One of football’s legendary arms sought It's time to finally solve the mystery of who tossed the beer can at the Rocket

Ontario author Paul Woods is hoping to solve a 28-year-old Winnipeg sports mystery, but he needs our help.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/04/2019 (1519 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Ontario author Paul Woods is hoping to solve a 28-year-old Winnipeg sports mystery, but he needs our help.

The executive director of the National Newspaper Awards — the Oscars for Canada’s newspaper industry — Woods, 61, is writing his second book about his beloved Toronto Argonauts.

The longtime newspaper pro, who spent 31 years with The Canadian Press and two years with the Toronto Star, is even more passionate about the Argos than I am about my beloved B.C. Lions, if you can imagine that.

Woods’ first book, Bouncing Back: From National Joke to Grey Cup Champs, published in 2013, told the story of how the 1983 Argos ended a 31-year Grey Cup drought, just two years after the worst season in team history.

The book he is working on now puts the spotlight on the 1991 Argos, a team that captured the Canadian Football League championship in one of the most memorable Grey Cup games in history.

Paul Woods and his daughter Rachel cheer the Argos on to victory at the 2017 Grey Cup in Ottawa.
SUPPLIED Paul Woods and his daughter Rachel cheer the Argos on to victory at the 2017 Grey Cup in Ottawa.

It was memorable for a host of reasons — it was the first Grey Cup bash held in Winnipeg and, not surprisingly, arguably the coldest Cup ever played as our city was gripped by a cold snap that saw the thermometer struggle to reach -17 C at kickoff and fall to a wind-chilled -35 C by halftime.

Not to mention the fact Toronto QB Matt Dunigan — who joined our Blue Bombers the following season — played in the bone-chilling title match despite the searing pain of a cracked collarbone.

It was also memorable because that edition of the Argos — which beat the Calgary Stampeders 36-21, by the way — was owned by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, comedy legend John Candy and flamboyant California tycoon Bruce McNall.

That celebrity trio scored a major coup in 1991 when they signed the biggest name in U.S. college football, Raghib (Rocket) Ismail, to the richest contract in all of football, not just the CFL.

It was at Winnipeg’s bitterly cold Grey Cup on Nov. 24, 1991, that the Rocket became an indelible part of Canadian folklore, which brings us to the sports mystery that Woods is hoping to solve, with just a little help from me, an overweight newspaper columnist, and you, the football-loving readers.

The unforgettable moment came in the fourth quarter when the Rocket returned a kickoff an electrifying 87 yards for the game-clinching touchdown, earning him game MVP honours.

But the most famous image from that play was not Ismail eluding the Stampeders’ tacklers as if they were traffic cones. Seconds before he crossed the goal line, a beer can came hurtling out of the stands and splashed down at the Rocket’s feet, somewhere around the seven-yard line.

Like most of the spectators in the stadium that day, I wrongly assumed someone had thrown a snowball at the Rocket, because the flash of white foam erupting from the can when it slammed into the turf resembled a chunk of snow.

“It’s part of Canadian history and sports lore,” Woods, a CFL fan and historian, said of the legendary beer toss from his home in Burlington, Ont. “It’s so different from anything that would happen today.

“I’ve often wondered what the story behind that beer can is. It’s such an iconic image. Anyone who was there or saw it on TV remembers that famous touchdown. You saw that beer can almost hitting him.”

Based on repeat viewing of video footage and the angle of the can — which Woods believes was a Coors Tall Boy, though others think it was a can of Old Vienna — the author argues it was flung from Section S at old Winnipeg Stadium.

What some fans don’t realize is that there was a “second shooter,” in the sense that a second can landed in the end zone, well away from the Rocket, apparently tossed from temporary seats in that area.

Which brings us to the central point — Woods is coming to Winnipeg in mid-July to conduct interviews for his new book, and he’s desperately hoping to uncover the story behind the mysterious beer-can tosser(s).

What we’re hoping is that whoever tossed the first can that nearly hit the Rocket — or the second can that fell wide of the target — is still alive and kicking and will read these words and agree to share their story, which could become a full chapter, or part of one, in Woods’ upcoming book.

A beer can was thrown at the Argos’ Raghib (Rocket) Ismail during his game-sealing 87-yard kickoff return at the 1991 Grey Cup in Winnipeg. (Toronto Argonauts / Youtube)
A beer can was thrown at the Argos’ Raghib (Rocket) Ismail during his game-sealing 87-yard kickoff return at the 1991 Grey Cup in Winnipeg. (Toronto Argonauts / Youtube)

If you claim to have tossed the can, or saw someone do it, or know anything about it, Woods and I would love for you to send me an email at and tell us whatever you are willing to share. No, you don’t have to identify yourself, but it would be cool if you’d agree to that.

Help solve the mystery

Author/CFL historian Paul Woods is hoping to tell the story of who flung a can of beer at Raghib (Rocket) Ismail as he famously returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the 1991 Grey Cup, the first ever held in Winnipeg.

Woods is asking anyone who knows anything to email Free Press columnist Doug Speirs at and share their story about a moment that has become part of CFL folkore.

It could end up being a chapter in his upcoming book about the 1991 Argos, who captured the Cup in what was arguably the coldest CFL championship in history.

It has nothing to do with getting anyone in trouble; it’s simply an effort to tell the story behind a goofy event that has become an unforgettable piece of CFL history. As far as we know, no one has admitted to being the beer-flinger, and no one has faced charges for it.

“I realize it was 28 years ago, and at this point, anyone of a certain age could claim to be or know the throwers,” Woods pointed out. “I’m certainly not counting on being able to positively identify those responsible, and I definitely don’t want anyone ‘brought to justice.’

“But everyone old enough to have seen the game remembers the first beer can almost hitting Ismail… and yet nothing, as far as I know, has ever been reported about who did it, or why.”

Yes, it’s possible dozens of people could step forward under the cloak of anonymity, but Woods isn’t worried about that. “What if 20 people come forward and say they threw the can? That’s a pretty funny story. I’m not looking to rat anyone out, or have shame brought upon them, but whoever threw that can is part of the story.”

The name of the beer tosser(s) is unimportant; it’s the tale behind the toss(es) that matters. “What were you thinking? Why did you do it? Was it because you hate the Argos or the Rocket? Did you regret losing an entire can of beer? Were there any repercussions? Did you expect your actions would go down in history?” Woods wants to know.

So, please, if you know something, toss me an email, and I’ll share it with Woods before he comes to the city. I’d even be willing to talk about it over a beer, provided your arm strength isn’t what it used to be.

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs

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.

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