The Grey Cup Part One

Along with shorter days, cooler weather and Christmas music played way too soon, one sure sign it's November is the Grey Cup. Celebrate by hearing some of the best stories, sounds and people of our otyher national game- football.

    Whether it's the Grey Cup Parade, pancake breakfasts, horses in hotel lobbies, or abysmal field conditions, the Grey Cup is known for unusual traditions and off the wall stories. It has historically brought us together, whether you're a fan, a politician or you just happen to be flipping through channels on TV that day.

    When Canada's annual football championship had its 100th birthday back in 2012, Rewind got in on the celebration. Jeff Goodes hosted two programs about the history of the Cup. He invited sportswriter Stephen Brunt to the studio to share some stories. Brunt had a brand new book called 100 Grey Cups: This is Our Game. This year the Grey Cup is on Sunday, November 29, as as you look forward to that, you'll want to listen to this show again. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                It all started in 1909 with the very first Grey Cup game. Lord Earl Grey, Governor General of Canada, donated the trophy that bore his name to the winning team.That first championship game was played in Toronto and wasn't truly a national game yet. By the way, the University of Toronto team beat the Parkdale Canoe Club team by a score of 26 to 6.

The University of Toronto Seniors won the first Grey Cup in 1909. (The Canadian Press)
      There were 12,000 spectators at that first game, many of them hanging from trees or telephone poles to catch a better view of the action. Smirle Lawson was a player in that very first game. Fifty years later, in 1959, he recalled that tickets were sold at a premium price even back then, and that die hard fans had lined up for two days to buy them. He also remembered many of his fellow players and team mates; players like Hugh Gall, whom he considered to be one of the greatest players this country has ever produced, and Montreal's Percy Roberts, who would "kill you for a pastime." There wasn't a nicer guy off the field, recalled Lawson, but if you were up against Percy on the field "you knew you were going to get it."

    In 1935, Winnipeg became the first Western team to win the Grey Cup. They were also the first team to hire American talent. The plan was to scout for players in the States and surprise the teams out east with their new recruits. It worked. A bona fide east/west rivalry had taken root by the time the Blue Bombers met the Toronto Argonauts for the 1938 Grey Cup. 18,000 people packed the stands of Varsity Stadium in Toronto. The Bombers might have been enthusiastic, but the Argos took home the Cup that year after beating them 30-7.

    In the 1947 Grey Cup, Toronto and Winnipeg met for their third straight match-up. Before the big game, CBC Radio broadcast live from the players' dressing rooms. The young reporter was Monty Hall – yes, that Monty Hall from TV's Let's Make a Deal fame. He spoke with Blue Bomber Bill Ceretti who at the time, was in his 13th year playing for Winnipeg. When he crossed the hall to the Argos dressing room, Monty spoke with Quarterback Bill Stukus. Toronto coach Ted Morris was just as pumped as his players, boasting that "they're going to go out on that field on fire."  It was neck and neck right up until the final minute, but the Toronto Argonauts inched by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers by a score of 10 – 9. The 1947 Argos were the last all-Canadian team to win the trophy, and they almost didn't have a Cup to play for. Earlier in the year, a fire had gutted the Toronto Argonauts Rowing Club, where the trophy was displayed. All the trophies in the building were destroyed, except for one: the Grey Cup itself, which managed to survive the fire with only minor damage.

The Calgary Stampeder Special, 1948 (Canadian Pacific Railway Company/Glenbow Museum )


According to Stephen Brunt, it was the people of Calgary who invented the Grey Cup party as we know it today. The year was 1948, and the Calgary Stampeders travelled to Toronto to face the Ottawa Rough Riders at Varsity Stadium. But the team didn't come alone. That year, 250 Calgarians headed east to Toronto to watch the Stampeders in their Grey Cup debut. The fans travelled with the players in the same train, which came to be known as the Calgary Stampeder Special. What resulted was a cross-Canada party that made headlines. The chartered train had a car reserved for transporting horses to the game. The fans also brought along their own musicians and set up a square dancing car. When the train stopped en route, the partyers spilled out of the coaches and continued the festivities.

Members of Calgary Stampeders football team being welcomed home with Grey Cup, 1948. (Glenbow Museum)
Hundreds of Calgarians gather to meet the Grey Cup train after the 1948 victory. (Courtesy Glenbow Museum)

    That year, the Stampeders did not disappoint their faithful. The Stamps won the 1948 championship 12-7, and in a pretty unusual fashion. In what became known as the Sleeper Play, Stampeder Receiver Norm Hill hid from the Ottawa defence by lying down on the sidelines, as if he were asleep. He caught a pass from quarterback Keith Spaith while still on his back. It was a football first. Sadly, or perhaps predictably, the CFL outlawed the Sleeper Play soon after. Other firsts from the 1948 Grey Cup season: Calgary was the first team to go undefeated in the regular season and playoffs. Calgary's Norm Kwong was the youngest player to win the Grey Cup at the age of 18, and the first player of Chinese ancestry to do it. It was the first of 4 Grey Cups for him. 1948 was the year the famous Grey Cup Pancake Breakfast was born, and the '48 post-game party was the backdrop for the legendary story of how some Calgary Stampeders' fans rode horses into the lobby of Toronto's Royal York Hotel. The Calgary tradition of "horsing around" during the Grey Cup continues.

      The next decade brought the famous 1950 Grey Cup game known as the Mud Bowl, along with the exciting Edmonton/Montreal rivalry that saw the Eskimos claiming three Grey Cup victories from 1954 to 1956. And then there was the 1957 game matching the Hamilton Tiger Cats with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers when another bizarre play was entered into the CFL history books. Once again, the game was played at Varsity Stadium in Toronto. Ray "Bibbles" Bawel, a Hamilton TiCat defensive back was running the ball down the sidelines on his way to a touchdown when he was tripped by a spectator near the Blue Bombers bench. The play was dead, and although the TiCats still won the game 32-7, the  "tripper" escaped and his identity remained a mystery until he was identified by a CFL official many years later.

Next week, Rewind continues its celebration of Canada's Grey Cup history with a look at the Fog Bowl, Grey Cup parades, the week-long celebrations, and the near demise and then resurgence, of the CFL. 

Stephen Brunt is the author of 100 Grey Cups This is Our Game. It was published in 2012 by McClelland & Stewart. 

The Grey Cup sign at The Forks in Winnipeg, host city of the 2015 Grey Cup game. (Trevor Brine/CBC)