Mystery of The Catch

EARL MCRAE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

"Gabriel is open in the end zone! TOUCHDOWN! And the Ottawa fans and players are going crazy!"

CBC-TV sportscaster Don Chevrier

The response from readers has been huge to my suggestion here Tuesday that full-bodied bronze sculptures be erected outside the refurbished football stadium at Lansdowne Park when the Rough Riders return -- the Urbandale Centre and Scotiabank Place honouring the greatest of Ottawa pro football and hockey legends.

My inaugural suggestions were Riders quarterback Russ Jackson, 67's coach Brian Kilrea, original Senator from the 1920s Frank Nighbor, and Riders tight end Tony Gabriel, his statue showing him in the end zone making what has been immortalized in CFL annals as The Catch, his dying-seconds snag of a Tom Clements pass to give the Rough Riders the come-from-behind victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 1976 Grey Cup at Toronto's CNE Stadium.

All four suggestions received enthusiastic approval, but the overwhelming thumbs-up was for the sculpture of Gabriel's catch. But I'm thinking, it must accompanied by an engraving of Don Chevrier's famous words that have never received recognition in the pantheon of sports broadcaster calls that are surpassingly supreme.

Norma Farmer: "My boyfriend and I were at the game. When Tony made the great catch, I screamed, I cried. My boyfriend gave me the biggest, longest, kiss on the mouth and the fans all around us cheered it and yelled 'More, more, more.' Definitely a statue of Tony's catch."

Mark Saikaley: "I envision thousands and thousands of locals and tourists posing for photographs next to the statues. I would have a picture of myself ready to receive a Jackson pass, and one of me being the quarterback making the pass in the end zone to Gabriel."

Bruce Gill: "There's one more that just has to be in the obvious group. Frank Clair. I can just see The Professor standing there on a cold day wearing his fedora and glasses, looking studious, in front of the stadium named in his honour."

Matthew Cole: "Immortalize The Catch. It was the first football game I ever watched when I was 10, and it forever made me a football fan and a Rough Rider fan."

Tony Gabriel, flattered, and remembering the play as if it was a minute ago. Ottawa trailing 20-16, the ball on Saskatchewan's 26, only 19 seconds on the clock, Ottawa first down.

"Gary Kuzyk (receiver) came running in with a play from offensive co-ordinator Tom Dimitroff, but before he could say anything Tommy Clements shut him up with 'No. No.' And called his own play. It was Rob 1, fake 34, tight end, flag.

"That meant a fake handoff to fullback John Palazeti, the throw was coming to me. They had a defensive end on me, Jesse O'Neal. I got around him, and then I saw (Ted) Provost trying to pick me up.

"I pushed hard on my right foot, gave him a shoulder and head fake towards the post on about the 14. He bit. I veered and headed for the end zone. The ball kept coming. And coming. And coming. My eyes were six feet wide open."

Gabriel is open in the end zone! TOUCHDOWN! "I did my signature move. I spiked the ball back over my head to the turf with two hands." And was engulfed in a tumult of teammates, and Ottawa fans who poured into the end zone. It was pandemonium.

The ball? "I don't know what happened to it. In all the madness going on, I didn't even think about it. Probably because we still had to kick off. Even after the game I didn't think to ask for the ball, and nobody else thought to give it to me, either. I don't know. Maybe a fan picked it up in the end zone and has it. Maybe it was the same ball we used for the convert, but, if it was, it went flying into the fans in the bleachers. It didn't come back. Yeah, I guess it would be nice to have it."

The mystery lives on: Who has the football of the most famous and dramatic catch in Grey Cup history? The last touchdown football of the last Grey Cup the Ottawa Rough Riders would ever win; this storied club that won nine of the 15 in which it appeared since 1925.


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