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Grey Cup Memories: The Ice Bowl of Montreal, 1977
With the 100th anniversary Grey Cup game kicking off in Toronto this November, Our Canada is hoping to put together a retrospective of Grey Cup memories for presentation in an upcoming issue, and via our website and social media. As usual, we're counting on Our Canada readers -- many of whom are ardent fans of the CFL -- to send along their most memorable moments of Grey Cups past in the form of stories, anecdotes, photos and video clips. Everything from tailgate-party exploits and parade hoopla to game-day memories, family traditions and inside-the-CFL stories are welcome.
To get the ball rolling, I thought, hey, why not start with a memory of my own? So, let me take you back to November 27, 1977 in my hometown of Montreal. That year's Grey Cup game was being held in our freshly minted Olympic Stadium, a.k.a. the "Big Owe" as the mammoth project came to be known locally because of its huge cost overrun. Like most of the world, I had first caught a glimpse of the stadium's interior via the televised opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games the year previously. The '77 Grey Cup Game would be the first time I actually stepped inside the joint.
What struck me first was how many people it held.
Apparently that game set a Grey Cup attendance record that still stands today -- some 68,318 fans went to see the game live, including my dad, my uncle John, my brother-in-law Andre, and me. The attendance figure is all the more impressive when you consider that Montreal was in the midst of yet another public-transit strike back then and it had snowed for two days in a row leading up to the game day, making it tough for many Montrealers to get all the way out to the east end of the city. Dad had parked our car several blocks away from the stadium and I remember hoofing it down Pie-IX Boulevard towards Sherbrooke Street amid throngs of people heading to the game in what can only be described as a contagious party atmosphere. Montreal's finest -- most of whom were motorcycle cops (even at that time of year!) on those great old Harley's complete with stick-shift and sidecar -- seemed to be in the spirit of things, too, discreetly keeping the peace and turning a blind eye to the flasks and assorted party what-nots being passed among the revelers.
When we finally got into the cavernous, concrete bowl, fans were stacked from floor to ceiling...except that there was no ceiling to speak of. In spite of the estimated $770 million thrown at the project to that point, the promised retractable roof as well as the tower that was supposed to store, deploy and retract it, was not yet complete... and, indeed, although a few attempts were made over subsequent decades, a retractable roof that was safe, operational and sustainable year-round was just not in the cards. But I digress: back to game day...
Man oh man, was it cold in there! With a gaping hole in the centre of the stadium bowl, bone-numbing concrete everywhere and a temperature hovering around -9ºC outside, I guess that was to be expected but still, as a venue, I don't think you could have dreamed up worse conditions to watch or play the biggest game of the year.
Making matters even worse for the players, the groundskeepers had shoveled and scraped away the accumulated two-days worth of snowfall and, by game time, the field had frozen over. With all the slipping and sliding that took place early on, it appeared the players would have been better off in skates rather than cleats. It wasn't long before the announcers dubbed the game the Ice Bowl, and rightly so. Someone on the Als’ bench -- I'm guessing kicker Don Sweet (correct me if I'm wrong) -- had the brainstorm of driving staples into the soles of their teams' cleats for added traction. Whether that was the main reason for the Als lopsided victory over the Edmonton Eskimos (41-6) is debatable, but it didn’t hurt. It turned out to be quite the game: in addition to the aforementioned attendance record, Don Sweet made good on six out of seven field goal attempts, and added two converts as well as two singles for a record-breaking single game total of 23 points. In the process, Sweet also broke the record for most field goals during a Grey Cup game. The second record has been tied twice, but never broken, and the first one still stands. Quarterback Sonny Wade (!) wasn’t too shabby either, completing 22 of 40 passes for 340 yards and three TDs, earning him offensive MVP of the game.
The records, the atmosphere, the thrill of if all -- to say that particular game was memorable is an understatement. At 19, it was one of my first official outings with "the boys" of the family, an opportunity to buy a round of beer for one another, enjoy a few laughs and hoot and holler with the rest of the tribe. Even though we were freezing our buns off up in the nosebleed section and the action on the field was really too far removed to be all that impressive, we had an absolute blast together...and that's what really matters.
by Gary George, Montreal
For more on the Montreal Alouettes - Go Als! -- visit www.montrealalouettes.com
Wikipedia and cfl.ca (Records_2011_Grey_Cup.pdf) were consulted for this blog.