Dazzle fellow fans with loopy Grey Cup lore
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What with only one sleep left until the Big Game, it’s time for all you hardcore Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans to look in the mirror and ask yourselves a difficult question: Am I emotionally, physically and spiritually prepared to cheer my beloved Blue and Gold to victory against the despised Toronto Argonauts on Sunday in the 109th Grey Cup in Regina?
There’s little doubt most of you have stocked up on grease-containing snacks and enough cold beer to sink a battleship. But have you taken the time to steep yourselves in Grey Cup lore, especially the most wild and woolly moments involving the Bombers?
Sadly, I’m pretty sure the answer to that is a resounding “No!” But don’t worry, because Uncle Doug, a revered Canadian football historian, is here to get you up to speed on historically significant events that will maximize your enjoyment of Sunday’s game and help you dazzle other overstimulated fans with your knowledge of an iconic event that brings Eastern Canada and Western Canada together on a frozen field for the express purpose of beating each other’s brains out.
For starters, Sunday will mark the first time since the 1950 “Mud Bowl” that the Bombers and Argonauts will meet in a battle for the CFL’s Holy Grail. The truth is, even Uncle Doug was not alive back then, so let’s hop in our Google-fuelled time machine and see what happened.
On Nov. 25, 1950, the Bombers and the Argos got down and dirty in the 38th Grey Cup at Varsity Stadium in Toronto in a game remembered more for the horrific field conditions than the match itself.
A day earlier, six inches of heavy snow blanketed the field, which wasn’t protected with a tarpaulin. Instead, bulldozers were sent out to clear the snow before the game. Bad decision, because the snow turned to a steady rain and the bulldozers chewed ruts in the field, already in terrible shape.
Check out this report from the Canadian Football Research Society: “It was (Winnipeg offensive tackle) Buddy Tinsley, the 260-pound lineman who lay motionless in a deep puddle of mud (also known as the centre field lagoon) only to be turned over by referee Hec Crighton in response to fans’ frantic screams. Tinsley acknowledged afterwards that his leg was numb but he really hadn’t lost consciousness even though it might have looked like he was about to drown.”
The field was described as being like “a pig’s wallow,” so muddy that Toronto QB Al Dekdebrun taped thumbtacks to his fingers to better grip the ball. He was ordered to remove them at halftime, but Toronto still escaped with a 13-0 victory in what everyone agreed was the dirtiest game ever.
Which brings us to the historic 45th Grey Cup, wherein the Bombers battled the Tiger-Cats on Nov. 30, 1957, at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium in the very first CFL championship televised coast to coast. Which means there were a lot of eyeballs looking on when arguably the most bizarre and infamous event in Grey Cup history took place.
It began when Hamilton defensive back Ray (Bibbles) Bawel intercepted a Winnipeg pass and had a clear path to the end zone. At least until fate intervened in the form of a beret-wearing spectator named David Humphrey, a 32-year-old defence lawyer and future Ontario judge, who stepped into Canadian sports history when he stuck his foot out and tripped Bawel before he could score.
Bawel jumped to his feet looking for someone to strangle. The officials huddled and the referee penalized the Bombers half the distance to the goal line, a kind of compromise for an unprecedented intrusion.
Not surprisingly, drinking was involved. It turns out Humphrey got into the game without a ticket because he knew most of the officers working security. Once inside, he told the Globe and Mail in 2007, he ran into a former client who had completed his parole, so the two shared some whisky. The next person he met was the jury foreman in a first-degree murder case that sent Humphrey’s client to the Don jail, where he was hanged in 1956.
According to the Globe and Mail, the Winnipeg-Hamilton Cup was just days after the one-year anniversary of the hanging. “The foreman wanted to shake hands,” Humphrey recalled. “I wouldn’t. I was upset… The next thing I know I see this guy running for a touchdown. I was in such a state I stuck my foot out.”
After the trip, the tipsy prankster was allowed to walk out of the stadium without being arrested. He took a sideline chair with him. “A cop stopped me and asked what I was doing,” he recalled in 2007. “I told him, ‘Don’t you know who I am? I’m the guy who tripped that player.’ He laughed and said, ‘Good. Take the chair.’ ”
It had zero effect on the game, a lopsided 32-7 win for the Ticats. As for Humphrey, he eventually gave Bawel a watch with the inscription “Grey Cup 1957 from The Tripper,” and went on to become a Superior Court judge.
The CFL’s most infamous fan was back in the stands at the 2007 Cup, when the Saskatchewan Roughriders beat the Bombers 23-19.
Sadly, he died in his sleep in 2009 at the age of 83, which means the only trip we’ll be seeing on Sunday will be the one the Bombers make into sports history when they win their third consecutive championship.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.