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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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In 1909 Earl Grey, the Governor General of Canada, not wanting to be outdone by a predecessor named Stanley, contributed a cup for the amateur rugby football championship of Canada. It was a motley, $48 affair of soft metals coated in silver plate; when Earl Grey died in 1917 the official tribute stated: "Perhaps he will best be remembered as founder of the Earl Grey musical and dramatic competitions."

Whatever happened to Earl Grey's cultural contributions, last week his Grey Cup served once more as annual justification for a seven-day Canadian blowout that threatened to raise the roof off trim little Hamilton (pop. 300,000). Ever since Calgary fans arrived in Toronto in 1948 in a 17-car train full of chuck wagons and flapjacks, cowboys and cowgirls, and started an impromptu parade, the Grey Cup has been revered as a bastion of national unity. Packed into one frantic week in Hamilton, were the Grey Cup parade, the largest annual parade in Canada; the Miss Grey Cup contest, with Bonanza's Lorne Greene doing the Bert Parks bit; and the Grey Cup dinner, open to an intimate closed-circuit-TV crowd that filled two hotel ballrooms. Canada's most revered football awards were given out there last Thursday in true Oscar fashion—the two finalists in each category in black tie, arty film strips of their exploits, and the drum roll, the sealed envelope. The week was referred to in the papers as the "Grand National Drunk" and police made it perfectly clear that as long as you did not go around yelling "Fire!" in crowded bars, you could do as you pleased. And people did. One enterprising politician campaigned by passing out complimentary Alka-Seltzer. And, oh yes, at the end of the hangover the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League played a championship game for Earl Grey's cheesy trophy.

Grey Cup sites are picked two years in advance and the coincidental presence of a home team this season only compounded the madness. Hamilton is roughly comparable to Pittsburgh or Green Bay, depending on whether you are discussing its steel industry or its obsession with football. The mayor is a former sportscaster, and more than 15,000 people jammed King Street for an old-fashioned collegiate pep rally the night before the final eastern playoff game two weeks ago. The city is just as proud of its blue-collar image. Its trademark is a lunch pail and its float in Saturday's parade was pulled by a tractor disguised as a yellow hard hat. The town won the bidding for the 1972 Grey Cup because the CFL's Hall of Fame was opening there and because recently renovated Ivor Wynne Stadium had the nation's largest capacity (34,000) and one of its three artificial fields. Besides, for the Dominion, Hamilton is a warm-weather site, approximating the balmy temperatures in nearby Buffalo. In comparison, Regina, the home of the Roughriders, is 500 miles farther north.

The Tiger-Cats are no strangers to these classics. Notorious for overwhelming defenses based around mammoth tackles, they had appeared in 10 Grey Cups and won five between 1953 and 1967. But since 1968, although they always made the playoffs, they failed to survive them. Hamilton continued, however, to assemble the most intriguing cast of characters to be found on any team on either side of the border.

The senior personality is 6'4", 285-pound Angelo Mosca, a friendly Notre Dame alumnus who has been the bad boy of the league ever since, as he puts it, he "baffed out" a British Columbia player in Vancouver in the 1963 cup game, DIRTIEST PLAYER INJURES STAR, a local newspaper headlined it. Mosca discusses the incident now with a sheepish smile. "It bothered me until I learned I could capitalize on it," he says. "Now I'm a household word in Canada." So he plans to retire from football this year and go into wrestling fulltime, where, he explains, "I can make $50,000 at the drop of a hat."

While Mosca helped maintain the tradition of a strong Hamilton defense, the offense sagged badly in the last few seasons. To remedy the situation this year, Hamilton hired a new coach, Jerry Williams of the late Philadelphia Eagles—er, rather, late of the Philadelphia Eagles—and suddenly the Tiger-Cats became aggressors again. They led the league in scoring behind an all-conference rookie black quarterback, who threw to, among others, a grandfather and the oldest player in the CFL—and these pensioners are not one and the same.

The grandfather is Tommy-Joe Coffey, an alumnus of West Texas State, who, in August, surpassed Raymond Berry's world-record total reception mark and the 10,000-yard receiving barrier on the same play. "And 13 years ago they told me I was too slow," he says. Grandfather Coffey is, however, almost a year junior to his receiving cohort, a balding, bespectacled, puny 36-year-old college educator named Garney Henley.

A lecturer in physical education at nearby Guelph University, Henley has been a perennial all-star safety ever since leaving little Huron (S. Dak.) College in 1960, but this year, because of his speed—at 36, mind you, his speed—Williams moved him to wide receiver to jazz up the offense. It was a perceptive shift, and Henley was named the league's Most Outstanding Player.

Yet youth will be served—and not only lots of liquor during Grey Cup week. The catalyst for Hamilton's success was the rookie, Chuck Ealey, from the University of Toledo. "He's the great equalizer," Montreal General Manager J. I. Albrecht said last week. "He's the difference between winning and losing."

Ealey went to Canada after he was not included among the 442 players selected in last February's NFL draft. Many have suggested that an NFL prejudice against black quarterbacks was the determining factor in his rejection by all 26 teams. George Taliaferro, an assistant to the president of Indiana University, who created no controversy when he was an NFL black quarterback two decades ago (briefly, with the Colts), said point-blank two years ago: "This country is not at a point where it will accept a black quarterback leading its finest white boys."

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