10 things that would have killed a lesser Cup

Back in 1947, Toronto firefighters were roused out of their sleep by a major blaze on the lakeshore at the home of the Argonaut Rowing Club.

Memorable CFL championship moments in honour of the Grey Cup's fortitude

Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Tom Wilkinson gets instructions from coach Hugh Campbell during Grey Cup action in Toronto on Nov. 26, 1978. ((Canadian Press))

Back in 1947, Toronto firefighters were roused out of their sleep by a major blaze on the lakeshore at the home of the Argonaut Rowing Club.

Arriving, they found the offices and clubhouse aflame and there wasn't anything they could do but douse the fire and see what was left.

Not much — 75 years of history, melted trophies and loving cups, plaques and awards lay in the sodden mess, surrounded by a few burnt out building frames.

On one of those frames was a hook. Dangling on that hook, having fallen off a collapsing shelf and been miraculously snagged by a handle, was one surviving trophy.

It was the Grey Cup.

Since 1909, calamities both natural and man-made have conspired to put an end to Canada's second most-beloved trophy, but the Grey Cup has beaten them all.

In honour of the mug's fortitude, we present Nine Other Things That Would Have Killed a Lesser Cup.

1. The Mud Bowl

In the days leading up to the 1950 Grey Cup game at Varsity Stadium in Toronto, it snowed. And snowed. And snowed.

Someone came up with the idea of having plows and tractors move the white stuff off the field, just as the thermometer headed north to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (that's a balmy 10 C, folks). By the time they were finished ripping up the turf it was raining. Wrath of God raining. Didn't stop.

At kickoff, the field was one deep, muddy puddle. So deep that when Winnipeg's Bud Tinsley was tackled on a tough play (no facemasks, remember) he wound up facedown in four inches of water at centre field, unmoving. 

Referee Hec Crighton noticed, after a minute, that old Bud wasn't moving. Concerned the police would need to be called if he didn't do something, Crighton rolled Tinsley over to prevent an embarrassing early end to what would be a Toronto victory.

The Grey Cup could have been material witness to a death in action.

(In 1990, by the way, Tinsley told writer Stephen Thiele he wasn't drowning at all. Just mad. Well, that's what he claimed.)

2. Humphrey puts his best foot forward

His name was Ray "Bibbles" Bawel, and on Nov. 30, 1957, at Varsity Stadium his moment in the sun had come. A Hamilton Tiger-Cat of actual great repute, Bibbles found himself with a fumbled football in his hands and nothing standing in his way down the sidelines for a touchdown.

And away went Bibbles, visions of glory dancing in his head. No one could stop him. Except future Ontario Superior Court Judge David Humphrey, that is, who stuck out a foot and tripped Bibbles  as he went by.

That normally would have been a penalty, but Humphrey (then a young lawyer), wasn't actually wearing a uniform. He was standing on the sidelines watching the game.

Down went Bibbles. Out the stadium snuck Mr. Humphrey. Only 20 years later did he admit to his dastardly, though hugely funny, act. 

Fortunately for the Grey Cup, it didn't have an effect on the outcome (the Cats were beating up on Winnipeg).

3. The death threat

Most fans remember the 1969 Grey Cup game only for the brilliance of Ottawa Rough Riders' quarterback Russ Jackson, who would end his career that November day at the Autostade in Montreal by leading his club past the Saskatchewan Roughriders, 29-11.

But the subtext that year was dark and dangerous.

The Front de liberation du Quebec (FLQ) had already bombed the Montreal Stock Exchange and numerous places around English-language Montreal. They were a year away from their most infamous act, the kidnapping of James Cross and Pierre Laporte — the latter a Quebec cabinet minister who would be found murdered.

Someone called in a death threat against Jackson, and that, along with the continuing FLQ presence around town, saw 300 police officers in riot gear on standby at the stadium, just in case.

Jackson went ahead and played anyway — brilliantly it turned out — and the Grey Cup was awarded, as scheduled.

4. Without a Trace

On Feb. 16, 1970, the phone rings at the front desk of a Toronto police station. The voice tells the desk sergeant where a kidnap victim, missing for two months after being nabbed out of an Ottawa office, can be found.

But instructions must be followed.

Bursting into action, the police hustle to a pay phone where they find a key. Ah ha! It's a key to a locker in Union Station.

Down they race to the train depot where, upon placing the key in the numbered locker and opening the door they find … the Grey Cup. A little dented. A little shaken up. But thankfully in one piece.

Police figured the kidnapping was a lark and the mug would show up, given time.

5. Trudeau's pimp costume

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, in cape and hat, walks down the grandstand steps to present the Grey Cup trophy to the victorious Montreal Alouettes in this Nov. 28, 1970 photo. ((Peter Bregg/Canadian Press))

There's an old Canadian Press photo, taken by Peter Bregg, showing Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau heading out to present the trophy to the Montreal Alouettes at the 1970 game in Toronto wearing … well … just what the heck was that? Plaid pants, a beige jacket with rose in the lapel, black cape and black pimp hat.

Surely we didn't all dress like that? (Actually, we didn't, though my sister tried her best on me). If the Grey Cup had a head, it would have hidden it in embarrassment.

Check out the look on that guy from Calgary sitting on the left there. If he thought that outfit was the worst thing that could possibly come out of Ottawa, well in 10 years Trudeau would send along the National Energy Policy.

6. The Left Coast Australian Crawl

Somebody had this great idea: Let's hold a Grey Cup game in Vancouver. In late November. Outdoors at Empire Stadium.

Didn't anybody in the CFL office know that it rains on the coast every day from November to March? Or that Empire Stadium was going to be the first field with artificial turf to host a cup game? Or that the "Tartan Turf" turned into a wet skating rink when it got wet?

Apparently not. So, there for a national audience, and many folks in the U.S. to see, was the most powerful offence in the league — the Toronto Argonauts (who hadn't been in a Cup game since 1952) — set to take on the Calgary Stampeders in the type of driving storm only a rain forest can produce.

Those of a certain age (your reporter) remember Leon McQuay's fumble after hitting the wet turf losing the game for the Argos (a play that never should have been called by coach Leo Cahill, by the way, but that's another story), and the Stamps winning.

But the true embarrassment was the contest itself. Poor Grey Cup never smelled so much like a wet dog in its history. 

7. Aww, show an old Cup a little respect, will ya?

So there's Edmonton quarterback Tom Wilkinson standing on the field in Toronto holding the Grey Cup after winning the 1978 game. Tom gets jostled. Tom drops the Grey Cup. Linebacker Danny Kepley catches it. Danny gets jostled.

Down goes the Cup. It breaks. All on live television.

How humiliating.

8. Like a Hollywood movie

It should have been the Grey Cup's brightest moment . 1991 in Winnipeg. The Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders, capping a year that had seen American interest in the CFL grow to never before seen levels.

The Argos, you remember, had been bought by Los Angeles Kings' owner Bruce McNall, Wayne Gretzky and hometown hero and actor John Candy. They spent an obscene amount of money on Notre Dame star Raghib "Rocket" Ismail, and that in turn brought Sports Illustrated and tons of other U.S. media attention to town.

So McNall had this great idea — put a bunch of his Hollywood friends into a private plane and fly them up to the wilds of Winnipeg and show off this Grey Cup (is that Gray Cup?) thing.

Apparently the City Gods decided they were insulted by all this "how cute is that? Winnipeg?" stuff, so they dropped the temperature just a bit. And a bit more. And a bit more. Until it was -27 C (that's 11 below Fahrenheit), and 50,000 fans, and a planeload of Californians, froze to their seats.

It was exactly what the Americans expected to see in Winterpeg in November. Confirmed everything they'd ever believed about Mounties and polar bears and igloos.

The Grey Cup cringed. But it survived. As it always has.

9. The Cost of the War of 1812

Little did Canadians know that the real cost of winning the War of 1812 would be the Grey Cup. (Note to our American Friends: We burned Washington, you burned York, a poop-filled, little village that grew up to be Toronto).

Yes, at the end of the most embarrassing incident in CFL history — the ill-fated and thankfully short lived expansion to the U.S. in the 1990s — our beautiful Cup was won by the Baltimore Colts/CFL Colts/CFLers/Stallions, a team that couldn't even pick a name properly.

But there it was, in 1995, gone … south … forever. OK, not really, but seeing the old mug won by an American team must have caused more than a few former CFL players to roll over in their resting places.

Still, that Stallions team came home to Montreal with the rebirth of the Alouettes. And all was right with the world again.

(Business note: The Cup got the last laugh, by the way. That $12-million US the short-lived American franchises threw away on entry fees to the CFL? It saved the league.)