Ottawa·Audio

Mystery solved: CBC's All in a Day discovers fate of Tony Gabriel's Grey Cup-winning catch

Bruce Crete knows what happened to the football Tony Gabriel caught to win the 1976 Grey Cup for the Ottawa Rough Riders. Unfortunately, it probably won't be heading to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

Bruce Crete was 12 years old when he came into possession of historic football

Bruce Crete was 12 years old when Tony Gabriel made the catch that won the Ottawa Rough Riders the Grey Cup in 1976. His sister's boyfriend scooped up the ball after the extra-point conversion and gave it to Crete's mother. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC Ottawa)

First, the good news: the fate of the ball that Tony Gabriel caught to win the 1976 Grey Cup has been determined.

The bad news: it's probably not going to end up in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame anytime soon.

The question of what happened to the ball from that legendary catch, one of the top sporting moments in both Ottawa and CFL history, was the subject of CBC's All in a Day Wednesday afternoon.

Gabriel himself told host Alan Neal he regretted not keeping better track of what happened to the ball after he spiked it in the end zone, capping off a 23-20 come-from-behind victory for the Ottawa Rough Riders over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

"Unfortunately I was a bit of a hot dog, I used to have a double spike move after catching the ball in the end zone," said Gabriel Wednesday.

Tony Gabriel of the Ottawa Rough Riders makes the game winning catch from quarterback Tom Clements as Saskatchewan Roughriders defender Ted Provost looks on during the 1976 Grey Cup final. It was Ottawa's last CFL championship. (Canadian Press)

"By habit I did my double spike … the crowd was sweeping off the end seats there, some of my teammates [coming over], I'm sure the referee probably put it back to get the extra point set up."

Gabriel's assumption was correct: the ball ended up being kicked into the stands, where it was scooped up by the boyfriend of Bruce Crete's sister.

'Tony was actually my idol'

Crete was 12 at the time of the game, and his sister's boyfriend gave it to his mother — who passed it along to him.

"I was the star of the neighbourhood with the Grey Cup football," Crete told All in a Day Thusday. "Tony was actually my idol growing up."

For six years, Crete and the other neighbourhood kids passed, punted, and placekicked Gabriel's Grey Cup winning football. They played with it so often that when Crete moved out of home at 18, the ball was in no shape to come with him. 

"It was basically done. The rubber was coming out of the ends. The laces were [tattered]," said Crete. "I basically tossed it, at my mother's house, in the garbage. That was it."

Crete says he regrets not being more aware, as a teenager, of the ball's historic significance. 

"I feel terrible. My mother felt terrible. She loved Tony Gabriel ... she would not have even asked for a penny," said Crete, whose mother died a few years ago.

"She would've gave that gladly to Tony. And just a hug and a kiss would've been sufficient."

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