SPORTS WATCH

Dave Ridgway’s unbeatable toe

The Saskatchewan Roughriders veteran is an outstanding practitioner of a lonely and demanding art

TRENT FRAYNE November 5 1990
SPORTS WATCH

Dave Ridgway’s unbeatable toe

The Saskatchewan Roughriders veteran is an outstanding practitioner of a lonely and demanding art

TRENT FRAYNE November 5 1990

Dave Ridgway’s unbeatable toe

The Saskatchewan Roughriders veteran is an outstanding practitioner of a lonely and demanding art

TRENT FRAYNE

SPORTS WATCH

Where in the tiny kingdom of sports is there a lonelier guy than the field-goal kicker? While his teammates prowl for prey on the football field, grunting and galumphing, the fieldgoal kicker stands alone at the sideline, watching. Nobody gives him a smile or a pat on the bum, the supreme seal of approbation. He’s a loner, a guy who often chases his own kicks during practices. In games, who talks to the field-goal kicker? Nobody. He’s left by himself, occasionally setting up a football to kick into a small nearby net, checking whether his trusty toe is sharp or maybe has gone to sleep.

But every now and then, just when all seems lost for his weary teammates, circumstances suddenly thrust the field-goal kicker into everyone’s eyes. The outcome of the whole day’s turmoil has been funnelled onto him. The fans in the stands turn to him for a verdict and so do a million or more addicts in television land, everybody looking over his shoulder to see if he’s any good in his line of work. Bank presidents aren’t accorded such public scrutiny.

Dave Ridgway still tingles when he thinks about his part in last November’s Grey Cup game, a scoring orgy in the Sky Dome, Toronto’s ode to opulence, a game some folks have called the most exciting national final ever played. It was there that Dave and his toe shipped the Grey Cup to Regina for the first time in 23 years.

A pair of weekends ago, Dave returned to the dome with his Saskatchewan Roughrider playmates for the first time since their 43-40 Grey Cup victory last year, and prior to a pregame practice he walked to the spot from which he had launched the 35-yard field goal that ended the tumultuous game with two seconds showing on the clock. “I was surprised how wide the space was between the goalposts,” Dave said. He held up a thumb and forefinger. “Last November, it was like this.” This season, the posts have been a mile wide for Dave, setting him on course for a Canadian Football League record. When the Toronto

Argonauts visited Regina’s Taylor Field on Oct. 28, Dave’s season’s total of 53 field goals was a mere two shy of the all-time mark. The record had been established two seasons ago by Dave himself. And Dave, currently the CFL’s leading scorer, is the only player who has twice booted eight field goals in a game.

Obviously, when this guy kicks ’em they stay kicked. And for distance, too. He holds the league record for the longest field goal, a howitzer that sailed 60 yards in a 1987 game against the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg. “There was a terrific wind,” Dave concedes. And then he adds, grinning, “In my face.”

Field-goal kicking is a precise exercise in timing that involves a three-man crew, none of whom can waste even a fraction of a second if the operation is to prove successful. The total time allowance is 1.3 seconds, Dave says.

His cohorts in the Saskatchewan performance are Bob Poley, whom the players predictably call the Polecat, a six-foot, four-inch, 260lb. native of Saskatoon, and Glen Suitor, a North Vancouver native from Simon Fraser University, who has spent all of his seven CFL seasons with the Roughriders. Poley’s job is to snap the ball back to Suitor kneeling seven yards behind him, and Suitor in turn catches

the ball and spins it so that the laces are turned away from Dave Ridgway’s foot, which a split second later comes through with a whoosh.

The threesome of Poley, Suitor and Ridgway work for a half-hour almost daily following Roughrider practices, refining their timing and execution. Before practices, Dave takes a rubber tee onto the field and sets a ball on it to boot downfield. Then he’ll fetch it and he’ll do this 40 to 50 times, honing his technique. During the team’s two-hour practices, he'll occasionally exchange kicks in a vacant part of the field with rookie punter Mike Lazecki. And a lot of the time he’ll just stand there, listening to his hair grow.

Dave, who is 31, is a Brit with an American accent, a guy who calls his zeds zee. This is because when he got an athletic scholarship at the University of Toledo, he was embarrassed by his English accent and strove mightily to adopt an American one. Apparently, though, he didn’t apply the same zeal to Canadianizing the vowels.

Bom in Stockport, England, Dave learned to kick on the soccer fields of Manchester, where famed clubs United and City helped fuel his dreams. “I was no Pelé,” he once told a reporter, “but I did all right.”

He first kicked a lemon-shaped football when he moved to Canada at 16 with his father following his parents’ divorce, settling in Burlington, Ont. After only two years of highschool football, he caught the eye of Gamey Henley, a Hamilton Tiger-Cat player, whose letter of recommendation helped win the Toledo scholarship. He kicked for Toledo until the old Montreal Alouettes selected him in the college draft. But they were looking for someone to handle punting as well so Dave was dropped. Eventually, still specializing in fieldgoal booting, he settled down in Regina, where he is now in his ninth season.

As a specialist, Dave is a couple of eons removed from an era of all-purpose hooters such as, say,. Carlton Chester (Cookie) Gilchrist, a marvel who came north in the mid1950s from a tryout with the Cleveland Browns. Just under six feet, three inches, just over 240 lb., Cookie was more than a triple threat; not only could he nm, kick and catch that football, he could terrify ball carriers as a dismantling tackier. In his career playing for Hamilton, Cookie was named to the East’s all-star team at two positions, fullback and middle linebacker.

The next year, Cookie went to Regina and ground out 1,254 yards carrying the ball, and the year after that he joined the Toronto Argonauts, where he added field-goal kicking to his ample repertoire. He won the Eastern scoring championship two years in a row. In 1960, Cookie did all of that other stuff and also filled in occasionally for injured compatriots at defensive tackle. And in his spare time, Cookie operated the binoculars concession at the Woodbine race course. What a guy.

Chances are, though, Dave Ridgway, the modem specialist, harbors more pressures waiting alone on the sidelines for a game’s crucial moment than ever burdened Cookie, grunting and galumphing and surrounded by teammates out there in the pit.