Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Grey Cup moments that stick

It's our Grand National Drunk and memories that never fade

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CALGARY -- Saw a guy barf the other day, right there in the street near my hotel. Not that we spent a whole lot of time studying the scene but -- after the guy hurled -- he straightened up, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, then staggered off, likely in search of another party.

For the record, this scene unfolded around 3:30... in the afternoon.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Grey Cup weekend, or what has been known for decades as The Grand National Drunk.

Now, this is our favourite event to cover for a lot of reasons, not just for the dandy football game that caps what is usually another outstanding Canadian Football League season.

Grey Cup week is pure Canadiana, a glorious few days where you will see diehards from every team -- not just the two competing -- all decked out in gaudy outfits and jerseys with nameplates that cleverly read things like "Rye 'n' Coke" and "Rye 'n' Seven." Or "Dr. Feelgood" and his partner, "Nurse Feel Better."

It's about the parties, it's about seeing familiar faces and it's about football. And over the last two decades, a guy kills a few brain cells of his own and, truthfully, finds himself thinking come kickoff Sunday every year: "I still can't believe they pay me to do this."

So when the boss discovered last week that this is the 20th consecutive Grey Cup yours truly has covered and asks for one of those stroll-down-memory-lane pieces, you oblige, whether it seems awfully self-indulgent or not.

Here, then, are some of our favourite Grey Cup recollections...

THE FIRST ONE

Saw a YouTube clip on Friday of the 1990 Grey Cup -- the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' last victory in my first year on the football beat. Bomber diehards will remember the brilliance of Greg Battle, the efficiency of QB Tom Burgess and the humility of head coach Mike Riley.

What I remember is the game, although the details are hazy now, but also another episode a couple of days prior. Bomber linebackers James West and the late Tyrone Jones pulled me into a corner of the Hotel Vancouver for an impromptu "press conference" where the two rebels decided to unveil their own "CFL All-Ugly Squad." Team captain: Saskatchewan slotback Ray Elgaard. Just imagine how that would play this week.

THE BEST GAME

There have been some spectacular contests in the last two decades, like Edmonton's 38-35 overtime victory over Montreal in 2005, B.C.'s 28-26 win in 2000 over the Als, and the 1998 game in Winnipeg sealed by Calgary kicker Mark McLoughlin, a Winnipegger, on the last play.

But our favourite is clearly the Lions' win over the Baltimore Stallions in Vancouver in 1994. Remember, this was at the height of the CFL's U.S. expansion and the Stallions had fielded an exclusively American roster. Take the emotion of any Grey Cup, sprinkle in some fervent nationalism and a game-winning field goal by local boy Lui Passaglia, and you have a game with a backdrop that will never be matched.

THE WORST HALFTIME SHOW

Slam dunk: Dan Hill, 1992, SkyDome in Toronto. Nothing against the guy.

A fine Canadian. But watching him sing Sometimes When We Touch while being lowered from the stadium ceiling in a fake hot-air balloon still causes nightmares.

Runner-up: Some unnamed folks doing the Macarena during a snowstorm in Hamilton in 1996 while crews tried to clear the white stuff from the field all around them.

BEST HALFTIME SHOW

A tie: Tragically Hip, Ottawa, 2004 and The Guess Who in Calgary in 2000. Big fan of both bands and they nailed it in one of those three- or four-song mini-sets.

WISHED WE'D SEEN...

It's legendary now and perhaps embellished over the years, but we would have killed to have been a witness to this old tale. It's circa late 1950s-early '60s at the annual Football Reporters of Canada breakfast on the day of the Grey Cup when G. Sydney Halter rises to address a collection of hungover broadcasters and sportswriters.

Suddenly, it dawns on the FRC executive that they didn't have anything to present to Halter as a memento after his speech, so "Cactus" Jack Wells leapt to the rescue. Wells disappeared for a spell, "borrowed" one of those huge paintings that decorate hotel lobbies everywhere, and hustled inside to give it to the commish, all with a straight face.

Imagine Halter's surprise, then, when he was approached by hotel security when checking out after the Grey Cup about the missing artwork he had in tow.

MY FRC PALS

The most common question asked by media types during Grey Cup week has nothing to do with football, with the player ratio, or any of the Xs and Os of the game. It's: "What room is the suite and what time does it open?"

The "suite" is the room where the media gather every night and into the morning to have a few and swap stories. Once saw a friend pass out on the floor of the suite, only to wake up next morning and find he had been left there, although the remaining crew had used white tape to make an outline of his body while they kept drinking.

TEAR TO MY EYE

Seeing Tony Proudfoot, the long-time Montreal Alouette-turned-broadcaster, make his acceptance speech upon being inducted into the media wing of the hall of fame last year with the aid of a device that speaks for him because he was losing his voice in his battle with ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It left everyone in the room with tears in their eyes and lumps in their throats. He is, quite simply, an inspiration. For more info: http://www.sla-quebec.ca/en/tony_proudfoot_fund/introduction.php.

THE HEROES

There was Doug Flutie ripping up the Bombers in '92 and then back-to-back in '96-'97 before heading south to the NFL. There were unsung guys like Warren Hudson scoring twice in Winnipeg's win in '90, watching two Winnipeg products like Wes Lysack and Markus Howell soak it all in last year in Montreal after helping Calgary win and, of course, Rocket Ismail in the first-ever Grey Cup in Winnipeg back in '91.

The 2005 Grey Cup was superb, watching two future hall-of-fame quarterbacks in Anthony Calvillo and Ricky Ray duel in a double-OT game won by the Esks.

But if you measure your heroes by pure grit, the one that stands out in this corner is Matt Dunigan, his shoulder shot and complete mush, testing out his arm in the ballroom of a downtown hotel in Winnipeg the night before a game, then taking a painkiller before leading the Argos over the Stamps.

THE ANNUAL DEBATE

As I glance out my hotel window right now, the snow has stopped and Calgary's downtown is blanketed. Every year the league wrestles with the argument of taking the Grey Cup indoors, away from the potentially iffy elements anywhere in Canada in late November.

And yet one of the best games ever played -- for skill, for drama, for pure entertainment -- was the 1996 classic in the snow at Hamilton's Ivor Wynne Stadium. Watching the Argos celebrate a 43-37 victory over Edmonton as the flakes fell is one of those mental postcards that will stick with a guy forever.

Thanks for letting me indulge and excuse me, please, while I go soak up more Grey Cup memories.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 28, 2009 D1

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