October 21, 2011
Gerry James did it all in storied sports career
By JIM BENDER, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - The first reaction to a book just released about CFL legend Gerry James is that it came out about 40 years too late.
After all, he starred at running back, kick returner and placekicker during the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ glory years back in the 1950s and early ‘60s.
Yet, his biography still resonates today and Kid Dynamite, The Gerry James Story (Oolichan Books, $35) by Ron Smith is a must-read for both diehard Bombers and CFL fans, and even some NHL observers.
James is one of only two players to ever play pro football in the CFL and pro hockey in the NHL playoffs. Lionel (Big Train) Conacher was the first. James is the only one to win the Grey Cup back in 1959, then play in the Stanley Cup final in the same season, 1959-60. He played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were swept by the powerful Montreal Canadiens.
James, who became the youngest lad to ever play in the CFL at 17, also became the very first recipient of the Schenley Award for Most Outstanding Canadian in 1954, and won it again in 1957. He would also become the first to follow his father, Eddie (Dynamite) James into the CFL Hall of Fame.
James not only set a number of CFL records, he was also such a good hockey player that there was a tug-of-war for his services. He would play both for a while, then stuck with football.
After his two-sport career was over, James became a successful junior hockey coach.
“It (the book) was Ron’s idea,” said James, who will be the Bombers honourary captain when they play the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday, his 77th birthday.
“I decided it was important to start celebrating people who had excelled in sport in Canada,” said Smith, who golfs with James on the West Coast where they live.
“We thought this would be a good time to bring forth a number of things in the book in regards to my career and what kind of influence I’ve had with people in regards to hockey and coaching hockey and that kind of stuff,” said James, who will be at the Bomber Store to sign his book on Friday, 5-7 p.m.
The book reveals some rather surprising details of both his careers, the relationship with his dad and the fact so few knew he played with almost no sight in one eye after getting hit with a puck. And he still resents the way Bombers head coach/GM Bud Grant released him in 1963.
“A highlight was running back a kickoff (for a TD) in 1957 in the Western Final against Edmonton,” said James, who suffered the broken hand in that match. “We went to the Grey Cup Game and we were bruised, battered and broken pretty much.”
James, who was born in Regina but spent his teenage years in Winnipeg, will never forget his NHL highlights.
“Just playing in that 1960 final against such a great Montreal Canadiens team,” he said. “The other one is the first game I played in the NHL. It was in Montreal when I was still playing junior in Toronto (1954-55). Eric Nesterenko got hurt and I was called up to play on a line with Ted Kennedy and Sid Smith which, of course, was a top line with the Leafs at the time. To go into the Montreal Forum and play against all those greats was just a great thrill.”
The most embarrassing moment of his Bombers’ career came when he missed a convert twice, but got a third chance due to Lions’ penalties.
“Finally, (receiver) Farrell Funston comes into the huddle and says, ‘I’m open for the pass.’ I was laughing so hard that I kicked it right into (centre George) Druxman’s butt,” he said.