Day 6

Why the Grey Cup's decades of misadventure reflects the CFL's resilience

This week it was announced that the 2020 Canadian Football League season will be cancelled due to COVID-19. Journalist Vicki Hall points out how the CFL’s resilience is reflected in its top prize: the Grey Cup.

'It has all these near-death experiences, somehow survives and is still this beautiful thing,' says Vicki Hall

Members of the RCMP carry the Grey Cup during the 107th edition of the CFL's championship game in 2019. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

For players in the Canadian Football League, holding the Grey Cup is a moment to remember. 

Justin Medlock — place-kicker with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers — recalls when he got his hands on the top prize last year. 

"The first moment is always pretty special, just to get a feel for that cup," the player told Day 6

But this week the CFL has announced that the 2020 season is cancelled due to COVID-19, marking the first time that the Grey Cup won't be presented since 1919. 

CFL cancels 2020 season

1 year ago
The CFL had sidelined its plans for a shortened 2020 season after the federal government rejected its request for $30 million in financial aid because of the pandemic. 1:55

Medlock said that the news has devastated the CFL.

"For me, I'm obviously toward the end of my career, and it's ... a bummer," the player said.

"2020 has just been a very difficult year for everybody in general," says Justin Medlock. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

This year's cancellation is part of the cup's storied history. 

Vicki Hall is a freelance journalist who's been covering the CFL for more than a decade. 

Vicki Hall has been covering the CFL for over a decade. (Calgary Herald)
She said that the cup is synonymous with resilience — something that the CFL has to demonstrate again as it struggles to survive the pandemic. 

"The trophy is totally symbolic of the Canadian Football League," she said. 

"The Canadian Football League has survived so many near-death experiences."

A history of parties

After decades swapping hands, the Grey Cup itself is in bad shape. 

"We got to the airport when we first landed in Winnipeg and the Cup had basically broken on the plane," Medlock said. 

"We came out and the fans were screaming; we had the Cup and one of the guys was just kind of like holding it together. Nobody notices but it was still kind of bent backwards and sideways."

Randy Ambrosie won't be awarding the Grey Cup again until 2021. At best. (The Canadian Press)

The Grey Cup was originally commissioned in 1908 by then Governor General Albert Grey for a measly $48. 

Since then, the cup has been through all kinds of antics. 

"Every year it goes back to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Museum after the winning team has celebrated with it, and it looks very hungover," Hall said. 

"Quite often they say they don't even want to know where it's been because it just looks that rough."

Much of the time, the cup has been is at parties with winning players. 

"Being able to drink out of it a little bit was always not as disgusting as I thought it would be," Medlock said. 

Fires and kidnappings

The cup has also survived extremely tense circumstances. 

In 1948 there was a fire at the Toronto Argonaut Rowing club and, although many items that were destroyed, the cup survived. 

"Legend has it that the shelf that the Grey Cup was on actually crumbled and fell," said Hall. 

"But the cup itself, the handle caught on a nail.... It was all charred and didn't look right, but it was still in one piece." 

The Grey Cup was also held for ransom in 1969. 

"Somehow the cup ended up in a locker at the Royal York Hotel, which to me is a very strange — but a very Canadiana — story," Hall said. 

Hall believes that the cup's storied past is emblematic of how sports bring Canadians together. 

"It's not so much about football, it's about Canada."

Written by Oliver Thompson. Produced by Rachel Levy-McLaughlin. Edited for clarity and length.