ANOTHER HUDDLE FOR ’73 RIDERS
The 1973 Ottawa Rough Riders got off to a rough start before a hot streak got them thinking they could go all the way. As the players gather for a 40th anniversary reunion this week, GORD HOLDER takes a look at their remarkable run to the Grey Cup Champi
The Ottawa Rough Riders’ Moe Racine hoists the 1973 Grey Cup beside Wayne Giardino and then-governor general Roland Michener after a 22-18 win over Edmonton in the CFL championship game at Toronto. Gord Holder catches up with the players as they prepare for a 40th anniversary reunion this week.
Four games into the 1973 Canadian Football League season, the Ottawa Rough Riders were 0-4 and last in the East Division. “Gotta gotta go!” fans chanted in unison, calling for the dismissal of head coach Jack Gotta.
Gotta didn’t go, though, but the Rough Riders got going. They won nine of the final 10 regular-season games to claim first place in the East and a first-round playoff bye. After the Montreal Alouettes eliminated the Toronto Argonauts 3210, the Rough Riders did the same to the Alouettes, 23-14 at Lansdowne Park.
A week later, on Nov. 25, the Rough Riders made the most of their CFL championship hopes, beating the Edmonton Eskimos 2218 in the Grey Cup Game at Toronto’s CNE Stadium.
“I think it was the fact that we were putting something together that was going to be better (every game),” says Mark Kosmos, a linebacker acquired in midseason from the Hamilton Tiger- Cats. “The players were saying that we could go all the way, after the 9-1 (run), we could go all the way.
“That’s when you get it inside, when you start to feel that nobody can stop you. Let anybody come out there, and we’re better.”
Grey Cup game touchdowns were scored by fullback Jim Evenson on an 18-yard run and by wide receiver Rhome Nixon on a 38-yard pass from quarterback Rick Cassata, who separated a shoulder early in the season but was thrust into the starter’s role after Jerry Keeling injured a knee in the East final.
Gerry Organ kicked two converts and field goals of 46 and 39 yards, and the Rough Riders were credited with two points when Eskimos punter Garry Lefebvre conceded a safety in the second quarter.
Ottawa’s defence did its share, too, recovering three fumbles. End Wayne Smith knocked Eskimos quarterback Tom Wilkinson onto the sidelines in the first quarter and out of the contest with injured ribs, and backup QB Bruce Lemmerman was thoroughly harassed before he reinjured his passing arm in the fourth quarter, necessitating Wilkinson’s return.
With the 40th anniversary of their Grey Cup triumph coming up, surviving members of the 1973 Rough Riders will gather in Ottawa from Thursday to Saturday to celebrate. At least 20 players will attend, with a handful of others saying they might, and they’ll be joined by team owner David Loeb, assistant coaches George Brancato and Jay Fry and equipment manager Sterling Bean.
Since the 2003 reunion, at least two players have died — Evenson and wide receiver Hugh Oldham — as have Gotta and team physician Dr. Rudy Gittens.
“It could be the last get-together because a lot of guys are really banged up and hobbling,” says Organ, just shy of his 69th birthday. “It’s just the profession it is, but also the passage of time.”
Not even time, though, can change the 1973 Rough Riders’ transformation from zeros to heroes.