THE BIGGEST GAME IN SPORTS FOR ME
Let me tell you of the times when I screwed up Grey Cup coverage in the second-largest newspaper in the country. One time I blame the fog, another drugs, or something, and then there was the time I was tired.
When I joined the Toronto Telegram in 1958, only two days out of Ryerson, I was cocky enough to think I had been hired because I was smart and a good writer.
The truth, I finally figured out, was that I was hired because I was big. And the publisher, John Bassett, the legendary managing editor, JDM, and City Editor Art Cole, a catankerous former war photographer, were all big.
Turned out I was the fastest typist in the newsroom, which wasn't hard in a world of two-finger hunt-and-peck typing.
I also had a background that only the Tely would love. I played a lot of football: all 60 minutes on a high school championship team, very brief stints with the Parkdale Lions (junior Argos) and the Rams (yes Ryerson had a football team then coached by Ted Toogood who had led his Argos to a Grey Cup in 1950 and is carrying the ball on the Grey Cup postage stamp.)
My CV also showed that I had been Ryerson student president. Cole may have been more impressed by that than my fellow students. Maybe I had something going for me, even though he wasn't sure about that journalism school.
And so I worked at the Tely where knowledge about the CFL was very important, even above knowing about politics at all levels, particularly City Hall. After all, Bassett owned the Argonauts and a chunk of the Leafs and Channel 9, we had a good football reporter, Bob Frewin, and the iconic columnist, Ted Reeve, had played in the Grey Cup and was known by everyone in sports.
By the time the Tely sank in a golden sunset of nostalgia in 1971, and the Sun rose in its first home, the Eclipse Building, I had been to Grey Cup games in every possible way. I had run film out of the stadium to a motorcycle courier. I had written the play-by play for the special Saturday editions (never then on Sunday, until the fog.) I even sat on the players' bench for a story. Then, in a grand climax, I was in charge of one of the most flawed Grey Cup specials ever to be hawked downtown.
I've been to World Series and Stanley Cup games and various All-Sar games but put them all together and I've been to more Grey Cups.
The Tely had a great sports department but they always had to borrow from Cityside for game coverage. Frewin, to the anger of his bosses, always was too busy doing CFRB interviews to be stuck with such mundane chores as recording what happened on every play.
And Reeve, with his giant hands gnarled from sport and arthritis, couldn't type that fast even if the editors screwed up their courage and asked him.
Ted had won one Grey Cup while playing with a broken collar bone. He jumped off the bench back into action when the opposition lined up for a short field goal. He burst through the defenders and blocked the kick, saving the game. He wrote Monday in the Tely, this being long before Sunday papers, this lovely doggerel: "When I was young and in my prime/ I used to block kicks all the time / Now that I am old and growing grey / I only block kicks once a day."
My first Cup I was belting out of Exhibition Stadium with a film holder from a Speed Graphic to hand to Mad Sale, a one-handed photographer/motorcylist. The presses were being held for this picture of the ceremonial kickoff. They were playing the national anthem and a small commissioner wearing his medals shoved his hand in my chest to prevent me from jogging out the gate. I didn't protest because there was fire in his eyes.
My next Grey Cup I was running out of the stadium with film, this time more modern 35 mm stuff, when the crowd roared and I turned to look. Bernie Faloney's errant pass hammered me right in the solar plexus and knocked me flat and almost out. The crowd thought it was funny.
Writing play-by-play on an old typewriter with paper and carbons sucked the energy out of me. We didn't even dare to dream then about writing on computers or calling the office on cell phones. I would be shouting "did he go over tackle or guard?" and then try to figure out whether it was a draw or a plunge or a broken play. And then the paper would rip or the ribbon would jam and my spotter would be muttering incomprehensibly.
That, dear reader, is why the Tely almost came out with the wrong score in the giant Page One headline because Winnipeg scored a meaningless TD in the final seconds and I missed it because the copy paper, damnit, had torn again.
Which brings me to the 1962 Fog Bowl between the Tiger-Cats and Blue Bombers. It started on Saturday and it ended on Sunday. The ends and punt returners couldn't see the ball most of the time which meant that I sure as hell didn't see it. And the announcer didn't either.
So when the game was suspended on Saturday, I ended my summary with a synopsis that turned out on Sunday to be completely wrong. I had the wrong team with the ball on the wrong yard line. There had been a fumble somewhere in the gloom
I was so revved up that Mary and I drove from Etobicoke through the fog to a party on Hamilton Mountain thrown by the Hamilton trainer. At Oakville, I started going north because the QEW disappeared on me. Mary said I was nuts because friends from downtown Hamilton didn't make it up the hill. And there I found I had missed a TD by running back Garney Henley on a reverse. His Cats lost by only one point.
It didn't seem to matter to the Managing Editors because even though I was now a junior editor, I kept being brought back to write the blasted play-by-play.
And then I became City Editor and finally the Assistant Managing Editor in charge of, among other things, the largest edition on Saturday. So I inherited the Grey Cup Special Edition which cost us a small fortune but Bassett insisted.
The day started well even though my assistant, Peter Marucci, showed up late. And he was my guy to do the layout and "size" the pictures in the heat of the news battle to beat the Star and get out a better special. But I had most of the paper away so it didn't much matter to me when Marucci asked if he could return to the Grey Cup party.
He looked okay when he returned, and didn't smell of booze or suspect substances. Except he moved as if he was swimming in molasses. I told him that we would lead with a game story, put the play-by-play on Page 2 and put five pictures on Page 3. The pictures were a special problem because the plates were made a few blocks away in a vain effort to save money and keep the Tely afloat.
When Marucci didn't move quickly enough, I found myself kneeling in the paper's lobby and doing the necessary measurements on the 11 by 14 prints. And then we got the presses started. The first copies showed that Marucci had screwed up royally. The play-by-play was now the headline story, the main story was inside and the pictures left a lot to be desired.
So I did what any young Assistant Managing Editor would do. I stopped the presses - and the pressmen were on overtime - rejigged the paper, and started the presses again. I took the new better copies around personally to all the executive offices, dumping the flawed copies in a garbage bin.
Didn't work. Doug Creighton, then my boss, and the founding publisher of the Sun, found me out. And Creighton, a former Tely sports editor, cared about football. (Indeed, one of the most famous sideline incidents in Grey Cup history came when a Montreal player was tripped by a spectator on his way to an easy TD. The spectator became a famous judge, Doug Humphreys. He was only there because of a pass provided by Creighton. They changed the rules next year but it was many years before Humphreys and Creighton were unmasked.)
Creighton gave me hell on Monday. He said when Marucci hadn't shown up, I should have brought in another major editor on overtime because heaven knows, Creighton said, I was not skilled at layout. But Marucci was there, I said. He insisted to his immediate boss, Ed Monteith, the other Assistant ME, that he wasn't, But an entire newsroom had seen him, so he was suspended two weeks without pay, and my bosses wondered about just how smart I really was when I couldn't spot an editor who was so bombed on something or other that he didn't even know he was at work.
After the Tely sank, Marucci left the business behind that had driven him to a lot of drink, or something, and ran a country restaurant. And I became a daily Sun columnist and associate editor, wandering from City Hall to Queen's Park to the Hill, even around the world, until 1985. I only came back inside because by then my frantic Grey Cup days and torturous attempts at layout had become, ahem, rather grey.