The Grey Cup was 24 minutes late for a very historic date here Tuesday.
At 9:54 a.m., just a little too tardy to qualify as being fashionably late, the old girl showed up for a special 100th Grey Cup announcement by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada — a plaque-unveiling ceremony on the property of old Varsity Stadium.
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon covered nicely for her.
“She’s a little bit tired from travelling 4,100 kilometres by train and 8,100 in all, counting side trips,” he said of the great 100th Grey Cup train tour leading to this week.
It was a classy little production that began with the singing of the national anthem by Linda Marie Gallant followed by the singing of praises for the trophy presented to the winner of the game 30 times on the property located outside the massive picture window.
It’s a different place than the one where Les Lear took his Calgary Stampeders in 1948 after two train loads carrying 250 fans, including two Sarcee First Nation chiefs, Jack Friedenberg and his orchestra and 12 horses — one of which ended up in the lobby of the Royal York Hotel — and made the Grey Cup the special event it is today.
Buddy Tinsley wouldn’t recognize the field where he damned near drowned in the 1950 Mud Bowl. And it’s not the same now as it was back in 1952, the last time it was won by the Toronto Argonauts at home over the Edmonton Eskimos in the first Grey Cup game ever televised.
It looks nothing like it did two years later when Chuck Hunsinger fumbled and Jackie Parker picked it up and ran it 84 yards for the winning touchdown. Even the sideline has no similarity to when Bibbles Bawel of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats made a run and was tripped up by a fan who stuck out his foot by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ bench, a fella by the name of David Humphrey who became Justice of the Superior Court of Ontario and admitted his guilt two decades later.
No, this day the Varsity Stadium site featured a place with 18 rows of seats on one side to hold maybe a couple thousand fans instead of the 27,000-plus in the 1950s or even the 13,687 for the first one here in 1911.
Today’s field is covered by artificial turf, ringed by a blue track and sits under a tent-like dome at this time of year.
On Wednesday, as part of the CFL’s intent to make the 100th Grey Cup a celebration more about history than anything else, both Grey Cup teams will hold closed practices at the field.
Maybe somebody will invite an oldtimer to point out exactly the path Ol’ Spaghetti Legs Parker took on his legendary trek back in 1954 or the exact spot where Tinsley nearly drowned in a puddle in the Mud Bowl. I know I wanted to have someone point those sorts of things out to me yesterday, but Parks Canada hadn’t thought of having even one person there from the old days on the property.
All those memory-making Grey Cups were referred to in the ceremony recognizing the “National Historic Significance of the Grey Cup” and the unveiling of the plaque which will be placed out on Bloor St. It will be from there that the fans will pass the Grey Cup to one another in an Olympic torch-like procession to Rogers Centre prior to Sunday’s game.
It was good stuff as Hon. Peter Van Loan, Member of Parliament for York-Simcoe, made the unveiling and declared the Grey Cup “a symbol of our national identity.” He said the game was, at the same time, “a remarkable multi-day celebration of all things Canadian,” referring to the thousands of Grey Cup parties around the nation and highlighting all those incredible games on location.
The words on the plaque:
“The Grey Cup:
For more than a century, the Grey Cup has brought Canadians together to celebrate our brand of football, our country and the best between them. The annual Grey Cup, played here on 30 occasions is a national championship that has provided such memorable contests as the ‘Mud Bowl,’ the ‘Fog Bowl’ and the ‘Ice Bowl.’ Donated in 1909 by Governor General Earl Grey and first won by the University of Toronto, and now awarded to the champions of the Canadian Football League, the Grey Cup trophy has become symbolic of excellence and Canadian unity.”
There was no reference to how all the marvellous history here was so soiled and spoiled in later years at other sites in Toronto when the game was so criminally ignored by the local populace.
Like back in 1989, when the Saskatchewan Roughriders fans came wearing green garb and felt so out of place at the event they went back to their hotel rooms and changed back into normal clothes. They were wearing green at the game, however, as Saskatchewan won what is generally recognized as the greatest Grey Cup game ever played.
But leaving those horrible hosting experiences in the rear view mirror and returning to the much more warm and wonderful years is going to be the great thing about this week. This 100th Grey Cup is going to take people like your aging correspondent back to where we came in.
The Argos are in the game to add atmosphere. The ultimate Grey Cup party of all time is about to begin as fans from around the nation flood in earlier than usual to be part of it. Tuesday’s Toronto Sun had 14 pages of Grey Cup coverage — about the same coverage of all the Toronto papers combined on any given day a few years back.
There’s just a fabulous feel about it this time.
The CFL even has the media housed in the Royal York Hotel for old time’s sake, although I was required to sign a form promising not to party in my room when I checked in. I don’t remember having to do that at my first one in 1973. And there’s furniture in the lobby here. They used to remove all the furniture during Grey Cup week. On the other hand, I know the Calgarians are determined to have a horse in the lobby, perhaps as early as Thursday morning.
Toronto just seems so much more like it used to be like when I first started coming to Grey Cups. Or maybe it was just because I was the only sports writer who went to the Historic Sites and Monuments event Tuesday and got my warm ’n’ fuzzy feeling early. And maybe it was because I hitched a ride back to the Royal York with Dennis Dowell of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and sat in the back seat with the Grey Cup on the day she received her National Historic Significance honour.