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Former quarterbacks share many similarities

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TORONTO -- John Hufnagel bucked Grey Cup tradition Wednesday.

As he and Toronto Argonauts rookie head coach Scott Milanovich stood on opposite sides of the Grey Cup, the Calgary Stampeders head coach and GM grabbed one of its silver handles. That gesture caused a stir among reporters in attendance because coaches have traditionally refrained from touching the hallowed trophy until they've won it on the field.

But Hufnagel had no problem bucking that trend because he has won the Grey Cup, most recently in 2008 with Calgary.

"I think my name's on it," he said when asked why he touched the Cup, prompting much laughter.

Milanovich stood next to the trophy, close enough that his reflection could be seen in it. But he refrained from touching it despite earning Grey Cup rings in 2009 and '10 as an assistant coach with the Montreal Alouettes.

"We decided, as a team, that we weren't going to touch it," he said.

Why?

"Tradition," said Milanovich.

Milanovich is making his first Grey Cup appearance as a head coach. One of his first duties was participating in the coaches news conference Wednesday with Hufnagel at the Royal York Hotel.

Despite a 22-year age difference, the coaches share many similarities. They both hail from Pennsylvania, played quarterback collegiately as well as in the NFL and CFL, earned championship rings north of the border as assistants and are in this year's game after leading their teams to second-place finishes in their respective divisions.

Hufnagel, 61, got into coaching as a player-coach with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in '87 before becoming a full-time coach the following season. But coaching was in Milanovich's blood as his father, Gary, was a former assistant football coach in Butler, Pa.

Gary Milanovich attended Toronto's win over Montreal in the East Division final Sunday.

"He used to take me as a young child and we'd watch film together on that old 16-millimetre projection screen on a white bedsheet and he started to teach me the game of football," said Milanovich. "Then I became a quarterback and his message was always about poise. His mantra to me was: Always stay even keeled. I learned the same lesson from Tony Dungy when I was fortunate to have played for him in Tampa Bay. All that stuck with me."

Hufnagel said no one should be surprised to see two former quarterbacks in the Grey Cup as head coaches.

"It is a passing league, you have to have a real good understanding of pass offence and pass protection but don't neglect the running game," he said. "Usually the quarterback does have a little bit of a head start in that area."

While Milanovich and Hufnagel will be on opposite sides of the field Sunday, they did cross paths briefly in 2000 with the Cleveland Browns, where Milanovich was playing and Hufnagel was the quarterbacks coach. The association didn't end well for Milanovich.

"I was released right before my contract became guaranteed so if you're looking for another storyline there's one for you," Milanovich said with a chuckle.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 22, 2012 D3

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