Friday, November 23, 2012

Here We Go Again: Calgary Invading Toronto

For a couple of cities who have hardly anything in common, Calgary and Toronto sure seemed to be tied together a lot at least when it comes to the Grey Cup.

It's also sort of poetic that the 100th anniversary of our national party known as the Grey Cup should feature not only the Calgary Stampeders but also be held in Toronto. The Grey Cup may go back 100 years but it really was Calgary Stampeder fans who made the Grey Cup come alive. All they had to do was ride a horse through the lobby of Toronto the Good's most venerated hotel--the Hotel York.
 THE place to horse around in Toronto

I'm not referring to yesterday's "incident" of Marty making an appearance in that hotel's lobby. It's a far more significant, out of the blue ride to glory after the Stamps won the 1948 Grey Cup. Even before beating the Ottawa Rough Riders 12-7, Stamps fans were already hootin' and hollerin' it up on Yonge Street and beyond. Two trainloads (yes, pre-airplane days) of fans had arrived in T.O. the week of the Grey Cup to show the staid Easterners how it was done. It also didn't hurt that the 1948 Stamps had run the table going 12-0 in the regular season (take that, '72 Miami Dolphins) in the Western Interprovincial Football Union.

Yes, back then there was no Canadian Football League yet. Besides the union in the West there were two Eastern "unions"--the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (featuring most of the teams we have grown up with in the CFL Eastern Division) and the Ontario Rugby Football Union which included a team called the Toronto Beaches-Indians. I'm not sure what our now known as First Nations people had to do with Toronto beaches other than probably having a pretty legitimate land claim to them but they Jim Thorped it up at least for that season. After 1948 the Indians disappeared (I fully expect a Royal Commission to investigate this!) and the Balmy Beach Beachers resumed play until 1957 when the sands of Lake Ontario beaches one assumes blew them off the football map.

So when you're still calling your sport rugby football at least back East, we're not talking the nationwide appeal it has today. That's where Calgarians came in. It wasn't just the horses that showed up in the Hotel York's lobby, it was also Varsity Stadium's goalposts that the fans brought along. There's more, and it's worth reading what the Calgary Sun dug up on the legendary 1948 party at the Hotel York.

Needless to say the "modern" Grey Cup (and the impetus to create a national league although it took until 1958 for the CFL to actually form) really was sparked by the excitement generated from the perfect season of the 1948 Calgary Stampeders and its fans showing the nation that sports events are meant to be a party.

Fast-forward 23 years to 1971 and again we see Toronto and Calgary somehow become tied fatefully together. The 1971 Grey Cup held in Vancouver was to be the crowning glory for ending a 19-year championship drought for the Argos. Led by its colorful coach Leo Cahill and its even more colorful players (check out the "Engraved On A Nation" Greatest Team That Never Won episode online or on continuous repeat on TSN for more on that team), this was supposed to be the coronation of a team for the ages. One Leon McQuay fumble at the 12-yard line later and the Stamps were 14-11 champions on the rain-slick Tartan turf of Empire Stadium. X-Ray McQuay's fumble aside, the entire vaunted Argo offence was more to blame but then again this was an offence that managed barely 21 points a game in the regular season.

Suited up for the Argos

Twenty more years pass and the Argos are matched up with the Stamps in the 1991 Grey Cup. This is another star-studded Argo team put together by none other than Los Angeles Kings' owner Bruce McNall with a couple of his buddies, Wayne Gretzky and John Candy, along for the ownership ride. This time there was no unlucky Argo Bounce and Toronto's Rocket Ismail ran a kickoff back 87 yards to clinch the 1991 Grey Cup on a snowy field in Winnipeg.

Sure the Stamps and Argos have been in other Grey Cups vs. other opponents, but when they all too infrequently get matched up together something memorable seems to happen. Combine this with the teams both finally meeting up in the Centre of the Universe at the 100th Grey Cup and, well, put on your spurs and hitch up the horses, Martha, this one could be an all-time classic.
  Cowtown? This is a One-Horse Town!

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