis5 late against his big right ¡E toe with rules that detract froin his and the fans’ enjoyment of CFL rioting.

Most times when Dave leans a boot into the football, he sets a record. That’s because the one he keeps breaking is the one he just set. Once, and not so long ago, various players moved into the alltime scoring leadership. Such as Larry Robinson, the baldy of the Calgary Stampeders, and Tommy-Joe Coffey, who booted the ball and caught passes for the Eskimos, Argonauts, and TigerCats, and gigantic Jack Abendschan, who toiled for 11 seasons with the great Roughrider teams of George Reed and Ronnie Lancaster. But then along came Cutler and he was soon out of sight.

Last week against Saskatchewan, Dave kicked a field goal and seven consecutive converts. Before that, against Winnipeg in the season’s opener, he sent two field goals and three converts zooming through the night air. All that activity shot his CFL scoring record to 1,347 points. Is that a lot? Well, the runner-up on the scoring list is Larry Rob-

inson, who retired after 14 seasons with 1,030. Dave’s field goals against the Riders and the Bombers were Nos. 301, 302 and 303. The next man in that department is Gerry Organ of Ottawa, whose 189 are barely visible 114 back.

The thing about Dave is that he is both consistent and spectacular. In the National Football League, south of here, some people get quite upset that a flock of faceless little guys who grew up booting soccer balls in Eastern Europe now scurry onto the gridiron like ants, routinely pop field goals, scurry back to

the bench, and mutter things like, “I kick a touchdown.” But Dave gives the ball such prodigious wallops that TV commentators resort to the newest big word in the sports world—“awesome.”

One windy night in Regina a couple of seasons ago, the Eskimos ran out of steam at their own 46-yard line. It was third down and six yards to go. A punting situation, no question. Er, how’s that again, coach?

“Boot one, Cut,” says Hughie Campbell. So David Robert Stuart Cutler, along with Bob Howes, the centre from Queen’s University, and Tom Wilkinson, the peripatetic quarterback from Wyoming who found peace in Edmonton, moved into field-goal alignment— Howes to snap the ball, Wilkie to set it and Cutler to boot it.

Howes spun it from the Eskimo 46, Wilkinson placed it on the Eskimo 39 and Cutler kicked it 71 yards along a CP Air flight path. Where did it settle?

“It hit the crossbar,” Dave Cutler says civilly.

The surprising thing about this miss was the miss. Most fans had become accustomed to Dave’s leg. It had smoked one a record 59 yards in 1970 and since then 10 others of 55 yards or better. In 1977 Dave made good on 50 field goals— 50. The man is unreal—16 were from beyond the 40-yard line—16.

Soon after the season expired, CFL legislators furrowed their massive brows to curb Dave. They put in a rule that on missed field goals from outside the 35-yard line that are caught in the end zone, the defending team could concede a point and put the ball in play at the line of scrimmage. Suppose Dave missed from the 52. The other team gets the ball there. And on attempts from inside the 35, the ball still comes out to the 35.

Point is, the fans lose out on two kinds of excitement. There’s the lost anticipation and emotional impact of a long, long field goal (coaches are reluctant to risk giving the ball up at the aforementioned hypothetical 51) and there’s the new likelihood that defending teams won’t run missed kicks out of the end zone. Since they get the ball at the 35 anyway, why risk a fumble or a short return? Better to concede one point and start fresh in good field position.

Cutler can’t see it, of course.

“People like watching the Terry Metcalfs and Larry Highbaughs tearing out of the end zone. They like the long field goals, too. When I’m on the banquet circuit, somebody always asks about that 71-yarder, even now.”

So a lot of those fans were astonished last Aug. 1, the big moment in CFL history, when the Esks scored a touchdown to whittle an early Ottawa 17-0 lead. Fans and scribes were calling the score 17-7 when the impossible happened. The convert went wide. Yep, Skylab garbage actually split the uprights that night. For the first time in 138 attempts going back to 1974, a Cutler-launched bag of air missed the target. And, in the end, the Rough Riders pulled out the game 24-23—proving that the guy is human and deserves the oil well.