Did the Ticats beat the Eskimos?
BEING THERE: AUG. 28, 1958
When the longest return, of any kind, in CFL history occurred — it’s a record which can never be broken — I didn’t have a chance to write about it. I was only nine, and we didn’t have a Grade 4 newspaper. But I was there, and the “there” part is half of the name of this weekly column. It was the first pro football game I ever attended, and it was the first play I ever remember seeing live, in any sport. I’d been to some Leaf games, but who can remember specific hockey plays? Especially with the mid-’50s Leafs, who were pretty well awful. The Argos weren’t too good, either, and were in the midst of a four-year playoff-less period which was a hard feat to accomplish in the four-team Big Four, and with no western playoff crossover at the time. My parents were big sports fans and knew the recently-retired Joe Krol, the Hamilton lad who’d starred for the old Flying Wildcats but was most famous for his brilliant years as an Argo. My dad and Joe Krol had been two of the top three or four senior basketball players in Toronto in the late ’40s, when the senior league was considered newsworthy in Toronto papers. My mom, who’d glommed onto the Goldust Twins (Krol and Royal Copeland), when she arrived from England as a war bride, listened to all the Argo games on radio. Looking back, I’m thinking she might have heard “football” and assumed that was some sort of colonial footy. My dad, my mom, and I, and Jan, the elder of my two younger sisters, were late getting to the game and only reached our seats — great ones, about midfield three or four rows up, owned by my dad’s employers — after the first half had been played. I remember we couldn’t find parking around Varsity Stadium (it was the Argos’ last year there before moving into Exhibition Stadium) and I had always wondered why my dad would wait so long to get us there. Then I was looking up that game in The Spectator microfilms this week (would you completely trust
your memory from five-plus decades ago?) and found out it was played on a Friday night, not a Saturday as I always assumed. So my dad couldn’t have picked us up (one car) until he finished work, and it was a long drive downtown. I recall that the Argos were trailing the Montreal Alouettes 14-1 when we got there, and the Als were about to kick a field goal. It went wide but very deep, and the Argo returner — a couple of days later I found out it was Boyd Carter — took the ball on the far side of the end zone and started to run. He was soon surrounded but suddenly tossed the ball across the end zone to Dave Mann, an NFL star who also kicked, ran the ball and caught passes brilliantly. Mann took off down the west sideline, the sideline we were sitting just above. He was almost tackled, but sidestepped the Alouette, ran right in front of us in a double blue blur, cut into the middle of the field and went all the way to the house. The place went nuts. The return had covered 131 yards — 15 by Carter, 116 by Mann — which the league couldn’t accurately report until the next day when they had seen the films, because there were no yardage markers in the end zone. This record can never be broken, because the end zones were 25 yards deep then, and for the past four decades or so have been only 20 yards deep, making the maximum possible return today 130 yards. And this is the most amazing part. Until 1971 — and 1958 came long before that — in Canadian football rules there was no blocking allowed on either a punt return or a missed field goal return. That’s why we have the five-yard no-yards halo. Can you imagine? One returner against a dozen big, padded, angry men with no head-hitting restrictions? The second longest missed field goal return on the books is 130 yards, the maximum today, carried by the Eskimos’ Ed Hinton in 1977. (Current Ticats running back coach and former player Corey Grant sits eighth at 127 yards, against the Argos, in 1999.) The longest kickoff return in CFL history is 120 yards, as is the longest interception return, and the longest punt return was 113 yards by Hamilton’s Sam Rogers in 1995. So I really did see something special that day, and it made me an instant fan: of the Argos (no longer, of course); Dave Mann (he also kicked the third-longest punt of all time) and, most of all, Canadian football. Since that improbable touchdown, I have never stopped being a lover — as well as a constructive, I think, critic — of our unique game. There are lots of ways to become a fan, and everyone has their own story. But this was mine, and it had a lot of exclamation points.