Jimmy Jones, Glen Suitor hold strong memories of Grey Cup kicks

One might think superb field-goal holder Jimmy Jones would've forgotten bobbling a snap that cost the Alouettes a win in the 1975 Grey Cup against the Stampeders. Nope.
Calgary Stampeders' Rene Paredes, left, kicks a field goal as Bo Levi Mitchell holds during the first half of the CFL Western Final football game against the B.C. Lions in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday November 18, 2012. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Filtered through the lens of a superb career, one would think Jimmy Jones might have long forgotten what happened to him as a field-goal holder at the end of the 1975 Grey Cup game in the deep freeze at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium.

This is a man who was the first black quarterback on the cover of Sports Illustrated, who led the first all-black backfield in NCAA history, won a Rose Bowl and took his USC Trojans to an historic thumping of the Alabama Crimson Tide — a victory that helped convince the latter to open its gates to black athletes.

Jones played most of the 1970s in the Canadian Football League because the NFL wasn't interested in pivots of colour and was victorious in the 1974 Grey Cup with Montreal.

So could one bobbled snap, one small mistake at the wrong time that cost the Alouettes a win over the Edmonton Eskimos, really stick in the craw 37 years later?

Not Just For Kicks

Trevor Harris, No. 7 in your program, said the best thing that can happen to him in Sunday's Grey Cup game is to get through it with no one knowing his name.

If they do, it means the Toronto Argonauts third-string quarterback somehow screwed up his job as holder for Swayze Waters on field goals and extra points.

"My job as a holder is not to be noticed and that's the exact opposite of 99 per cent of the jobs on the team," he said, after Wednesday's practice. "The snap and the hold are the two jobs that if you aren't noticed that means you are doing your job.

"So if nobody knows who you are, you are doing a great job."

Bo Levi Mitchell, wearing No. 19 if you’re looking for him, knows because he's in the same position for the Calgary Stampeders.

"I've been holding for a while and I don't ever expect to drop a ball," he said. "I don't ever expect to mess up — you go out there, do your job and earn your teammates' respect."

The difference between Harris and Mitchell is that the former just started this job this year and the latter has been doing it almost as long as he's played football.

"I always took it upon myself to do it just for this situation," he said. "I knew I wanted to play professional football and I knew, if I did, I wouldn't just instantly be the guy.

"So in high school and in college at SMU and Eastern Washington, I always held."

Both believe being a quarterback helps because it means you are used to handling the ball. And neither lie awake at night worrying about handling a snap with 0:00 on the clock on the Grey Cup on the line.

Of course, neither has been there yet.

You bet it could.

Jones is not bitter — he long ago got over it — but he remembers every second of that play as though it were last night.

"If you ask any athlete worth his salt, he'll be more concerned with things that didn't go well rather than the great successes," said Jones, on the phone from Harrisburg, Penn., where, as a minister, he counsels young people in the Susquehanna Township School District and sits on the board of youth organizations.

"We strive for perfection and for a perfect game. When those misfortunes happen, we say we had a tremendous career, but it's the small things that get away that bother you."

That day, Nov. 23, 1975, featured –15C temperatures and a 25 km wind that made it much colder.

Neither team could do anything and, by the time Montreal moved to the Edmonton 19 with seconds to play, it was all of 9-7 for the Eskimos.

When you watch the snap of the ball, frame by frame, on the field goal try by Don Sweet, you can seen the normally sure-handed Jones reach for a just-wide snap, put the ball down on its side and then, by the time his kicker arrived, get it straight up and down.

Too late. Wide right. Edmonton won.

Jones has never seen the replay, but was happy to hear a reporter had looked at it closely, because, he says, there had always been a question of whether he got the ball up in time. Now he knows he did. And it helps.

Glen Suitor understands perfectly, especially since he learned how thin the line is between hero and goat a few days after the famous Saskatchewan victory over Hamilton on a 35-yard Dave Ridgeway field goal with seconds to go in the 1989 Grey Cup.

Suitor, a star defender, was the regular holder (having missed just two placements in 10 years), and he was feeling pretty good about himself a couple of days later when he saw the replay. A cold shiver went down his spine.

"I realized I had my eyes in the wrong place, which is not on the ball when it was coming back but on the goal post, and so the ball almost got through my hands," he said, watching practice Wednesday afternoon as he prepared to do the colour commentary on the TV broadcast of the 100th Grey Cup at the Rogers Centre.

"I actually caught [the ball] about halfway through it, instead of catching the front tip of it like I'm supposed to."

'Perfection is expected'

In other words, a millimetre or two more and Suitor could have easily become the most hated man in Saskatchewan at that moment, remembered forever as the guy who cost the Riders only their second Grey Cup win.

"I don't even want to imagine my life after that if I had dropped that ball," he said.

'It's funny that everybody in football, whether they be referees, coaches or players, they all make mistakes, but it's interesting that holding for field goals is really one of the few positions, maybe the only position in sports, where perfection is expected."

What Suitor does know is if he had missed that snap, every year at Grey Cup time somebody would have brought his name up.

It was different for Jones because Montreal won cups often, and fans felt, rightly, that one lost would lead to another won in the future.

Still, the former star, called out of the blue after all these years, admits to still being a little upset about it. But is that being too hard on himself? Not in his mind.

"To be able to compete at the higher levels, you have to be hard on yourself," Jones said. "You are your own worst critic.

"It seems unfair, but it ends up working. I've heard people in other professions say the same thing — this is my worst recording or this is the worse film they did."

High expectations equal high performance, he still believes. Even in something like holding for field goals.