A matchup for the ages

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- What you are about to read, I have come to consider a work in progress.

It began back in 1973, when I covered my first of 33 consecutive Grey Cup games, in 17 of which the Edmonton Eskimos have managed to tag along to keep me busy.

I was asked to produce, for a special Grey Cup section, a piece on the Eskimos' three Grey Cup wins in a row against the Alouettes in 1954-55-56.

I've kind of been, well, updating it, ever since.

It's always the Eskimos against the Alouettes. Or so it seems. So much of Edmonton's Grey Cup history is married to the Alouettes.

Montreal, I'm sure you are more than aware by now, is about to have met Edmonton in three of the last four Grey Cup games. The Als have won five Grey Cups, three of them against Edmonton ('74, '77 and '02). They've lost eight Grey Cups, seven of them against the Eskimos ('54, '55, '56, '75, '78, '79 and '03). All four Montreal Grey Cup wins came at the expense of Alberta teams, the Als having defeated Calgary in '49 and again in '70.

THE FIRST ONE ...

Of course, the most famous of them all was the first one, back in 1954.

Over the years, although I never actually met the man in person, I felt like I became friends with Chuck Hunsinger. He called it my annual phone call about the 1954 Grey Cup. It was Edmonton's first of what could become 13 championships and the biggest single moment in our sports history until the Edmonton Oilers came along and won their first of five Stanley Cups.

"It's not my favourite memory, but it kinda made me famous, I guess," Hunsinger told me the last time I talked to him. "History remembers that I fumbled and Jackie Parker ran it back for the winning touchdown," he remembered.

"I didn't fumble it. I don't care what they say, I didn't fumble. I knew I was definitely going to get caught for a loss so I decided to throw the football. They called it a fumble. But it was definitely a pass."

Hunsinger came to honour what happened because it became history.

"I've actually come to treasure what happened," is how he put it. "It's good to know you are remembered in historical terms somewhere. Sam Etcheverry and Red O'Quinn keep saying how I made one dumb play and got to be a legend for all time.

"Even in my hometown of Harrisburg, Pa., I got to be well-known because of that play. When Jackie Parker was named by the Schenley Awards people as the player of the quarter-century, our local undertaker was on a holiday to Canada and brought back all the papers to town. There were a lot of stories and they all mentioned one play."

The other Montreal-Edmonton game that became legend, of course, was the famed Staples Game, a.k.a. the Ice Bowl.

"We just had our 25th anniversary reunion of the team that beat Edmonton in the 1977 so-called Staples Game a couple years back," says Tony Proudfoot.

"I was asked about it again, of course. It was icy cold and there had been a big snowstorm with a transit strike and fans walking all the way from downtown to Olympic Stadium.

"The field was a skating rink. Guys were trying different kinds of footwear -- broomball shoes and things like that. All week long we'd been thinking of what footwear to use. We knew it was going to be slippery and nothing, really, was any good. On a frozen field a lot of players like to wear broomball shoes. But they didn't work very well.

"Another alternative, because the field was so hard, was screw-on cleats. Nobody really used those anymore, but they were available. We tried grass cleats, Astroturf cleats, nothing worked.

"I experimented during the week. I even thought about putting nails through my shoes.

"By game day, a bunch of guys settled on using steel cleats. Before the warm-up, I noticed a guy from Bell Canada walking by with a staples gun. A light bulb went on. 'I've tried everything, but not that.' So I tried putting staples in my shoes. I stapled an 'X' on about six bumps. Gordon Judges and Chuck Zapiec put some in, too. We looked at each other and said 'That's it.'

"At the start of the game, about 12 guys had them in and by half- time it was half or three-quarters of the team. The numbers aren't precise because this wasn't organized.

"The coaches weren't in on it and the equipment guys had nothing to do with it. It was just the players. WalIy Buono was involved. In my opinion it made a big difference. With that little bit of a grip, it gave you extra confidence. We really knew we had something when Gerry Dattillio caught a short pass from Sonny Wade and ran right past Larry Highbaugh for a big gain. Gerry will tell you that he was not ... well, he was not very fast. And Highbaugh was known as one of the fastest guys in the league.

PRIZED POSSESSION

"That's when we knew we had something. It was a big factor in that 41-6 win. To me, it was a big deal.

"I still have that staple gun. To me it's a prized possession."

Former CFL commissioner and current Als G.M. Larry Smith has his own memory.

"That was a special team and a special year in 1977. I remember how nervous we were about the field and how cold it was. And I remember the shivers we got when they introduced the team before the game.

"A lot has been made about the staples in that game. It may have been more psychological than anything. I think it was just our day, a day when Sonny Wade was at his best. The difference was that we had the better quarterback and Peter Dalla Riva made some great catches."

Those were the days.

"I was in three Grey Cups coaching the Montreal Alouettes and we had the good fortune of winning two, which is better than I can say with the Buffalo Bills and Super Bowls," remembers Marv Levy.

"And I'll tell you this. I was every bit as thrilled to be in the Grey Cup as I was to be in the Super Bowl.

"My first Grey Cup was against the Eskimos and we set some sort of record for running the ball. I remember that.

"The game was in Vancouver and I remember that it rained all week and especially during the game and that when we left the next day it was one of the most beautiful, sun-splashed days you've ever seen.

"We lost the next one in '75 to the Eskimos in Calgary. I'll never forget that bitter, bitter cold game. At halftime I couldn't hold the chalk when I went to the blackboard. And when I tried to talk to the team, my teeth were chattering like a machine gun.

"But if I have to pick my favourite one, I guess it would be the one in Montreal, the 41-6 Staples Game or Ice Bowl against the Eskimos as I guess it came to be called. And I swear I did not know about the staples in the shoes until after the game.

"There was so much ice on the field that no footwear worked. Tony Proudfoot found a worker with a staples gun and ... well, the rest is Grey Cup history. But I'll never forget that day because there was a terrible snowstorm in Montreal and a transit strike and people walked from downtown to go to that game and we had a full stadium. And that was my last game in the CFL."

DON'S FAVOURITE

There were others, of course. The one here in 1955 which is featured elsewhere in this section. And there's the one in 1956 which is former Alberta Premier Don Getty's favourite memory.

"For me, of course, the one which I'll remember most was the 1956 Grey Cup when Pop Ivy decided to use me at quarterback and Jackie Parker in the backfield. The big headline back in Edmonton when we came back was 'Gettyberg!' " he remembered.

"We used to play a three-game total point series in the Western final in those days. We had some injuries and Pop decided to go with Parker at halfback and move me to quarterback for the third and deciding game. We scored 55 points that day. In the Grey Cup we beat Montreal 50-27. That was 105 points with a rookie Canadian quarterback.

"The secret of my success? I had Johnny Bright, Normie Kwong, Rollie Miles and Jackie Parker in my backfield. Jackie Parker never had a backfield like that."

It was a long time between Grey Cups. The next time the Eskimos made it to three Grey Cups in a row, they lost the first two including one to the Alouettes before they finally won another one.

It was against Montreal again. It was the first Grey Cup on the prairies, in Calgary in 1975.

John Farlinger made one of the biggest plays of that game.

"I guess a lot of people still remember that I got a good hit on Johnny Rodgers of Montreal and after that he wasn't a factor. I've taken a lot of credit for that. But at halftime I was very woozy. I couldn't remember what I had to do from play to play. Pete Lavorato had to keep asking the coaches for me."

MOON HAS MEMORIES

Then came the famed Staples Game and the five in a row Hugh Campbell coached after that. The first two of those were against Montreal.

Warren Moon has his memories.

"When people ask me about the six years I played in Canada I tell them I wouldn't trade them for anything," said the quarterback who becomes eligible for the NFL Hall of Fame this year.

"We had a great group of guys on that Eskimos team and we had a lot of success. We won five Grey Cups in a row and it all started with those games against Montreal."

And the two teams are back at it again and another generation has Montreal-Edmonton Grey Cup memories.

In 2002, in Commonwealth Stadium, the two teams made the Grey Cup's most common matchup again. In the replays of the mind, it is a game the Eskimos and their fans are still replaying, and are still upset at a coaching call made by Tom Higgins late in the game. Edmonton had a 25-7 edge in first downs. Every Eskimo looks back at it as a game of missed opportunities, a game Edmonton lost and Montreal won.

But one year later in Regina, the Eskimos won their 12th Grey Cup and won it by 12 points.

Ricky Ray went to work on two new cornerbacks who Don Matthews decided to play in the game, including one D.J. Johnson, who may be remembered in Edmonton Grey Cup history much like Chuck Hunsinger.

The Eskimos, first with Ed Hervey and then with Jason Tucker, went to work on the out-classed cornerback. Hervey set up the first touchdown with an 83-yard pass and Ray went at Johnson again, completing a touchdown toss to give the Eskimos a 14-0 lead. Tucker ended up as the Player of the Game, catching seven passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns.

Ray, completed 22 of 32 passes for 301 yards to win it.

"It's weird," he said as he held the Cup for photographers. "The first year was the dream season for me. It was awesome. I came up here just hoping to be the third string quarterback. I went all the way to the Grey Cup as the starter and we almost won it. The whole year was like a dream. This year was so much different because I had to prove I could go do it again, that last year wasn't a fluke. I'm just so happy I was able to play my part to do what this team was able to do."

Edmonton went home for the parade and the 'Stay, Ricky Ray, Stay' celebrations.

He didn't. He went away to the NFL for a year. But he's back and so are the Alouettes and the Eskimos for the deja vu all over again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again Grey Cup matchup that is the Eskimos and the Alouettes.


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