Category Archives: Sports History

Grey Cup Memories

The Canadian Football League runs deep in my family. My father and his father were at many of the classic Grey Cup games played at Varsity Stadium in the 1950s. My grandfather had Toronto Argonauts season tickets for years, and I attended my first game in his seats with my father at CNE Stadium in 1971. After my grandfather died in 1972, my father was surprised to learn that those tickets actually belonged to my grandfather’s business and didn’t transfer to him. So, in 1973 my father ordered his own season tickets for our family. This meant a move from the old, covered grandstand to the new bleacher seats on the other side of the field.

In those days before the stadium was renovated for the Blue Jays, CNE Stadium held 33,000 fans and was always sold out for the Argos. I remember attending a game in August when the temperature was 100 degrees (no Celsius back then!) and a playoff game in November that ended in a blinding blizzard. But with Ottawa set to face Edmonton in the Grey Cup this weekend, I have a memory of a very different sort. Many will remember Ottawa’s last-second victory (over Saskatchewan) with the Tom Clements to Tony Gabriel touchdown pass in 1976. Others, the 1981 game where Dave Cutler’s last-second field goal kept the Eskimos dynasty alive with a win over the surprising Rough Riders. But I remember 1973.

EZ FootballMy first football team. I’m in the top row, next to our enormous coach.

The first Grey Cup game I remember watching is 1971, when Leon McQuay’s late fumble sealed Toronto’s loss to Calgary. I started playing football in 1972, and my greatest athletic accomplishment remains leading our Zion Heights Grade 9 intramural football league in scoring in 1977. I loved football. My brother David liked it a lot. Jonathan … not so much. Still, my parents tried to keep things fair. We all took turns going to games, and we all got to fill out the ballots in the program to vote for the Shopsy’s team MVP. One lucky winner among the MVP voters would receive two tickets to the 1973 Grey Cup game which was in Toronto that year. Jonathan won! He couldn’t really have cared less, and I wanted to go so badly… but it was his ballot that was drawn and his name on the letter that arrived at our house with the tickets, so he went to the game and I watched on television.

Long before any of us starting watching, Albert Henry George Grey, the 4th Earl Grey, was Canada’s Governor-General from 1904 to 1911. He was a big sports fan – as many of his predecessors had been. By 1908, he had already donated namesake trophies for the Dominion trapshooting championship and for horse racing.

Earlier

According to almost everything you’ll ever read about the history of the Grey Cup, the Earl originally intended to donate a new trophy for the senior amateur hockey championship of Canada in 1909 since the Stanley Cup had been recently taken over by the professionals. But Canadian businessman Sir Hugh Montagu Allan had already beaten the Govenor-General to the punch, so he gave his trophy to football instead.

HockeyThe article on the right is from Vancouver Daily World on February 24, 1909.

But this story is only partly true. In an era when so many Canadian championships were contested exclusively in the east, the announcements concerning Earl Grey’s new trophy in February of 1909 clearly state that it was intended only for competition among western hockey teams in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

FootballFrom the Toronto Daily Star, June 1, 1909 and the Brandon Weekly Sun, June 3, 1909.

It’s unclear what caused the change in sports, but on June 1, 1909, it was announced that the Grey Cup would be awarded for the amateur rugby football championship of the Dominion of Canada … which had been contested since 1884, but apparently without any tangible reward. (Ironically, no Western Canadian team would be able to compete for this new trophy until 1921!)

Rules plus
From the Winnipeg Tribune, June 12, 1909 and the Ottawa Journal, September 2, 1909.

By the time football teams were preparing for the new season in September of 1909, the Grey Cup was already being touted as a boon to the game. First won by the University of Toronto on December 4, 1909, the evolution of the trophy and its many great moments are much to long to go into here, but the Grey Cup remains a unique part of Canada’s sporting history – and of my family history too.

Boxing, Basketball and Hockey Too

This Saturday, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao meet at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in the most-anticipated boxing match in decades. The welterweights have long been considered the two best fighters in the world, and though boxing has certainly been in decline, the money for this bout is staggering. As champion, Mayweather will receive a 60-40 share of the purse that could net him as much as $180 million, win or lose. Pacquiao will have to get buy on a mere $120 million or so.

Something as simple as a broken finger from a bad bounce could have derailed the whole fight, but despite all the money on the line, Pacquiao, in the days leading up to his last fight in October, and as recently as early March while training for Mayweather, was playing basketball for the team he owns in his native Philippines.

Beginning around 1924, Boston fighter Jimmy Maloney was a fairly successful heavyweight who fought against future champions Jack Sharkey (also of Boston) and Primo Carnera. In fact, Maloney was the first American boxer to beat Carnera during the Italian fighter’s first trip to the United States in 1930.

Art Ross had been known to step into the ring on occasion during his days as a hockey player, and as coach and GM of the Bruins, he allowed Maloney to hit the ice with his team in December of 1932 in a novel training technique that Pacquiao has emulated somewhat.

Maloney

Maloney lost his next fight to Jose Santa on January 19, 1933, and certainly didn’t earn anything close to $120 million. He had a new manager by the end of 1933 – and probably wasn’t playing much more hockey – but lost what appears to be his last bout to Johnny Risko on January 9, 1934. Before the end of the year, Maloney was out of the fight game and working as a policeman in Miami. He later worked as a referee for boxing and wrestling matches. From what I can find on the internet, Maloney had a career record of 51-18-2 with 26 wins (and nine of his losses) by knockout. He died at the age of 68 on August 1, 1971.

Maloney Cop

Canucks Go For Pucks at Gonzaga

During the late 1980s, when I was at my most interested in NCAA basketball, I had a fondness for Gonzaga University. Partly that was because Gonzaga grad John Stockton was starring alongside Karl Malone with the NBA’s Utah Jazz, whom I also liked at the time. Admittedly, though, a big part of it was that I just liked to say, “Gonzaga!”

A couple of years ago, Canadian star Kelly Olynyk (now with the Boston Celtics) led Gonzaga to the top seed in the West Region at the NCAA tournament. Sadly, after a 31-2 regular season, the Zags (their actual nickname is the Bulldogs) went out in the second round. This year, with Canadians Kevin Pangos and Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga was 32-2 and were seeded second in the South. The Zags reached the “Elite Eight” for just the second time in school history, but were eliminated this past weekend by top-ranked Duke in the South Region Final and so failed to reach this weekend’s Final Four.

More than 75 years ago, Gonzaga used a Canadian connection to briefly become a West Coast hockey power. Coach and promoter Denny Edge ran Gonzaga’s hockey team. He was born in England, but raised in Regina, where he played junior hockey from 1918 to 1922, helping the Regina Pats reach the finals of the 1922 Memorial Cup. Edge played pro hockey in Los Angeles in 1926-27 and then managed the rink in Portland, Oregon until 1936 before moving to Spokane, Washington, to coach at Gonzaga.

Gonzaga
Denny Edge wears the suit, Frank McCool wears the pads,
and Jerry Pettigrew stands on the right.

Edge tapped his home province of Saskatchewan for hockey players to take to Gonzaga – particularly the town of North Battleford. Future NHL goalie and executive Emile Francis was a young boy in North Battleford at the time and remembers the exodus of local talent. Jerry Pettigrew had led the North Battleford Beavers to the Allan Cup (Canadian amateur championship) Finals against Sudbury in the spring of 1937 before being recruited to Gonzaga that fall. Several other local boys made the trip with him and Gonzaga won the West Coast Amateur Hockey title in 1937–38. In their final game of the season they defeated the Big Ten champion University of Minnesota 5-1.

Edge added goalie Frank McCool of Calgary to the Gonzaga roster in 1938-39. McCool, later known as “Ulcers,” would famously win the Calder Trophy and the Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs as an NHL rookie in 1944–45 while guzzling milk between periods to calm his roiling stomach. In his first of two seasons at Gonzaga, McCool led the team to the Pacific Northwest Amateur championship, a second straight West Coast Amateur title, and the Pacific Coast Collegiate championship.

James “Stocky” Edwards of Battleford, Saskatchewan isn’t a name most hockey fans will know. He was one of Canada’s leading air aces of World War II, but before that, Edwards played hockey at St. Thomas College, a Catholic high school in Battleford. He was small, but determined and very competitive. Barbara and I have visited with Stocky and his wife Toni several times before and after she wrote The Desert Hawk. He and I have talked hockey a bit, and I also had the chance to speak with Emile Francis about him.

Stocky
Jim Edwards is on the right with brothers Paul (center) and Edd Ballandine.

It had been decades since Francis faced Stocky (or had even seen him) when Stocky was finishing up at St. Thomas and Francis was a freshman at North Battleford Collegiate. Still, he remembered him as an excellent shooter who would cut hard for the net from the right wing. “He didn’t take the ‘overland route,’” said Francis, who added that the first time he played against Howie Meeker of the Toronto Maple Leafs he thought, “This guy reminds me of Jimmy Edwards.”

Edwards was good enough that Johnny Gottselig of the Chicago Blackhawks arranged for him to have a tryout with the team. He also attracted the interest of Denny Edge, who recruited him for Gonzaga. Excited as he was by the NHL attention, Edwards planned to further his education at the Spokane University … but decided to join the RCAF instead. Edwards went on to a career in the Air Force, while Denny Edge’s powerhouse hockey program at Gonzaga University became a forgotten casualty of the Second World War.