When Ju­niors ruled Hamil­ton (and Cana­dian) foot­ball

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEVE MIL­TON

They don’t go to the games any­more, but from their Queen­ston Road bal­cony, Earl and Liz Blayney can eas­ily see the lights of Tim Hor­tons Field.

“My wife is a Tiger-Cats ad­dict,” says Earl “Tut” Blayney. “She watches all their games on TV.”

The Blayneys were sea­son ticket hold­ers for a dozen years in the 1950s and 1960s, but haven’t been to the new sta­dium and don’t think they will get there. But nearly 70 years ago, on the same par­cel of land — but in a dif­fer­ent sta­dium with a dif­fer­ent name — Earl Blayney and his team­mates ini­ti­ated the great­est, if brief, era in Hamil­ton ju­nior foot­ball his­tory.

It was Nov. 20, 1948, and the Hamil­ton Ju­nior Wildcats de­feated the vis­it­ing Saska­toon Hill­tops 23-10 at Civic Sta­dium, be­hind a strong run­ning game that in­cluded Brian Tim­mis Jr., Ed Jablon­ski and diminu­tive quar­ter­back Gar­net Steeves, the kick­ing of Tim­mis and Joe McFar­lane and three pass com­ple­tions on only four at­tempts.

Blayney, wear­ing No. 19, was an in­te­rior line­man play­ing both ways. He was also a team cap­tain, as the Wildcats won what was, ac­cord­ing to The Spec­ta­tor of the day, the first of­fi­cial Do­min­ion ju­nior cham­pi­onship since 1932. In the in­ter­ven­ing years, a world war and ju­ris­dic­tional dis­putes can­celled the na­tional fi­nal, or ren­dered it unof­fi­cial.

“I never played foot­ball in high school, never even saw a game when I was at Hamil­ton Tech,” says Blayney, who turns 90 in Oc­to­ber. “I tried out in ’44. I was out of high school and work­ing (as a ma­chin­ist in the war in­dus­try). But I was in pretty good shape, and I guess I was a good learner; they picked me and even­tu­ally said, ‘You’re the cap­tain.’”

The game was in a state of rapid evo­lu­tion and no ju­nior play­ers in the coun­try were bet­ter at it than Hamil­to­ni­ans.

The city had had its own divi­sion in the Ju­nior Big Four in the late 1930s and early 1940s, which helped lay the ground­work for a great fiveyear run a decade later.

The Hamil­ton Tiger-Cubs, spon­sored by the Hamil­ton Tigers, made the unof­fi­cial 1947 na­tional ti­tle game, but lost to the Van­cou­ver Blue Bombers.

The Hamil­ton Jr. Wildcats, run by the Tigers’ crosstown ri­val Hamil­ton Wildcats, won the Cana­dian ju­nior foot­ball ti­tles in 1948 and ’49.

And af­ter the Wildcats and Tigers merged in 1950 to cre­ate the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats, their Ju­nior Ti­cats won the 1950 and ’51 na­tional ti­tles.

“Our game was more like rug­ger (rugby),” Blayney says. “We ran a lot more than we threw. The ball was big­ger and it was rounder, more like a rugby ball; there wasn’t a sharp nose. There was an aw­ful lot more kick­ing in the game. We’d of­ten kick on sec­ond down.

“I was 5-11, 185 or 190 pounds and was con­sid­ered rea­son­ably big. I would not be given a look to­day to play mid­dle guard or tackle.

“Some guys we played didn’t even wear a hel­met. Hel­mets were op­tional at the time. But the Wildcats of­fice said we had to wear them.”

The Wildcats treated their ju­niors well. The se­nior team got new red, white and blue uni­forms ev­ery year, so the ju­niors in­her­ited barely year-old rig­ging.

The 1948 cham­pi­onship was Blayney’s last ju­nior game — he played a year of se­nior for Dun­das, then con­cen­trated on fam­ily and his grow­ing TV re­pair and tower busi­ness — and he played it with essen­tially one eye. Ear­lier in the sea­son a player for Toronto Park­dale grabbed some lime from the field mark­ings and tossed it in his f ace. Even­tu­ally he went blind in that eye.

The Wildcats beat the Jr. Ar­gos for the league ti­tle, then de­feated the West­mount War­riors of the Quebec League and Point Ed­ward of the ORFU to reach the Do­min­ion fi­nal.

When the Hill­tops ar­rived i n Hamil­ton, they were greeted by a band and a pa­rade. Af­ter the game, both teams were hon­oured at a din­ner at the Royal Con­naught Ho­tel.

Re­served seats to the game at Civic Sta­dium cost $1, with stu­dents pay­ing 75 cents and kids 25 cents.

“It wasn’t re­ally a great spec­ta­tor sport,” Blayney re­called. “I’d be sur­prised if there were 2,000 peo­ple there.”

There were 2,700, which Spec­ta­tor sports edi­tor Ivan Miller called a disappointment. But it had rained heav­ily and more than 1,300 lo­cal foot­ball fans had left for Ot­tawa to watch the se­nior Wildcats lose the eastern fi­nal.

“The game was played on mud,” Blayney says. “Some of the games at the sta­dium then were just slip and slide. There was no fancy stuff back then.”

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

Ju­nior star Earl Blayney and wife Liz.

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