Commins played a helluva game to win '27 Grey Cup

MIKE STROBEL -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:45 AM ET

The poor Grey Cup is in peril somewhere on the Prairies.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders get to keep it for two months, if it survives that long.

In nearly a century, Earl Grey's lovely silver has been busted, bashed, head-butted, kidnapped, torched, sat upon and soaked in assorted beverages.

If the Roughies and their fans sober up long enough, they may peruse the hundreds of names carved into the Cup. They may get to the 1927 champions from the Balmy Beach Club.

Red Moore. Yip Foster. Buck Billings. How Hamblin. Harold Amer. Alex Ponton ... Men who played for nothing but the gleam in their eyes and the mud in their teeth.

I wrote of those brave Beachers before this year's Grey Cup, 80 years after their 9-6 upset of the mighty Hamilton Tigers.

You may have seen their descendants clad in Balmy blue and yellow on the big screen at Rogers Centre.

But there's unfinished business. A name is missing on the Cup. Frank "California Ike" Commins.

NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS

Even his family has believed for eons he was injured and did not play that famous day in 1927.

The great Ted Reeve, leg broken, didn't suit up. Four other Beachers were disabled and most of the rest limped.

But California Ike did play. I know this after combing newspaper clippings lent me by Red Moore's son Craig.

Red, a running back and star of the game, got a helluva lot more ink than Ike, the centre. "Snap-back" it was called then.

Ike's there, though, sore knee and all.

There's even a picture of his backside on the front page of the Globe, tackling Tiger Brian Timmis.

The Evening Telegram reported: "How about Commins, of the Beaches? Not once did the Tiger huskies get through the centre of the Beach line.

"Both (Commins and Hamlin) are comparative lightweights and both carry a lot of the scars of battle.

"Sure they were all done in at the finish. But they never faltered while the fight was on."

Cue the brass band.

Ike Commins was there, alright, slogging in the cold mud at Varsity Stadium. After, Hamilton's all-star snap-back Ernie Cox told a reporter Commins was the best he ever faced.

So why no name on the Cup? Eighty years later, who the heck knows. The players are long gone. Ike died young of lung cancer in 1957.

Some papers left Commins off the gameday lineup. Because he was injured? Did the engraver simply go by that list?

"It's truly a mystery to me," says son Chris Commins, 71.

Stranger still, Ike's name was not carved on the Grey Cup for the 1930 Balmy Beach win over Regina, either. And he was captain of that team.

Says his son: "I always imagined the CFL telling me, 'Well, we've looked into it and you don't want to know.'

"My dad was a bit of a wild man back then, apparently. So I wouldn't have been astonished if his name was left off because he'd been arrested for some big fight."

The 1930 error was fixed five years ago, after Chris sent clippings to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

But family lore continued to assume Ike was sidelined in '27.

No longer. Another bundle of proof is en route to the Hall. Acting managing director Mary Anne Cullen tells me she'll huddle with the CFL. Ms Cullen was helpful righting another wrong, the absence of 1927 captain Scotty Cawkell's name. He played, briefly, with a ruined shoulder.

Something else: Did Ike Commins' mysterious omission from the Grey Cup cost him a place in the Hall of Fame? The first nomination was denied, back when. That's usually all she wrote for long-ago stars. Given the silverware snafu, Ike Commins is worth a second look.

'PROUD OF MY DAD'

"I'm proud of my dad," says Chris Commins. "At least give him a fair shake. My dad, and others of that era."

California Ike's resume is stellar. Star of Canada's junior football champs, twice, then a year with the Argos. Snap-centre and 60-minute-man for Balmy Beach for eight years. Captain and all-star before retiring to coach the Balmy line. Referee for the Canadian Rugby Union (CRU), which birthed the CFL. Sportscaster. CRU president for two years until his death at age 54. A founder of the Grey Cup Dinner.

His nickname, by the by, came from a stint in California.

So, Ike Commins had a glorious 35-year career in football.

Sounds like shoo-in to me. I bet he'd have Ted Reeve's vote.

"A kind and courageous man, was our great centre ... the cheery, fiery leader," Reeve wrote in his Telegram column the day California Ike died.

Mr. Engraver, sharpen your knife.

Assuming the Cup comes home alive.


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