Two of Canada's favorite indigenous sports are football and heckling Americans. Since the coaches of their nine pro football teams are Americans and since each team is built around the 12 American players permitted it by league rules, Canadians have the singular cake-and-eat-it opportunity of knocking their neighbors and enjoying football at the same time. The natural and sometimes orgiastic climax of these pastimes is the Grey Cup, the title game between the Western and Eastern divisional champions.
Last week the 50th Grey Cup was played at Vancouver because British Columbia is celebrating its centennial. In 1955 the Grey Cup was also played at Vancouver and is remembered with some distaste by sedate citizens for the whoop and holler it brought into Vancouver's seemly streets. This year Vancouver took precautions; police were put on a "Halloween basis" and the Grey Cup weekend was perhaps the most serene on record—not one hotel was dismantled, not a single auto fueled a bonfire.
The cup favorites were the defending Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who had locked up the Eastern title in but nine games while the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the West required 14 games to tie for first and then had to go all-out in three more games to win. Hamilton was not only tough, it sounded tough. The team name, Tiger-Cats, combined with the names of Jungle Jim Trimble and Indian Jack Jacobs of their coaching staff, made them sound like a new kind of TV thriller, something like an African western. And Jungle Jim, the 248-pound former head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, is just about the most bumptious man in the game. Last summer he calmly let Canada know that he was the best coach in the country—"No, hell, in the world." And although the Ti-Cats admire the man they fear his rampageous tongue. One night some of the boys were having a quiet party when Trimble's scowling image appeared, like Big Brother, on the TV screen. One Ti-Cat involuntarily hid his beer on the floor. "Shouldn't drink that while the coach is watching," he said.
The odds favored Hamilton by 15 points, but this was just what Bud Grant, the Bomber coach and also a former Eagle, wanted; it gave his Bombers the fire down below. And it was a readymade situation for the West to teach an American who was also an Easterner some Canadian history. Jungle Jim, the West was certain, had never heard of confederation and figured Canada consisted entirely of Ontario and Quebec. Grant also banked on the fact that western teams play a tougher schedule than the East. The Ti-Cats, who had beaten the effete East so handily, could not have been pressed enough to know what to do when the opposition refused to play dead.
The game was less than seven minutes old when 34,426 fans realized that the western theory looked about as sound as a system to break the bank at Monte Carlo. Led by former Maryland All-America Bernie Faloney, the Ti-Cats had driven 87 yards on eight plays for their first touchdown and scored on a 35-yard fumble recovery for their second. Then the lighter Winnipeg line went to work on Hamilton's mighty Beer Trust line. By the half, the Trust was all but busted. Winnipeg scored nine plays after the second Hamilton touchdown on a 20-yard pass play to Quarterback Jim Van Pelt. It was the start of a remarkable afternoon for the onetime Michigan player, who established a new cup scoring record of 22 points. Winnipeg added two field goals in the second quarter, and Norm Rauhaus, a fiery Canadian linebacker, ran over a punt he blocked for yet another score. Hamilton tried manfully in the second half on Faloney passes (he completed 16 of 25), but Winnipeg had the fire, won 35-28 for its first cup in 17 years and taught Jungle Jim a history lesson. "If I can't be the best football coach in the business," Jim once growled, "then I'll quit and be the best ditch-digger." For once Jim wasn't the best, but all Canada, particularly the boom-town West, admires a tough, blustery guy while it heckles him and hopes the big man won't take up the shovel.