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Chuck Ealey: champion and still winner
Joe Marshall
December 11, 1972
He led an undefeated team through high school and an undefeated team through college, but no NFL team would even give this black quarterback a chance. So he went to Canada and won a Grey Cup for Hamilton
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December 11, 1972

Chuck Ealey: Champion And Still Winner

He led an undefeated team through high school and an undefeated team through college, but no NFL team would even give this black quarterback a chance. So he went to Canada and won a Grey Cup for Hamilton

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Ealey himself, simply and directly, says: "I suppose that could be a possible reason I wasn't drafted, but I'd hate to think that it was."

NFL team officials provide a variety of explanations now. There were rumors at the time that Ealey had received sizable offers from Canada and, because the scouts had certified Ealey as too short and/or possessing a weak, scatter arm, he could not possibly be more than a 10th-round choice. Thus, as the excuses go, he was not worth bidding for against a Canadian team.

But too small? Ealey measures out at 6', 195, which puts him in a class with Sonny Jurgensen, Fran Tarkenton and Johnny Unitas. A poor arm? In college he passed more accurately than Joe Namath, Mike Phipps, Archie Manning or Terry Bradshaw did—and Ealey had a longer average gain per completion than Namath, Manning or John Reaves, the alltime college total passing yardage leader who was drafted in the first round last year.

Well, say the scouts, statistics do not mean a thing; it is intangibles that count. For a quarterback, that means winning, the standard that made Unitas and Otto Graham legendary and Jurgensen and Tarkenton questionable commodities. Yet here Charles Ealey Jr. is without peer. In three years of high school play, his team was 30-0; in three years at Toledo, the Rockets were 35-0.

At Hamilton, Ealey did not start until the third game, and then he actually lost two straight games, which dropped the Tiger-Cats to 1-3, 2� games out of first. Then Ealey started the familiar business of winning all over again. He led Hamilton to 10 straight victories and a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference. In a two-game, total-point playoff series with Ottawa, he brought the Tiger-Cats from a 19-7 deficit to a 27-27 tie at the end of seven quarters. Then Hamilton's teen-age placekicker, Ian Sunter, booted home a field goal to put the Tiger-Cats in the Grey Cup and perpetuate the Ealey phenomenon.

As at Toledo, he is known as Mr. Cool. "I've never seen a rookie show so much poise, so much discipline, so much unassuming confidence in himself," says Coffey. "I can't see how the NFL let him get away, but I'm sure glad they did."

"He'd make it in the NFL. I have no doubts," says Williams. "The scouts might have concluded that he could only be a roll-out type because that's all they saw him do at Toledo. When he first came up here he left the pocket too early, but it wasn't long before he was sitting in there and picking out the right receiver. Still, we have some pass patterns predicated on seven seconds that call for him to move around. They're primarily effective against the zone, which Saskatchewan plays most of the time."

As soon as the game started—following a ceremonial kickoff by the current Governor General, with the sixth Earl Grey holding—Ealey threatened to make it no contest for Hamilton. He passed 16 yards to Running Back Dave Fleming to conclude a 52-yard drive, and then moments later the 19-year-old Sunter, a Scottish immigrant, kicked a 27-yard field goal to make it 10-0.

But Saskatchewan fought back behind Ron Lancaster, who has led the team since 1963, completing more passes for more yards and more touchdowns than any other quarterback in CFL history. Mixing short passes with runs by George Reed, Canada's alltime leading ground-gainer from Washington State, Lancaster got the Roughriders a 10-10 tie by half-time—and it was still that way with just under two minutes left in the game when the Tiger-Cats took over the ball again on their own 15. There are no timeouts in Canadian football, only three downs, and the field is 110 yards long, so overtime seemed a certainty. And then Chuck Ealey started to work his winning magic.

For the first time in the game, he crossed up the Roughriders and went to Tight End Tony Gabriel for three straight first downs into Saskatchewan territory. A two-yard pickup then made it second and eight with less than 40 seconds remaining, and this time Ealey found Henley, who made a great sliding catch for the first down at the Rough-rider 26. One ball-control play later, as the clock ran out, the callow Sunter casually pounded home the winning field goal: 13-10, Hamilton.

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