THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE MISSING GREY CUP
FiredUp Network Sports Writer
Sunday, August 6, 2023
PHOTO CREDIT: BC LIONS
THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE MISSING GREY CUP
Most football fans are aware of the existence of the Grey Cup and what it means to the game in Canada. It is the pinnacle of football in this country and one of those great unifying forces in a nation that can be quite polarized at times. Ever since I can remember, the Grey Cup game is not just something that is played on the field, but it’s historically been a time for all Canadians to come together, party for a little while and enjoy whatever is good about the country and themselves.
I recall going to our football classic in 2016 at BMO Field with my son. The game would be contested by the favoured Calgary Stampeders and the Ottawa RedBlacks. We had a white RedBlacks’ helmet that we had purchased at a team sale the winter before, along with a couple of practice jerseys, and my son wore one of the jerseys and the helmet to BMO that day.
As soon as we got to our seats, a Calgary fan ran over to us. He had a Stamps’ jersey and helmet on and he said that we had to get a picture with the two together. We happily obliged and were thrilled that Calgary fans and Ottawa fans could all get along so well in a game in which their teams faced each other. In fact, the Grey Cup game is one of those events where people from all over the country can get together and celebrate our love for ‘Our Game’.
Ottawa ended up winning the championship game in overtime in 2016 and as we were leaving the stadium, we ran into the then-CFL commissioner, Jeffrey Orridge. We were also congratulated by Calgary fans and fans of other teams as well. It was just a wonderful ‘feel-good’ moment for us as football fans, sports enthusiasts and Canadians.
The Grey Cup has had a storied history, with games like the Mud Bowl, the Fog Bowl and the inebriated fan who tripped Hamilton’s Ray “Bibbles” Bawel in 1957 as he was running down the sideline for a sure touchdown. There have been games played on icy fields and fields that were soaked by torrential rains. The Edmonton Eskimos rattled off five straight Cup wins from 1978 to 1982. And who will ever forget the unfortunate fumble by Leon McQuay in 1971 that sealed his team’s fate in the Argos’ loss to Calgary?
If you are reading this then there’s no doubt that you are aware that the trophy itself was commissioned by Albert Grey, The Earl Grey, who was the Governor General of Canada back in 1909. The trophy was given to the winner of the Canadian Dominion Football Championship. It was meant to be an amateur prize, but eventually went to the professionals. The upper part of the trophy is a silver chalice that sits upon a base. On the base are the names of all the winning teams and the players, coaches and executives of those clubs.
The Grey Cup that I remember from my childhood had a simple base that was expanded as time has passed and the number of winning teams has increased year by year. Much has been made of the calamities that have befallen the Stanley Cup. But the Grey Cup has not been without misfortune as well. There have been minor incidents and a couple of major ones as well. Some of the stories are hilarious, some are compelling and some were downright worrisome.
One of the first offbeat stories about the Cup took place in 1920. The Cup was misplaced and no one knew where it was. During the time of the First World War, 1915 through 1919 to be exact, there was no competition for the Grey Cup and so, the trophy was put away for ‘safe keeping’. The problem was, when competition resumed, no one remembered where it was!
It turned out to be in the vault of a trust company in Toronto. The brother of one of the trustees of the Cup had taken it upon himself to lock it up. The trustee himself had forgotten that he had entrusted his brother with it, and it took a while for anyone to remember where the thing was!
A humourous episode took place in 1993 after the Edmonton Eskimos had won the big game. Jed Roberts was a defensive lineman and an outstanding special teams player with the Esks. Over his thirteen-year career, he played in four national championship games, winning one. He related a great story to his Twitter followers in August of 2023.
“I once left the Grey Cup overnight in the back seat of my unlocked Toyota Tercel in ’93. I woke up the next day wondering where I’d left it. I searched my entire house to no avail. Last place I checked was my car. I celebrated ‘finding’ it again by eating Count Chocula out of it.” I have to be honest. I love that little anecdote!
A couple of months before the Count Chocula episode, Roberts was sitting in the team bus behind offensive lineman Blake Dermott after the team had just won the Cup. Everyone on the club was understandably jubilant after their victory. Dermott was thrilled as well. He was so happy that he headbutted the trophy and broke it!
The first time the trophy was broken was in 1978. That was the year of the first of five straight titles won by the Eskimos. Quarterback Tom Wilkinson and linebacker Dan Kepley were celebrating with the Cup and one or the other dropped it. In 1987, one of the Eskimos ended up sitting on it and breaking it. In 2006 in Winnipeg, Wally Buono’s British Columbia Lions were celebrating with it on the field when the Cup and the base became separated.
In 1998, Buono was coaching Calgary when the Stamps won the championship, again in Winnipeg, with a narrow 26-24 result over Hamilton. After the game, the team went to a reception at their hotel to celebrate before getting on a chartered plane back to the Stampede City. After the reception, the team arrived at the airport when they realized they had forgotten the Cup at the hotel! But someone had the sense to put the bauble on to a bus and it arrived in time for the team’s departure.
In 1964, something similar happened after the B.C. Lions Cup win. They had headed out to the airport in Toronto to return to Vancouver when they realized they had forgotten what they had travelled eastward to win. They had to send someone back to go get the trophy. In 1984, Winnipeg won the Cup and had a big reception at the Winnipeg Arena. Hours after it was over, Paul Robson had to go back to the rink and found the Cup sitting alone in the quiet building at centre ice.
In 1946, the Toronto Argonauts had dumped the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28-6 to win the Cup. They got to display the trophy at the Argonaut Rowing Club on the shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto. In March of 1947, there was a fire at the old club house. Many of the club’s racing shells were destroyed in the fire. Also lost were many trophies won by the club.
The Grey Cup was damaged in the fire but not seriously enough that it couldn’t be saved. According to Stephen Theile’s book, Heroes of the Game: A History of the Grey Cup, the Cup was saved after the shelf that it had been sitting on collapsed and one of the handles on the trophy caught on to a nail that was protruding from a surviving wall in the club house!
In 1967, the Grey Cup game was played in Ottawa. It was Canada’s centennial year and it was fitting that the title contest would take place in the nation’s capital. In the game, Ralph Sazio’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats dismantled Eagle Keys’ Saskatchewan Roughriders 24-1. That Hamilton team had Joe Zuger at quarterback and Garney Henley and Tommy Joe Coffey. But it was their defence with Angelo Mosca and John Barrow that set the tone.
Anyway, somehow, the Cup was stolen from the team and was found three days later. It was officially termed a ‘prank’.
In 1997, the Argos won the title game in Edmonton on November 16. Less than two weeks later, their place kicker, Mike Vanderjagt, brought the Cup to an Oakville bar to share it with fans in his hometown. A lot of people there that night enjoyed taking sips from it.
Apparently, one group of college students was there celebrating a birthday. One of the kids in that bunch told a friend that she would pay $100 to have the trophy in her apartment. She must have been joking but when she arrived home from the bar, someone had taken it and put it in her kitchen! She called police and they retrieved the shiny Cup and returned it to Vanderjagt without charges.
When asked how the team would react to the situation, Argos' team spokesman David Watkins said, "Quite honestly, this is the charm of the Grey Cup trophy. It's as equally at home in the House of Commons as it is in a bar in Oakville."
In 1969, Russ Jackson and the Ottawa Rough Riders capped off a great decade by winning their second consecutive Cup. This time, they would defeat Ron Lancaster and the Green ‘Riders 29-11 at the Autostade in Montreal. That game took place on November 30. On December 20, someone broke into the team’s facilities at Lansdowne Park and stole the trophy.
This time, it was no prank. The thieves demanded a ransom for the Cup. Jake Gaudaur, the commissioner of the league at the time refused to bend to the demands. He said the league would have another one made, claiming that the trophy’s value was only about $50. A couple of companies in Toronto made offers to replace the trophy but Gaudaur said he would wait until March to see if it would be returned.
He didn’t have to wait that long.
In mid-February, an anonymous telephone call was placed to the Toronto Police’s Emergency Task Force. The caller told the police that if they went to a phone booth at Dundas and Parliament Streets, they would find a key to a storage locker. That locker was in the Royal York Hotel. Police found the key and they went to the locker. Sure enough, the Grey Cup was there.
According to Craig Baird and his Canadian History Ehx website, when the Toronto Police presented the trophy back to the league, “the spot where it would have said Ottawa Rough Riders instead had a sticker that said ‘Metro Police ETF’ as a joke from detectives.”
No charges were ever laid in the case and the thieves were never caught.
In 2008, the CFL had a replica trophy created so that, similar to the National Hockey League, there would always be something other than the original that could be used in certain situations.
It doesn’t need to be headbutted into pieces again.
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Get Howie’s great, new book Crazy Days & Wild Nights on Amazon. 19 different, outlandish stories taken from the pages of sports history! It makes a great addition to any sports fan's reading list! You can hear Howie and his co-host Shawn Lavigne on The Sports Lunatics Show, a sports history podcast, right here on the FiredUp Network or on 212 different platforms, including Spotify, iHeart Radio and TuneIn Radio or wherever you find your podcasts.