Weathering the Grey Cup

The Top 10 climatic cup contests


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Ice, snow, rain, wind, bitter cold.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/11/2019 (1218 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Ice, snow, rain, wind, bitter cold.

When you play a championship football game outdoors in late November in Canada, there’s always a chance the weather will come into play.

It’s not expected to be a big part of the story when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers meet the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, but if weather does end up being a factor, it will add to the list of CFL championship games where Mother Nature played a part in the outcome.

Here, subjectively, are the top 10 “weather games” in Grey Cup history.

10. The Rain, the Park and Other Things: 1982 at Exhibition Stadium, Toronto

It wasn’t the chilling wind off Lake Ontario that put this game on the list — it was the rain. A torrential downpour left fans on the roof-less south and west sides of the stadium soaked to the core while the Edmonton Eskimos won a record fifth consecutive championship. The conditions drove politicians to push for a domed stadium in Toronto.

SkyDome opened seven years later but proved to be a terrible place to watch football.

The Toronto Argonauts moved back outdoors in 2016 to BMO Field, steps from where Exhibition Stadium once stood.

9. The Streak: 1975 at McMahon Stadium, Calgary

In the first Grey Cup game ever played on the Prairies, the Eskimos defeated Montreal by the miserly score of 9-8 thanks to the Alouettes missing a 26-yard field goal with just seconds left. Oblivious to a game-time temperature of -15 C, a young woman ran onto the field wearing nothing but a thin pair of shorts, and performed a joyful topless dance routine that was captured by TV cameras during the pre-game coin-toss ceremony.

8. Ice Ice Baby: 1977 at Olympic Stadium, Montreal

A year after Montreal became the only Canadian city to play host to the Summer Olympics, the massive stadium built for that event staged its first of six Grey Cup games. The Stade Olympique was supposed to have a retractable roof, but that element was postponed during the building process.

Sure enough, Montreal was hit by a storm that turned the Grey Cup playing surface into a gigantic skating rink. None of the shoes available to players could get a proper grip on the ice — until Montreal’s Tony Proudfoot borrowed a staple gun from a stadium worker.

The Als shot staples into their cleats, stayed on their feet, and thrashed the Eskimos 41-6.

7. Against the Wind: 1988 at Lansdowne Park, Ottawa

This was one of the warmest Grey Cup games of all time, with temperatures in the double digits on a sunny afternoon. As the game went on, the winds whipped up. What should have been a nightmare for kickers became the crowning moment in the Hall of Fame career of Winnipeg punter Bob Cameron.

His well-placed line-drive punts, both with and into the wind, repeatedly pinned the B.C. Lions deep in their own end of the field. The Blue Bombers prevailed 22-21, and Cameron was named the game’s top Canadian player.

6. Baby It’s Cold Outside: 1991 at Winnipeg Stadium

Winnipeg’s first time as host of the big game is remembered for how unspeakably cold it was. The temperature dipped to around -30 C. The football felt more like a rock than a pigskin.

The Argonauts clinched a 36-21 win over the Calgary Stampeders when Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, football’s highest-paid player, scored on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter.

Just before he crossed the goal-line, the Rocket was almost beaned by a can of beer hurled from the stands, its contents turning instantly into frozen foam as it hit the turf beside him.

5. Walking in a Winter Wonderland: 2017 at TD Place Stadium, Ottawa

What could be more Canadian than the Grey Cup being carried into a snow-packed stadium by Mounties in full dress uniforms? How about a fur-clad Shania Twain opening her halftime musical performance by riding onto the snowy field on a dogsled?

Most of the 105th Grey Cup was played in a driving snowstorm, with huge wet flakes that covered the logos on some players’ helmets. Helped by two of the longest touchdowns in Grey Cup history — including a game-changing 109-yard fumble return late in the game — the Argos pulled off a huge upset over Calgary.

4. Let It Snow: 1996 at Ivor Wynne Stadium, Hamilton

The snow started early in the day, and kept falling throughout the game, creating another wintry scene. Officials brought in shovel crews in a futile effort to keep lines on the field visible.

When Toronto’s Jimmy “the Jet” Cunningham scored a touchdown on a punt return, he opted to run along a “lane” that had been cleared by a snowplough.

Doug Flutie’s Argos prevailed over the Eskimos in one of the highest-scoring Grey Cup games in history.

3. Everyone Knows It’s Windy: 1965 at Exhibition Stadium, Toronto

Fifty-four years later, longtime Winnipeg fans still can’t fathom why the Bombers’ head coach, Bud Grant, opted to concede three two-point safety touches rather than punt into a westerly wind that at times reached 85 kilometres per hour.

Grant had presumably seen his punter, Ed Ulmer, “launch” one punt that hit a wall of wind and landed at his own feet.

The coach’s post-game explanation: it was better to surrender six points than a possible 21. The Bombers lost the Wind Bowl by, um, six points.

2. Muddy Waters: 1950 at Varsity Stadium, Toronto

There isn’t much film footage from the early days of Canadian football, but one enduring clip shows referee Hec Crighton standing over the apparently lifeless body of Buddy Tinsley, lying face down in a puddle of water.

Tinsley, a member of the Blue Bombers, later insisted he had been in no danger of drowning on the field. But there’s no doubt that he and all the other players on the Bombers and Argonauts had to contest the championship game on a crevice-filled sea of mud.

With no tarpaulin to cover the grass at Varsity Stadium, muck was the inevitable outcome when 20 centimetres of snow fell the night before the game, followed by rain. A snow-removal truck was sent on to the field, only to get stuck in the mud. The Bombers also became mired, losing 13-0 to the Argonauts.

1. A Foggy Day: 1962 at Exhibition Stadium, Toronto

Viewers watching across Canada and on ABC’s Wide World of Sports in the United States must have thought their televisions needed repair as their screens went grey. Fog rolled in off Lake Ontario during the second quarter, hovering about three metres above the ground.

At times, the 33,000 spectators at Exhibition Stadium couldn’t even see halfway across the field. The Blue Bombers and Tiger-Cats, meeting in the big game for the fifth time in six years, somehow managed to play through the fog, but by the fourth quarter it was evident something had to give.

The aptly named CFL commissioner, Sid Halter, called a halt to proceedings and declared that the final nine and a half minutes of the game would be played the next day. About 15,000 spectators who returned on the Sunday saw no further scoring as Winnipeg won 28-27 in the only Grey Cup game played over two days.

Paul Woods is a journalist, Canadian football historian and author of Bouncing Back: From National Joke to Grey Cup Champs.

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