This year is a big one for Canadian football. On November 25, 2012, the Calgary Stampeders and the Toronto Argonauts will compete in the 100th Grey Cup Championship Game.
Now, American football fans might not be all that interested in the Canadian Football League. And it’s true that, generally speaking, the level of competition among teams in the NFL and NCAA is greater than the CFL. But how can you not respect a tradition that goes back 100 years? The NFL may be 25 years older than the CFL, but Lombardi trophy was only created in 1967, the same year that the first Super Bowl was played. Competition for the Grey Cup, meanwhile, preceded both World Wars.
So today we honor 100 years of proud football tradition with this list of cool facts about the longest-standing football competition in North America. Even if it doesn’t enhance your appreciation of the Grey Cup, it will at least add to your impressive personal databank of sports trivia. So take a look.
Obviously, since we're talking about Canada here, the Grey Cup wasn't originally intended to be a football trophy. It was intended to be a hockey trophy.
Albert Grey, 4th Earl Gray, was the Governor General of Canada in 1909 when he commissioned the trophy in hopes that it would serve as the prize for the senior amateur hockey championship. (Professional and semi-professional teams were already competing for the Stanley Cup as early as 1907). However, Sir H. Montagu Allan beat old Albert to the punch, donating his own cup for use as the senior amateur hockey championship trophy. So Earl Grey then decided to give the cup to the national championship in Canadian football—which at the time still resembled what we now call rugby, since the forward pass hadn't yet been universally legalized in gridiron football.
9. Supposed to Be a Hockey Trophy
The trophy commissioned by Albert Grey, Governor General of Canada, was a 13-inch tall chalice made of sterling silver and was inscribed with the following:
"Presentd by His Excellency Earl Grey for the Amateur Rugby Football Championship of Canada."
This chalice was then set on top of a wooden base that featured silver shields on which the champions would be inscribed.
Total cost of the trophy? Just $48. Of course, $48 in 1909 was more like $1,200 today. But that's still a lot cheaper than the $30,000 crystal football that goes to the BCS Champion in college football today.
8. Original Cost: $48
Initially, the Grey Cup was for the amateur football champions in Canada. Why amateur and not pro? Well, in the early 20th century, professional sports were frowned upon by society's "elites." It was thought that money contaminated the purity of competition and violated the essence of sport. This is why the Olympics did not allow professional athletes for the longest time.
For that reason, the Grey Cup served as the championship trophy for amateur football in Canada. And the first three Grey Cups were won by the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, who actually refused to give the thing up when the Hamilton Alerts won it in 1912.Of course, as a kind of karmic punishment for stealing—err, refusing to relinquish the Grey Cup—the Varsity Blues have become one of the worse teams in Canadian college football. They have won just 11 games over the past 10 seasons, and went a ridiculous 6 years in a row without a victory. That works out to 49 straight losses.
7. Amateurs Only
You math scholars out there probably noticed a problem: I said at the outset that 2012 will see the 100th ever Grey Cup game, but the first was contended in 1909. That should have made the 2008 Grey Cup the 100th anniversary, right?
Wrong. It wasn't an oversight or miscalculation on my part. There's a perfectly good explanation: World War I.
Canada's participation in World War I as part of the British Empire led to the cancellation of the Grey Cup in 1916, 1917, and 1918. Then, after that, people kind of forgot about it. (They had bigger things on their minds, and the competition had only taken place 7 times to that point anyway.) But it was revived in 1920.
Interestingly, there would be no such disruption for World War II. Despite the fact that both major football leagues ceased operations during the war, the Canadian military thought that football and the Grey Cup game would serve as a morale booster. So they organized military teams and bases across the country, and from 1942 to 1944, they competed for the Grey Cup.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Air Force teams won in '42 and'43, and a Navy team won in '44.
6. The 100th Grey Cup
In 1947, the legend of the Grey Cup grew enormously after it miraculously survived a fire that destroyed the clubhouse of the Toronto Argonaut Rowing Club. As the story goes—and yes, it sounds made up, which is what makes it awesome—the shelf on which the Grey Cup was sitting collapsed during the fire, but the famous trophy got caught on a nail. Thus, while all the other trophies perished, the Grey Cup, though damaged, lived on.
Of course, it hasn't always been so lucky. The thing has been broken on four (known) occasions: in 1978, when a celebrating Edmonton Eskimo dropped it; in 1987, when an Eskimo player sat on it, which had to hurt him more than the trophy; in 1993, when an Eskimo named Blake Mermott head-butted it; and in 2006, when the chalice broke off the base while the BC Lions carried it around the field.
In addition to being broken, the trophy has also been stolen twice. It was taken from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as a prank in 1967, and it was stolen for serious from the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1969. On the latter occasion, the thieves actually tried to ransom the Grey Cup, but the CFL wasn't going to pay, and eventually a an anonymous phone call told police where to find the trophy—in the locker of a hotel in Toronto.
5. Broken, Stolen, & Almost Melted
You may have noticed that I mentioned the Edmonton Eskimos a lot in the previous entry. That's because the Eskimos, like that hockey team from Edmonton (you know, the Oilers), formed one of the greatest dynasties in the history of their league.
The Eskimos were actually the first team from Western Canada to compete for the Grey Cup at all back in 1921. However, the didn't win it until 1954. Then they won again in '55 and '56, which is pretty good—but nothing in comparison to what the Eskimos did in the 1970s. They reached the Grey Cup Final 9 times in 10 years from 1973 to 1982, winning 6 of those games, including a record 5 in a row from '78 to '82.
The Oilers' quarterback during their incredible five-year run? It was none other than NFL Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon.
4. Edmonton Does Dynasties
Look, there are only 8 teams in the CFL, and that's fine. But the league also wants an inclusive playoff format like the other major sports leagues, which means 6 of the teams make the playoffs ever years. And sometimes a couple of those teams just aren't good. So while most of the time the better teams win, on two occasions they have not.
In 2000, for the first time ever, a team with a sub-.500 record (the 8-10 BC Lions) won the Grey Cup. Then, in 2001, for the second time ever, another team with a sub-.500 record (the 8-10 Calgary Stampeders) won the Grey Cup.
Luckily this has not happened since...but we could come close this year. While the Calgary Stampeders went 12-6 in 2012, their Grey Cup opponents, the Toronto Argonauts, went just 9-9.
3. Even Losers Win It
No, seriously, an American Canadian Football League team won the Grey Cup. In general the league's three-year attempt at expanding to the U.S. was a failure. It didn't work in Sacramento, Las Vegas, Shreveport, San Antonio, Birmingham, or Memphis. However, it did work in one city: Baltimore.
Baltimore, of course, was scorned by the NFL when the Colts packed up and moved to Indianapolis in 1993. So they welcomed the CFL with relatively open arms in 1994, averaging 35,000 fans per game that season. That team, interestingly enough, was called the Baltimore Stallions ('cause stallions are better than colts, right?), and in 1995 they won the Grey Cup.
It's the only time the trophy has left Canada.
2. An American Team Won It Once
When it comes to total Grey Cup victories, the Toronto Argonauts are like the anti-Leafs. Whereas the city's sad hockey team hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1967, their pro football team has won more championships than any other team at 15. And the Argo's 15th championship didn't come over 40 years ago, either. It came just 8 years ago, in 2004. In fact, except for a long drought in the 60s and 70s, Toronto has won the Grey Cup at least once every decade since the thing was created.
However, that being said, the Eskimos are right on the Argo's heels at 13 Grey Cup victories, and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers aren't too far behind with 10.
But who's at the bottom of the Grey Cup list among current CFL teams? That would be the Saskatchewan Roughriders. They've won the Grey Cup just 3 times. After that it's the Stampeders who, with 6 victories, have won it twice as much as the Roughriders.