McMahon's big 5-0!

McMahon stadium celebrates a half-century of being open today.

McMahon stadium celebrates a half-century of being open today.

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:44 AM ET

Memories fade with time.

And for those suiting up for the Calgary Stampeders in the late-1950s and early ’60s, it’s been a loooooong time since the local football heroes packed up their gear and moved to McMahon Stadium.

With that in mind, you can forgive the gridiron greats if they’re a little sketchy on the details of their Aug. 15, 1960, debut at the $1.05-million facility in what was then Calgary’s equivalent of the middle of nowhere.

Look back a little further, though, to the days the Stamps made their home at cozy Mewata Stadium in the downtown core, and there’s one contest the alumni will never forget.

“My last rememberance of Mewata is we played a game down there and it rained, and they had marked the field with lime — unslaked lime,” recalled offensive lineman George Hansen, who spent eight seasons with the Stamps and is now enshrined on the Wall of Fame.

“Of course, we got the stuff into our uniforms and eight of us wound up in the Holy Cross Hospital with burns ... Unslaked lime is very acidic, so we were all burned. (Running back) Earl Lunsford had raw meat behind his knee, on both his knees. It was horrific, it really was.

“So it was a welcome thing to move to something like McMahon Stadium.”

With memories like that, it’s no wonder the boys were anxious to move into the new venue, which celebrates its 50th birthday Sunday.

As legend would have it, the original plans for McMahon Stadium were detailed on the back of a cigarette package.

Brothers Frank and George McMahon, who provided the seed money for the project, bet the contractor the job couldn’t be completed in less than four months. One hundred days later, construction was finished.

The Stamps officially christened their new home with a 38-23 loss to the defending champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The facility, though, certainly passed the test.

“Compared to the old Mewata Stadium, it was impressive,” said Stamps guard Ron Allbright, who spent 12 years in Red & White. “The old Mewata Stadium was hard to believe. A lot of the floorboards were deteriorated, the shower facilities were bad, stuff like that.”

“The conditions at Mewata Stadium were just so bad that somebody in Calgary decided to build McMahon, and what a great thing that was,” added legendary quarterback Joe Kapp, who ran the Stamps offence for parts of three seasons before being traded to the expansion B.C. Lions in 1961.

“Saskatchewan still had their potbelly stove, but Mewata Stadium, we had two showers — and one of them had a spray on it. You didn’t have a locker, you had a rusty nail ... At McMahon, we had a whirlpool that worked. The one at Mewata Stadium, it didn’t work or maybe it worked occasionally. What a tremendous facility, because the whirlpool worked — it actually worked.”

Since beating the Saskatchewan Roughriders 23-15 on Aug. 29, 1960, the Stamps have notched 291 victories on home turf.

McMahon Stadium has also been used as the site of four Grey Cup games (1975, 1993, 2000 and 2009), the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games and a long list of concerts, including shows by the Beach Boys, the Eagles and Alabama.

In February, hockey fans will flock to the stadium for a sports spectacle of another sort, with the Calgary Flames entertaining the Montreal Canadiens in an outdoor game.

It only seems fitting, though, that the primary tenants would feature prominently for the anniversary party, hosting the Edmonton Eskimos in a clash of longtime West Division rivals.

“This is a special date,” said Stamps head coach John Hufnagel. “There is a lot of history to the stadium. A lot of great football players have gone through wearing the Red & White.

“There’s been a lot of great plays on this field. It’s nice to see the sport is thriving in this city.”

Like the franchise, the stadium has stood the test of time.

Once a 19,536-seat venue, there’s now room for 36,000 fans. The turf has been upgraded several times. The Stamps renovated their locker-room in the off-season.

Perhaps today’s stars don’t realize how good they have it.

“I think if they saw what we played in ... ” Kapp said. “What they have now are country clubs.”

Nobody would’ve said that about Mewata Stadium, that’s for sure.

wes.gilbertson@sunmedia.ca


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