Grey Cup: Little guys star on CFL's biggest stage

Five-foot-seven, 153-pound (yeah, right) kick return dynamo Brandon Banks hopes to become the latest in a long line of diminutive players to make a big impact on the Grey Cup game.

Hamilton's Banks hopes to join likes of Flutie, Gizmo

150-pound (maybe) Brandon Banks hopes to bring his kick-return magic to the Grey Cup game. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

They got little baby legs
That stand so low
You got to pick ‘em up
Just to say hello …

Short People — Randy Newman

Look down … way down … past the linemen and the linebackers, past the fullbacks and the DBs and the guys who mix the Gatorade on the sidelines, and you can find them. 

They are legendary. They are winners. They annoy the heck out of the bigger folks.

They are the Grey Cup stars 5-feet-9 and under -- water bugs with low centres of gravity who you can’t tackle, can’t find and who go from zero to touchdown in less than 10 seconds.

Their newest club member may be Hamilton’s Brandon Banks (“5-foot-7” but only if one of the feet are standing on a step stool), who had two return TDs in the East final and could be a little headache to the Calgary Stampeders this weekend. 

It’s a big club. Here’s our rundown of some of the best small guys in Grey Cup history (not counting kickers — sorry, Trevor Kennerd).

Brian Kelly, Edmonton Eskimos (5-foot-9, 160 pounds)

The man they called Howdy Doody played just nine years, from 1979 to 1987, but caught 575 balls for 11,169 yards, 97 touchdowns (that’s just ridiculous) and owns five Grey Cup rings.

We found him down the phone line in Minneapolis, where he now runs Ironman triathlons for recreation and is a natural spokesman for why vertically and weight challenged players have found such a home in the Canadian Football League.

“I think it’s the size of the field,” says the CFL Hall of Famer. “It’s [12.3 yards] wider and that makes a huge difference. An American field, it’s just so tight and small and players are so big.”

More to it than that, however.

“Shorter players have additional quickness, as a general statement … they are quicker than taller, lankier players.”

More than that.

“Sometimes, small people who aren’t the prototype athletes, you learn creativity … maybe we think a little more and work on your skills a little better. They work, and work, and work because of their size.”

So for Kelly, it was a big field, quickness and hard work. And, the one he freely admits to be top of the list, he had these guys named Warren Moon, Matt Dunigan and Damon Allen throwing to him. 

That helped. 

Kelly’s greatest Grey Cup highlight came in 1982, when he caught two TDs in a victory over Toronto, at Toronto, that gave the Eskimos their fifth-straight ring and his fourth. Watch one of the TDs at 1:55 in this video:

Here's a montage of Kelly highlights:

Henry “Gizmo” Williams, Edmonton Eskimos (5-6, 185)

One of three key little folks in the 1996 Grey Cup game, Giz was “as fast as lagging fowls before the northern blast. “ (Billy Shakespeare, London Monarchs). 

The future Hall of Famer could catch, run back kicks and keep opposing special teams coaches up at night. He appeared in four championships and won two of them. 

In the 1987 Grey Cup, Williams ran a missed field goal back a record 112 yards for a quick Eskimos lead as they would go on to win the game. (Brian Kelly also had a TD in that one, his swan song). 

Here’s Gizmo’s run:

Williams showed he still had it in 1996 with this little 91-yard gem:

Jimmy “The Jet” Cunningham, Toronto Argonauts, B.C. Lions (5-8, 165) 

Jet played seven years in the league, was twice an all star and if he was really 5-foot-8 then I’m Finn MacCool.

Another talented little guy who could catch as well as run back kicks, Cunningham had two seasons of over 50 receptions in Toronto and later B.C. He had nine return TDs during his career, and a special one in the same Grey Cup game Gizmo did his thing.

Watch this:

Weston Dressler, Saskatchewan Roughriders (5-7, 179)

Dressler, who weighs 179 after six trips to the Sunday brunch at Casino Regina, is on his way to a berth in the Hall of Fame if he can stay around for another three or so seasons. 

A spectacular returner, he’s another all-arounder who can catch and block and has amassed 44 touchdowns in six and a half seasons in Saskatchewan. 

What will be the most famous victory in Rider history only happened last year when they hosted and won the big silver mug. Dressler had five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.

Here’s the score:

Chad Owens, Toronto Argonauts (5-8, 180)

The CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2012, Owens had 620 total yards in just three playoff games as the Argos rolled to victory at the 100th Grey Cup game.

Owens is a hard body, so he’s a legit 180 on that 5-foot … erm … frame. Like Dressler, he can catch, run, block and tackle and is a heart-and-soul guy.

Here's his Grey Cup touchdown in the haze at Rogers Centre (1:40 in the video):

Ron Stewart, Ottawa Rough Riders, (5-7, 180)

Sometimes listed at 5-8, Stewart played 13 seasons with the Black and Red Riders and won three Cups as the RB for QB Russ Jackson.

His finest performance in the final was his last, 1969 at the old Autostade in Montreal where Stewart scored two TDs. 

In 1960, Stewart was voted the top athlete in Canada.

Here’s 1969:

Doug Flutie, B.C. Lions, Calgary Stampeders (5-9, 182)

We hid the greatest single CFLer this column has seen since 1968 way down here just to tease you.

The diminutive one (for a QB) was a three-time Grey Cup champion (1992, 1996, 1997), all three times the game’s MVP, six times the league’s Most Outstanding Player and a Hall of Famer. 

No one has dominated in the way Flutie has, and his finals appearances were each a tour de force. 

A nice little look at Dougie to Dave Sapunjis in 1992:


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