Reviving that distant Grey Cup rivalry

Through all my formative years as a fan of Canadian football, Winnipeg versus Hamilton was not the best Grey Cup rivalry — it was the only one. While I was becoming an adult, these teams met seven times in 13 years and when other teams met in the Grey Cup they were obviously just interruptions.

The first Grey Cup I can remember was Hamilton versus Winnipeg. Television was new and we didn’t have one, so my older sister and I pressed our ears to the radio, sitting on the kitchen floor (yes, we did have chairs) in Winnipeg. When the Ti-Cats won after a controversial goal-line stand, she cried. I did, too, because that’s what little brothers do…same-same, right?

Four years later, Hamilton won again, whipping a battered and broken Winnipeg team that played five playoff games in 15 days — plus one overtime — to get to the Grey Cup. The 2021 Blue Bombers who will meet the Ti-Cats this Sunday played one playoff game in 14 days.

Clearly, these rivalry roots run deep for me. Four times in a row the Bombers won these match-up championships, and the scores are seared in my memory. In the first one (1958), Hamilton quickly led 14-0 and then my mother returned from shopping and announced to her shell-shocked son: “Don’t worry, they’ll come back.”

Winnipeg did, 35-28. The hero of that game, quarterback Jim Van Pelt, was injured the next year and Kenny Ploen moved over from halfback to guide the Bombers offence to a 21-7 victory. The third win produced the first overtime Grey Cup, with Ploen dancing into the end zone, years before anybody danced in the end zone. And the fourth was the first two-day Grey Cup, the final 9:29 played after the fog lifted, a 28-27 Winnipeg victory.

That wasn’t the only weird-weather game. Three years later, the teams played in the Wind Bowl, with winds up to 64 kph forcing the Bombers to concede three safety touches, the margin of Hamilton’s victory.

In my post-adolescent years, I was at the Grey Cup 17 times. Only once did my childhood team join me: 1988 in Ottawa. That was a weird-weather game, too – an unseasonably warm (14 degrees) and sunny day in late November.

Weather always threatens to be “the great equalizer” and this is, after all, the second weekend of December and it’s Hamilton. The Ti-Cats are underdogs, in their first home Grey Cup against Winnipeg since 1935, when Hamilton won 18-12 and, no, I don’t remember it.

My sister is 80 now and last weekend she was among the frigid fans watching the weather help make the Saskatchewan Roughriders competitive in the Western Final. This weekend, she’s just hoping the weather doesn’t make her cry.