Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/10/2015 (1429 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Over the last 19 years there have been many special moments for Dennis Dowell.
For Dowell, the Keeper of the Cup — more formally known as the Grey Cup Handler, the title on his business card — there are simply too many to list.
He’s toured the country coast-to-coast, walked out to thousands of cheering fans to deliver the trophy at the conclusion of the Grey Cup game, taken the trophy to Barbados, where it rode in a submarine, and just the other day he visited polar bears in Churchill.
But for the 66-year-old native of Hamilton, who spent 34 years in the steel industry, it’s not the moments under the bright lights or the kind of glamour absent during his shifts at the mill that stand out most. Instead, it’s the day he was offered the job that stands out among his stories, before he’d made even a single appearance with the trophy — the one he lives with in hotels, and rides with in rental cars 10 months of every year.
"I brought the cup home, put it on my kitchen table and just sat there and stared at it for the evening," he said in his Churchill hotel room Thursday, half-way done an eight-day tour through northern Manitoba this week to help promote Grey Cup in Winnipeg Nov. 29. "I thought ‘I can’t believe this, the Grey Cup is in my house.’ "
Perhaps even more modest than that was how he got the job. It was in 1996 and Hamilton was preparing to host the 84th Grey Cup, notoriously known now as the "Snow Cup Bowl." Dowell saw an add in the paper requesting volunteers to help out at the annual festival during the week leading up to the game and thought he’d give it a try.
"I enjoyed that week so much, when it was over and the Grey Cup was finished, I asked them if I could stay on as a volunteer," he said. "Then the opportunity arose (years later) to take the Cup around so I put my hand up and the rest is history."
What began as a job for four eventually evolved into a position for one, the result of a shuffling within the board at the Hall of Fame, leaving Dowell the lone guardian of the Cup. He still has a few hands to help out here and there, but for the most part it’s just him now; a sometimes gruelling routine that starts in February and doesn’t end until he’s handed over the trophy to winner of the Grey Cup in November.
That’s not to say it doesn’t come with its share of perks. Dowell recalled the time he was pulled over for speeding in Calgary after leaving an event in Red Deer with the Cup. Once the cop found out who he was, and more importantly what was in his back seat, he let him go.
"The next thing you know the police officer is standing on the side of the road holding the cup and I’m off the hook," he said.
But even though it’s Dowell who gets the acclaim, it’s hardly been a solo effort. Dowell credits the strength of his wife, Jo-Anne. While he was on the road anywhere from three to five days a week, it was her back at home raising their five children. Last year he spent 187 days on the road. Next year they’ll celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.
"She’s an incredible woman," he said, though he admits it has been challenging for his family at times. "She knows how much I enjoy it and how much I love it."
It doesn’t take long to see that love at any given event. Never does the Cup go on display without looking pristine; a rag beside him at all times in case he needs to wipe off a fan’s kiss mark or a kid’s sticky finger smudges. And though the optics look tedious as he unpacks and packs the trophy — he hosted seven different events Wednesday as part of an anti-bullying campaign in Thompson — Dowell said it’s never felt like a job.
You’ll never hear him say no to those who want to see the Cup. Earlier in the week a family in Creighton, Sask. was in tears after missing their chance to see the chalice up close, showing up hours late for a scheduled event. Once Dowell caught wind of the situation he quickly made arrangements, adjusting his busy schedule to deliver the Cup to their doorstep the next morning.
"How do you say no to somebody who wants to see the Grey Cup," he said. "It’s the people’s trophy."
For a man who has been almost everywhere and done almost everything with the Cup, these are the moments he cherishes. The high he gets from handing the Cup to the league’s newest champions to the smiles from kids who one day dream of playing in the CFL — those are the things that keep him going after all these years.
But like all great things, this too must come to an end for Dowell.
"As long as I enjoy it and my health keeps up, I’m in no hurry to give it up," he said. "I do have a list quite long of people who want (the job)."
For now, he’s just enjoying the moment.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.