Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Bobby Hosea: Rider becomes actor

Actor Bobby Hosea who played
in the CFL from 1979 to 1981.
He may be best remembered by most people as the actor who played O.J. Simpson in the TV movie, but I remember him as a hard-hitting defensive back with the Saskatchewan Roughriders when they were trying to gain respectability in the 1980s.

Recently, I saw an old episode of “Bones” on DVD, and Bobby Hosea was making a guest appearance. It took a bit of digging because Wikipedia is pretty thin on information, but Bobby Hosea the actor used to be Bobby Hosea the Canadian Football League player.

Bobby Hosea in his Montreal Alouettes uniform.
Part-time job
Bobby Hosea played three seasons in the CFL. He joined the Montreal Alouettes in 1979, where he played 13 games and intercepted two passes, returning them a total of 24 yards. He also returned two punts for 10 yards. The Alouettes made the Grey Cup that year, but lost to the Edmonton Eskimos by a score of 17-9.

It was in Montreal, that much was made of the fact that, although he was a football player, he also did some modelling and acting on the side. The Montreal Gazette did kind of an odd piece that included Hosea. You can actually read it for yourself right here:

How journalism has changed.

Rider Pride – and humility
The next season he suited up with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Hosea played in 15 games, had two more interceptions that season for 24 yards, returned two kick offs for 32 yards, and returned three punts for 22 yards.

His final season was his best defensively. In 1981, he played all 16 games and  intercepted four passes for 30 yards. He returned one kick off for three yards and returned one punt for nine yards.

The most memorable episode of his career came in a 30-26 loss against Hamilton on Oct. 4, 1981 at Taylor Field in Regina. The Roughriders were in the hunt for a playoff spot, after years of futility. With three minutes and seven seconds left and Hamilton leading 23-12, Saskatchewan stopped the Tiger Cats short on a key second down play. Hosea got into a shoving match with Tiger Cat slotback Gordie Paterson then punched him. He was flagged for rough play and ejected from the game. The penalty gave Hamilton a first down. Theyt would proceed to go down the field and score a touchdown that turned out to be the winning points. The incident marred a solid game for Hosea where he intercepted a Tom Clements pass. To his credit, after the game Hosea apologized to Bud Riley, Hamilton’s defensive coach.

The next day CFL Comissioner Jake Gaudaur fined Hosea $300, but chose not to suspend him because he had no previous record of bad conduct.

Life after football
Bobby Hosea would also play for the Los Angeles Express and Jacksonville Bulls of the United States Football League, but at age 28 decided he had taken enough of a beating and retired from football.

His first credited appearance on the screen was in a TV movie called “Her Life as a Man”. Before the end of the decade he would make appearances in movies, as well as TV shows such as “Benson”, “Perfect Strangers”, “Knots Landing”, “The Twilight Zone”, “21 Jump Street”, and “227”.

Parting thoughts 
I have always been interested in connections. When you really look at things, the world can become a very small place. I’m also absolutely fascinated by the number of people with connections to the CFL.

Bobby Hosea would go on over the next 30 years to appear in some major movies such as “Independence Day”, and “61*”. He also made a name for himself playing high-profile killers and accused murderers such as the title character in 1995’s “The O.J. Simpson Story” and John Allen Muhammad the title character in “D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear” (2003). His latest claim to fame is coaching football, and teaching kids a safe way to tackle.

But back in the 1980s, he was a fresh and pretty faced defensive back for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. It just shows, all roads run through the CFL, and there is life after football.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Dawn of a new era: The first Flames games

Kent Nilsson would score
the first goal in Flames'
history in an exhibition
game in Lethbridge.
Recently I attended my first Calgary Flames home game at the Saddledome. It’s odd, because I have seen the Flames play live before, just never at home.

The very first time was a memorable one for me, because it was the first game in the history of the franchise.

North to Calgary
The Atlanta Flames had twice made the playoffs when I started watching hockey. Back then, in the late 1970s, the first round of playoffs was called the elimination round and consisted of a best-of-three series. Awaiting the winners of this elimination round were the four division champions, who received a first-round bye.

One year, the Flames lost to Detroit and the other year to Toronto. They were not that good a team, but obviously good enough to make the playoffs back then. Those games against the Flames were the only ones I ever saw Atlanta play.

A year removed from the NHL merger with World Hockey Association, that saw Edmonton, Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford enter the league, rumours began to swirl about the Atlanta Flames moving to Calgary.

It was a strange time because, and few people will admit it now, but after the WHA-NHL merger, there were a lot of Albertans who were Edmonton Oiler fans because they were the closest team. That lasted exactly one year.

I recall rumours that Canadian actor Glen Ford was going to buy the Flames, then a group from Calgary led by the Seaman brothers, and of course Nelson Skalbania, who at the time was a bit of a sports entrepreneur in the same vain as Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington.

Then, one day on CBC Calgary, they announced the rumours were true. The Atlanta Flames were re-locating to Calgary, led by Skalbania and the Seamans. The name was not yet determined, and there would be a contest to decide. Eventually, the Flames' name was retained, and they would play out of the Calgary Corral on the Stampede grounds until a new arena could be constructed.

The Flames also began to transform their roster, making trades primarily to acquire draft picks, that turned into the future of the team.

Making history
Eventually, training camp opened and soon the exhibition season. Much to my surprise, and delight, the Calgary Flames were opening their schedule in Lethbridge, at the Sportsplex, home of the Western Hockey League’s Lethbridge Broncos.

So, the very first game in the history of the Calgary Flames franchise, would be in my own backyard – and I wanted to go.

My parents were game, and my sister had moved back to Southern Alberta. Since she lived right in Lethbridge, she picked up the tickets. We were set.

The game
I am lucky enough to say I saw the Calgary Flames play their first ever game, and the legendary Lanny McDonald play, in the same game. The funny thing was, he wasn’t playing for Calgary.

The Flames’ opponent in that exhibition game was the Colorado Rockies (not the baseball team), led by Lanny McDonald, who had grown up in Southern Alberta and played his junior in Medicine Hat. He had some great seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs until he ran afoul of controversial owner Harold Ballard, who summarily dispatched him to Colorado – the Siberia of the NHL.

Recently, I got some of the details of the game from the Lethbridge Herald on microfiche at the Lethbridge Public Library. The two sports reporters of the time, the incomparable Randy Jensen and Dave Sulz, did a great job of coverage.

The game was in fact the first in the history of the franchise. The two teams faced off on Sunday, Sept. 21, and tickets were $7 for adults, and $5 for children and seniors. They ended up packing 5,292 people into the Sportsplex for the game that night.

There was some local flavour too. The Flames dressed recent Lethbridge Bronco defencemen Ralph Andreesen and Jay Soleway. Already on their roster was Earl Ingarfield Junior, who was from Lethbridge, and whose father was one of the best players to come from Lethbridge. Playing for the Rockies were former Lethbridge Bronco Ron Delorme, and of course Lanny McDonald, who had actually played some of his junior hockey with the Lethbridge Sugar Kings, in addition to the Medicine Hat Tigers.

The biggest cheer was reserved for McDonald when he skated on the ice too.

The game was awesome. Kent Nilsson opened the scoring for the Flames, before Bobby Crawford tied it for the Rockies. Denis Cyr, who had been the Flames top draft pick in the 1980 entry draft, gave Calgary a 2-1 lead, before McDonald set up Paul Gagne for the tying goal. The score stayed 2-2 into the first intermission.

Calgary broke the game open in the second period, as Guy Chouinard scored what proved to be the game winner, followed by Ingarfield, which drew another cheer, and Don Lever, the former Vancouver Canuck, who was set up by Nilsson to make the score 5-2 after two periods.

Bob Gould would score the lone goal of the third period, to make the final score 6-2 for the Flames.

Pat Riggin and Rejean Lemelin split goaltending duties in net. The two would platoon with Daniel Bouchard who was the starter at the beginning of the season, but was traded to Quebec for Jamie Hislop part way through the year.

It was an auspicious start for the NHL’s newest franchise.

Parting thoughts
It’s funny that players such as Kent Nilsson, Willi Plett, Guy Chouinard, Pat Riggin and Rejean Lemelin became household names once the Flames moved to Calgary. But in that first game, they were all unknown, because few of us had seen the Atlanta Flames play more than a handful of games at most.

Yet, that first season was magical for the Flames, beyond just Kent Nilsson being nicknamed the “Magic Man”.

They tied their first official game, 5-5 against the Quebec Nordiques on Oct. 9, 1980 at the Corral . I recall watching it on Channel 7, as Ed Whalen called he action, fresh off a stint announcing "Stampede Wrestling". It took some getting used to listening to him call hockey, then seeing him on Saturday afternoons call wrestling.

Nilsson would lead the Flames in scoring with 49 goals and 82 assists for 131 points, and was the lone Flame to play in the 1980 NHL all-star game. He became the first European player to record 100 or more points, and his 82 assists and 131 points are still franchise records.

The Flames averaged 7,217 fans at the Corral and finished with a record of 39-27-14. They would make the playoffs, finishing third in the Patrick Division with 92 points, and fourth in the Campbell Conference. They ousted Chicago in the first round, sweeping them in three games, then beat Philadelphia in the second round in seven games to advance all the way to the Stanley Cup semi-finals. They would fall in six games to the Minnesota North Stars, who in turn lost the Stanley Cup final to the powerhouse, defending Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders.

Still, it was an amazing first year in the NHL, and it all began in Lethbridge.

Monday, 13 July 2015

The Baltimore Bullet: Remembering Omar Sharif

He may have been a well-known, established actor but the first time I saw Omar Sharif wasn’t in “Lawrence of Arabia” or “Doctor Zhivago”, or “Funny Girl”, it was in a comedy called “The Baltimore Bullet”.

I was recently thinking about when I first saw Omar after I heard he passed away from a heart attack at age 83.

Summer vacation
For the first half of the 1980s I spent a part of each summer in Brooks visiting all my cousins there, and they in turn would come to our farm.

One summer my cousin Fred was on the farm. About a week earlier, I had read an issue of “TV Guide” that previewed this movie called “The Baltimore Bullet” and it sounded really interesting.

Back then, TV was one of the centres of my life, but I thought I’d miss it for sure because Fred and I were always doing things.

Then, I saw this commercial and asked if he was interested in watching the movie. He was always in to watch a movie, so we tuned to Channel 13 and watched the movie.

“The Baltimore Bullet”
The movie focuses on Nick Casey, also known as the Baltimore Bullet, a pool shark played by James Coburn who is teaching everything he knows to his protégé Billie Joe Robbins, played by Bruce Boxleitner. The Baltimore Bullet was beaten a few years earlier by this legendary shark named the Deacon, played by Omar Sharif. Nick would give anything to have another crack at the Deacon. He finally gets his chance, but he’ll have to go through his very own protégé to do it.

It was a great movie, I do remember that. Omar was awesome as the suave, sophisticated villain too.

Parting thoughts
Omar Sharif had a stellar career. He garnered an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1962 and won Golden Globes for best supporting actor in a motion picture and new star of the year – actor, for the same movie. He also won a Golden Globe in 1965 for best actor in a motion picture drama for “Doctor Zhivago”.

He would go on to act right through the 1970, 1980s, 1990s, into the 21st Century and had his last film lead role earlier this year in 2015.

Yet, for someone who grew up in the 1980s where TV was limited to three channels, and later the latest releases on VHS tapes, the first time I ever saw Omar Sharif was as a suave, confident pool shark in “The Baltimore Bullet”. He was the perfect foil for James Coburn who was slick and likeable, and even cocky.

I won’t tell you how it ends, but Omar Sharif was definitely worth the price of admission – he always was.

Rest in peace Omar.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Mario Gosselin: True Olympian

Mario Gosselin tending goal for the 1984 Canadian Olympic team.
It could have been because of the style he played, or the big games he played in, but likely the reason Mario Gosselin was one of my favourite goaltenders of all time was simple: he showed up to play for his country at a time when it really was a sacrifice to play for the Olympic team.

Sarajevo calling
Gosselin played his junior in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and was a draft pick of the Quebec Nordiques. He was from Thetford Mines, I always remember that, and was the only one from that town ever to play in the Olympics.

He was just 20 years old when he answered the call to play for Team Canada. Back then, it was a full-time, on-going commitment. Professionals were not even allowed in the Olympics, much less the NHL shutting down for two weeks allowing the best to play.

Instead, aspiring Olympians had to forsake playing pro, live on hamburger and macaroni and cheese, and play all sorts of exhibition games leading up to the Olympics.

The Canadian Olympic team had turned a corner by 1984 though. Dave King had become coach, and he had already tasted success by coaching Canada to its first ever World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal in 1981. He set his sights on Olympic gold, and was even able to persuade some of the players from his junior championship team to come over to the Olympic team.

However, he still needed to anchor that team. Strong goaltending was essential, and that was most evident in the world champion and Olympic gold medal favourites from the Soviet Union. Tending goal for them was perhaps the greatest international goalie in history, Vladislav Tretiak. If Canada hoped to compete with the likes of the Soviets and the Czechs, they would need strong goaltending.

Enter Mario Gosselin.

He joined the Olympic team for the 1983-1984 season and would remain for two years, sharing the goaltending duties with Darren Elliott.

Gosselin played 36 games for the Olympic team, but almost didn’t play in the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee, the absurd entity it was, was strict on ensuring athletes were amateurs. Gosselin had signed a professional contract, and two countries including our old friends from the United States, wanted him ruled ineligible. However, the IOC ruled that because Gosselin had not played a professional game, he was eligible for the Olympics.

He emerged as one of the stars of the tournament, backstopping the Canadians to four straight victories to open the tournament. The medal round was more complex then, but the net result was that Canada won no games in it, finishing fourth in the tournament and out of the medals. It was still a solid accomplishment for a team that had not come that close to a medal in decades.

Turning pro
Mario Gosselin had been selected 55th overall by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1982 NHL entry draft.

He joined the Nordiques after the Olympics. He made his NHL debut on Feb. 26, 1984, shutting out the St. Louis Blues by a score of 5-0. It was an incredible debut. He would appear in three games that season, finishing with a 2-0 record.

Mario Gosselin in a familiar stance in goal for
the Quebec Nordiques in the mid and late 1980s.
Rookie season
1984-1985 season would be Gosselin’s rookie season with the Nordiques. He would appear in 35 games and finish with a 19-11-3 record.

Quebec finished second in the Adams Division, setting up a date with Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs. The Nordiques won the best-of-five series 3-2, advancing to play Montreal in the Adams Division final. The Nordiques finally got the monkey off their back, defeating the Canadiens 4-3. I recall watching that series closely as Gosselin was excellent in net. The win set up a showdown in the Wales Conference Final against the Philaldelphia Flyers. The Nordiques stayed close, splitting the first four games, but the Flyers took control to win the next two games, and the series 4-2.

Gosselin played in 17 of the 18 games, finishing with a record of 9-8. He was the winning goalie in all nine games Quebec won too.

Battling for playing time
The 1985-1986 season found Mario displaced as the starting goaltender by Clint Malarchuk. Still, Gosselin played in 31 games, with a record of 14-14-1. The Nordiques finished first in the Adams Division, but were swept 3-0 in the opening round by Hartford. Gosselin got into just one game, playing 40 minutes but allowing five goals.

This proved to be Goselin’s most successful season. He finished second in fan balloting for the NHL all-star game in Hartford. The top vote getter was Pelle Lindbergh of the Philadelphia Flyers who had backstopped his team to an appearance in the Stanley Cup final the year before, that also included a victory over Quebec. Lindbergh died in a motor vehicle accident eight or so games into the season. Consequently, on Feb. 4, 1986, Mario Gosselin started for the Wales Conference all-stars, and allowed just one goal in 31 minutes of action. The Wales Conference ultimately won 4-3 in overtime.

Off the bench
Malarchuk was firmly entrenched as the number-one goaltender in the 1986-1987 season. Gosselin did appear in 30 games, for 13-11-1 record and a team best goals against average of 3.18.

The Nordiques played role reversal with Hartford as Quebec finished fourth and the Whalers were first in the Adams Division, setting up a first-round re-match from the previous year. Now, however, the NHL had moved to a best-of-seven in the first round. Quebec emerged victorious, winning 4-2. They advanced to play Montreal in the division final against Montreal, but again the Canadiens won in seven games.

Malarchuk proved ineffective, going 0-2 in three appearances. Gosselin, on the other hand, proved he was a money goalie, going 7-4 in 11 games.

Back on top
The Nordiques pulled a blockbuster trade that included sending Malarchuk to Washington. Gosselin was again handed the number-one job for the 1987-1988 season. In 54 games, he went 20-28-4 with two shut outs. However, Quebec missed the playoffs.

End of an era
Gosselin again saw the most action of the Quebec goaltenders in the 1988-1989 season, going 11-19-3 in 39 games. Once more, the Nordiques missed the playoffs. After the season, they decided to go in a different direction and did not renew Gosselin’s contract. The end of the decade brought the end of Mario Gosselin’s time in Quebec, as he signed a contract with the Los Angeles kings.

The years after
Gosselin played one year in L.A. then bounced around from Hartford to the minors and back again, playing sporadically in the NHL until his retirement after the 1993-1994 season. He had been hampered by injuries throughout his career, and it was a knee injury that finally forced him to retire. His last game was on Nov. 27, 1993 against the Florida Panthers.

Parting thoughts
Back in the mid-1980s, CTV signed a contract with the NHL to start broadcasting games, mostly on Friday nights. It also gave them the broadcast rights to the Canada Cup. What I distinctly remember about those broadcasts, beyond breathing relief they had found a legitimate play-by-play man in Dan Kelley, to replace Ron Reusch, was that we got to see more Nordique games. That’s when I got to appreciate how good a goalie Mario Goselin was.

However, two things shortened his career. One was injuries that seemed to dog him. The other was he was a butterfly-style goaltender. That meant he went down a lot. Eventually NHL shooters learned to beat the “Goose” they just had to shoot high as he went down.

Yet, none of that is the real reason I loved Mario Gosselin. Instead, the reason I so liked him was he chose representing his country over playing professionally. Back then, being on the Olympic team was a full-time commitment, unlike today where it’s a few weeks during a break in the middle of the NHL schedule. He played for Team Canada for two years at a time where he was not allowed to earn any money from playing hockey. I will always have a special place in my heart for those true Olympians.

Carey Price and Martin Brodeur may be better goalies, but I would be surprised if either of them would give up their pro contracts to live hand to mouth for a year or two while playing for the Olympic team.

Mario Goselin did.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Al Bruno: Authoring a Grey Cup upset

Al Bruno, coach of the Hamilton Tiger Cats from 1983 to 1990, when he led his team to a shocking upset of the Edmonton Eskimos in the Grey Cup at B.C. Place in Vancouver.

It may have been one of the biggest upsets in Grey Cup history, but in a lot of ways it was a long time coming. When the Hamilton Tiger Cats hoisted the Grey Cup in 1986, it was the culmination of three years of hard work and futility. The recent death of Al Bruno, who coached that team, brings back all those memories of sorrow that turned to joy.

Stepping in
It was late in the 1983 season when Al Bruno, who had been Hamilton’s director of player personnel, was named head coach after the Tiger Cats fired Bud Riley. He finished the season with two wins, a loss, and a tie, giving the Tiger Cats an overall record of 5-10-1, tied with the Montreal Concordes for third in the East. However, a tiebreaker meant Hamilton was good enough for third place in the East Division and a date with the Ottawa Rough Riders in Lansdowne Park in the nation’s capital. Ottawa led late, but Hamilton’s Keith Baker returned a punt deep into Ottawa territory, setting up the winning score for Hamilton, who won 33-31. It was the last playoff game Ottawa ever hosted.

The win put Hamilton into the East Division final against the Toronto Argonauts, who had gone to the Grey Cup in 1982, losing to Edmonton, and finished first in the division in 1983. The Argos prevailed by a score of 41-36, and went on to beat B.C. for the Grey Cup with a thrilling 18-17 win.

Hamilton’s playoff success was a sign of things to come.

One step closer
The 1984 season would be a chance for Al Bruno to start the season as head coach. In his first full season, he would have mixed success.

The Tiger Cats started with a win over Montreal and a tie with Saskatchewan. That 1-0-1 start quickly descended into anarchy as Hamilton dropped six straight games. It took another date with the Montreal Concordes to snap that losing streak.

However, two more losses followed and the Tiger Cats were 2-8-1 when they hosted my beloved Calgary Stampeders. It should have been a breeze. Apparently the Stampeders thought so too, losing 29-26.

That win was a sign of things to come. The Tiger Cats lost by a touchdown to Edmonton the following week, but that would be their last regular season loss. They reeled off three straight wins against Saskatchewan, Ottawa, and Toronto to finish the season 6-9-1 and one of the hottest teams going into the playoffs.

Hamilton finished with the same record as Montreal, but took second place on a tie breaker, setting up a showdown in Hamilton in the East Semi-final.

The Tiger Cats won that game, setting up a re-match with the defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts in the East Final in Toronto. This time, it was Hamilton who prevailed, by a score of 14-13, to punch their ticket to Edmonton for the Grey Cup.

Awaiting them in Alberta’s capital was the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, champions of the West and the consensus best team in the league. Earlier in the year the two teams had traded quarterbacks, so it was a chance to see who got the better deal: Winnipeg with Tom Clements or Hamilton with Dieter Brock? The Bombers proved it. After Hamilton took an incredible 14-3 lead after one quarter, Winnipeg exploded for 27 points in the second quarter and another 10 in the third while shutting Hamilton out the entire second half. By the time the smoke cleared, Winnipeg had won the 72nd Grey Cup going away, by a score of 47-17.

Although they got bombed at Commonwealth Stadium, Hamilton was still a step closer to the Grey Cup than the year before.

Even closer
Dieter Brock bolted for the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL, leaving Hamilton searching for a starting quarterback.

They found their replacement in the form of a man who had lit it up throwing the ball in college football at Idaho, but as a pro bounced around the United States Football League. As prolific a passer as Ken Hobart had been, it would be his legs that carried the Tiger Cats back to the Grey Cup game.

Once again, it was an up and down season. Hamilton started with three straight losses before winning against, you guessed it, Montreal. However, that was followed up with three more losses before a second win over Montreal. So, halfway through the season, the Tiger Cats had two wins against the Concordes and were winless against the rest of the league.

What soon became apparent was Al Bruno’s team were much better finishers than starters. After losing to Edmonton to start the second half of the season, Hamilton reeled off three straight wins against Toronto, Ottawa, and Calgary, before losing to the Eskimos again to fall to 5-8. They would not lose again to close out the season, with victories over Saskatchewan, Ottawa, and Calgary to finish at 8-8, good enough for a share of first place with Montreal. However, the Tiger Cats were awarded first on a tie breaker.

They were inching closer and closer to that Grey Cup championship.

After Montreal defeated Ottawa by a score of 30-20 in the East semi-final, they travelled to Ivor Wynne Stadium to play the Tiger Cats in the East Final. On the line was a trip to the Grey Cup in Montreal. The Tiger Cats quickly extinguished any hopes the Concordes had of hosting a Grey Cup, blowing them out by a score of 50-26.

Awaiting them in Montreal were the B.C. Lions, champions of the West who dispatched the defending Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers by a score of 42-22.

Hamilton had been led all year by Hobart who used his legs as much as his arms, rushing for 928 yards, a record for quarterbacks at the time. Keep in mind the league still played 16 games, unlike the 18 they play now. He also passed for 2,522 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He was also named the most valuable player of the East Division, and was runner-up for league most valuable player to Mervyn Fernandez of the B.C. Lions.

The Lions jumped out to a 10-0 lead after one quarter and extended that to 13-0 before Hobart went to work. He threw touchdown passes to Ron Ingram and Johnny Shepherd to give Hamilton a 14-13 lead with 1:35 left in the half. However, disaster struck. B.C. quarterback Roy Dewalt hit Ned Armour on a 59-yard touchdown pass then James “Quick” Parker knocked the ball loose on the ensuing Hamilton possession, giving the Lions the ball with a chance at a late field goal. B.C. kicker Lui Passaglia made no mistake and the Lions led 23-14 at the half.

The Lions kicked two more field goals in the third quarter while the defence shut out the Tiger Cats, making it 29-14 after three quarters. Hamilton kicker Bernie Ruoff booted a field goal to start the fourth quarter, before Passaglia kicked a single. Dewalt then hit Jim Sandusky for a 66-yard bomb and a 37-17 lead. Again, Hobart did not give up, eluding the B.C. pass rush and hitting Steve Stapler for a 12-yard touchdown late, narrowing the gap to 37-24. But that was as close as Hamilton would get, and it was B.C. who won the Grey Cup, dashing Hamilton’s hopes again.

Still, the Tiger Cats, by finishing first in the East, had inched a step closer to the Grey Cup.

Over the hump – in spectacular fashion
The two-time defending Eastern Division champions came into the 1986 season with high hopes. They would again utilize a rookie quarterback, this time it was Mike Kerrigan, to turn their season around.

They once more started slowly, losing four of their first five games, before beating Saskatchewan then Montreal back to back for a 4-5 record halfway through the season. The 1986 season was the first year the CFL played an 18-game schedule.

Once more, Hamilton was a second half team. After losing to arch-rival Toronto, they tied Saskatchewan then beat Calgary and Ottawa to reach the .500 mark for the first time all season. That was short-lived, with back-to-back losses to Edmonton, dropping their record to 6-8-1. That would be the last time they lost all season. They closed out with three straight wins, over B.C., Toronto, and Ottawa, for a 9-8-1 record, good enough for second place in the East. Arch-rival Toronto was one-half game better for first place.

The CFL, sensing the imbalance between West and East, changed the playoff format that season. Instead of the top three teams in each division making the playoffs, the top two automatically qualified. If the fourth-place team in one division had a better record than the third-place team in the other division, the fourth-place team made the playoffs. Unlike the system today, where that team crosses over, back in 1986 the team stayed in their own division. That meant Edmonton played Calgary and B.C. played Winnipeg in the West, with the winners playing for the West Division title. In the East, Toronto played Hamilton in a two-game, total-point East Final with the winner going to the Grey Cup.

The first game was in Hamilton on Nov. 16, and the Argonauts, led by quarterback J.C. Watts, beat Hamilton by a score of 31-17. Game 2 was one week later, on Nov. 23, in Toronto, and Hamilton had to win by at least 15 points. Kerrigan had a great game and the Tiger Cats won by a score of 42-25 to win the series by a total score of 59-56.

Hamilton was off to their third straight Grey Cup, this time at B.C. Place in Vancouver. Once again, Hamilton was a heavy under dog, facing the Edmonton Eskimos who had defeated Calgary then B.C. The Eskimos came into the game double-digit favourites, having swept the season series with Hamilton, and everyone expected them to hand the Tiger Cats their third straight heartbreak in the national final.

Boy was everybody wrong.

The game was never really close. Hamilton always had a good defence, but on Nov. 30, 1986, they turned in one of the best performances in recent memory. They were led by pass rusher Grover Covington, linebacker Ben Zambiasi, and a ball-hawking secondary featuring Mark Streeter and Howard Fields. They would sack Edmonton quarterbacks Matt Dunigan and Damon Allen a total of 10 times, and tie a Grey Cup record by forcing eight turnovers.

Hamilton opened strong as Covington knocked the ball loose from Dunigan and the Tiger Cats recovered. Kerrigan took advantage immediately, hitting Steve Stapler for a 35-yard touchdown pass.

The next big play I remember vividly. Edmonton was backed up deep and forced to punt. Streeter got in and blocked Tom Dixon’s punt and Jim Rockford – who had played with Oklahoma and J.C. Watts back in the 1981 Orange Bowl – recovered the ball in the end zone for another touchdown. Kicker Paul Osbaldiston later kicked his first of five first-half field goals to make the score 17-0 after one quarter. I never liked the Eskimos and was lapping this game up.

The hits kept on coming, as Osbaldiston added four more field goals in the second quarter, benefitted by great field position provided by the defence, including an interception by Fields. The defence allowed a total of minus-one yards offence in the first half as Hamilton took a 29-0 lead into the dressing room at halftime.

The game looked over.

It was. Kerrigan connected on another touchdown pass, this one for 44 yards to Ron Ingram. That upped the score to 36-0. Finally, Edmonton showed signs of life as they blocked a punt setting up a touchdown by Allen to make the score 36-7 after three quarters. Part way through the fourth quarter, Allen hit Brian Kelly for a touchdown then the quarterback ran the ball in for a two-point conversion, making the score 36-15. That was it for Edmonton. Osbaldiston tacked on his sixth field goal of the game in the last minute of the game, tying a Grey Cup record.

When the final gun sounded, Hamliton had won 39-15, earning their first Grey Cup since 1972. They also avenged a 48-10 loss at the hands of the Eskimos in the 1980 Grey Cup, the only other time the two teams ever met in the Grey Cup.

Mike Kerrigan was named the games most valuable player on offence, Grover Covington was the most valuable player on defence, and Paul Osbaldiston was named the most valuable Canadian. Covington finished the game with three sacks while Zambiasi recovered two fumbles, and recorded a sack and six tackles.

Coach Al Bruno finally had his Grey Cup championship.

Parting thoughts
The Tiger Cats would finish third in the East in 1987 and 1988, losing in the East semi-final both years. They would return to the Grey Cup in 1989, where they lost to Saskatchewan in what many observers describe as the greatest Grey Cup game in history. A year later, 12 games into the season, the Tiger Cats were sitting at the bottom of the division with a 4-8 record, and Al Bruno was fired, never to return to the sidelines in the CFL.

He finished with a career record of 56 wins, 55 losses, and three ties from 1983 to 1990. His record is deceptive, because if there was one thing Al Bruno could do, it was win when it counted. Year after year his teams started slowly, but finished strong. He did benefit from playing in a weak division, which in part accounts for his four appearances in the Grey Cup, but he did win one Grey Cup as a 12-point under dog, and came within a last-second field goal of winning a second.

With two straight losses in the Grey Cup championship, the Hamilton Tiger Cats were poised to be the 1980s CFL equivalent of the Buffalo Bills. It would be an interesting irony given how close the two cities are geographically.

However, Al Bruno prevented that from ever happening.

Instead, he engineered one of the most shocking and decisive upsets in Grey Cup history.

The Grateful Dead: A Touch of Grey in the '80s

Grateful Dead lead singer Jerry Garcia in 1987.
Photo from
Recently the core four of the Grateful Dead announced the concerts they played in Santa Clara on June 27 and 28 and Chicago on July 3, 4 and 5 would be their last – ever. They were called “Fare Thee Well: celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead”.

I never had a long association with the band but, for a few months in 1987, they enjoyed their greatest commercial success.

It is that time I recall fondly.

It’s history
It was 28 years ago this month the Grateful Dead released the album, “In the Dark”. The single “Touch of Grey” hit the airwaves about the same time.

At first, I was not sure I heard correctly. My only exposure to the Grateful Dead to that point was a feature on the CBC newsmagazine “The Journal”. It chronicled the band who had started in California in the 1960s, fuelled by the counter culture movement. Wikipedia says “the band was known for its unique and eclectic style, which fused elements of country, folk, bluegrass, blues, reggae, rock, improvisational jazz, psychedelia, (and) space rock.”

What set the Grateful Dead apart, was their fans. Called “Deadheads” they perpetually supported the band, turning out in droves for their live concerts, often following them from concert to concert. They may have had little to no commercial success via radio hits or studio record sales, but they still were extremely successful, selling in excess of 35 million albums worldwide.

Heading the band was their illustrious leader Jerry Garcia who, for the uninformed like myself, was the face of the Grateful Dead. He was a presence on stage too, a big man with a big white beard. It is his voice that powers “Touch of Grey”.

Touch of Grey
The single was released during the summer of 1987, right after I finished high school and was heading to university in Edmonton. When I moved up to Edmonton to the Kelsey Hall student residence, “Touch of Grey” was strong on the charts. Each floor in res had a floor coordinator, a senior student to look after things. Our coordinator had a copy of “In the Dark”, and that was the first time I heard the album beginning to end. It was the only time actually.

The music video accompanying the single was also quite memorable. Initially, it appears to be a live concert. We soon discover, it is a band of skeletons (skillfully crafted marionettes) who are performing “live”. Eventually they become the actual band playing on stage.

“Touch of Grey” was a catchy tune that peaked at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

The Grateful Dead had never experienced that kind of chart success before, and would never repeat it. Interesting for a band, continually voted one of the 100 best of all time.

Parting thoughts
The band would go on to more success in the late 1980s and early 1990s. What I found interesting was one of my favourite artists, Bruce Hornsby, joined the Grateful Dead to tour with them from 1990 to 1992. He also joined them for their “Fare Thee Well: celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead” concerts in Santa Clara and Chicago. Jerry Garcia would die in 1995, signaling the official end of the band.

So much of my music was derived from radio. It was my exposure to the Grateful Dead, ironically through their biggest chart success, that made me realize how much more there is to music. Beyond listening to the radio, finding out what I liked, and buying the tape or record, there was so much more.

It would be another year before I went to my first concert, where I discovered how different a live show was. There was improvising, experimenting, trying out new material, and just jamming. The sound was more raw and real, free of the processing studio recording provides, and filled with creativity.

It is something I’m sure kept Deadheads coming back.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Maria from Sesame Street retires

The cast of Sesame Street in 1981, including Maria
in front at far left, who recently announced her retirement after 44 years on the show.

Generations of children have watched Sesame Street, where they met everyone from puppets Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to real life humans such as Mr. Hooper, Gordon, Luis, and Maria.

Recently, Sonia Manzano who portrayed Maria, announced she was leaving Sesame Street after 44 years on the show. When I heard that, it got me thinking about my own experiences with the famed children’s show. It’s fitting to look back, given she joined the show not too long after I was born.

Home sick
I have always been puzzled at how so many children watched Sesame Street. When I was growing up, it was on CBC on peasant vision, at 11 a.m. every weekday morning. The only children who could watch it regularly were not yet old enough to go to school, or absent from school sick or playing hooky, and of course during summer holidays when children didn’t have school.

The first time I ever remember seeing Sesame Street was when I was home sick from school. It followed two Canadian shows – The Friendly Giant and Mr. Dressup.

Wikipedia just revealed it was intended for pre-school children. It all makes sense now.

Interesting segments
The show was broken into various segments, switching between live and animated. There were all kinds of ways the show tried to teach children various concepts, whether it was the alphabet or how to count.

There are a few segments I remember well. There was the cartoon that followed a pinball through a machine, bouncing off bumpers and other things. “One two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve”.

One summer, I saw that episode and maybe an hour later my cousin phoned. She asked me if I wanted to get together to do some drawing. We did get together every so often to do some art. The funny thing was, seeing that pinball segment had put me in the mood to draw. When my cousin came over, she said seeing that same segment put her in the mood to draw.

There was the child sent to the store to get a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter. Everyone seems to remember that.

There was also Canadian content. Obviously, what I remember most were the French segments. There was also one on the making of pyrogies.

Cast of characters
Sesame Street was populated with a wealth of puppet characters who interacted with real-live actors.

There was Oscar the Grouch, who lived in a garbage can that seemed to be the tip of the iceberg, and the Count who, well, was a vampire who counted.

There was Big Bird who was, well, a big bird. For a long time I thought Big Bird was a female when in fact he is male. He had a friend called Mr. Snuffleupagus, who only appeared to him when no one else was around. No one believed he existed, no matter how hard Big Bird tried to convince people. Eventually, his imaginary friend was revealed.

My favourite was Kermit the Frog, who would go on to greater fame on "The Muppet Show".

The puppets always caught my attention, much more than the adults. The adults were part of the street scene, which was live. I do not really have any memories of the “grownups” yet, in a lot of ways, they were the ones delivering the lessons.

The one adult I do remember well was Bob McGrath, who played the character "Bob" on the show. I recall seeing him every year when CFCN Calgary, Channel 13, broadcast their Lions telethon, starting on a Saturday night, continuing all the way straight through to Sunday afternoon. I just thought it was so cool he was right here in my backyard, when Sesame Street seemed so far away. McGrath is still performing, at the age of 83, on Sesame Street.

Parting thoughts
Sesame Street did not have the profound effect on me it may have had on some children. Maybe it was because I was barely five when I started school, or just that I found my stimulation in other ways, mostly at home.

Still, it obviously had an effect because I do remember those various segments. More importantly, Sesame Street was one of those institutions that brought educational content to television, transforming it from that vast wasteland into a medium for learning.

And all along the way, it least in my lifetime, was Maria. Enjoy your retirement, you have earned it. I’m sure generations of children thank you too.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Geoffrey Lewis: Much more than Juliette’s dad

Geoffrey Lewis, at left, with Clint Eastwood in "Every Which
Way But Loose", one of the many movies they appeared in together.
He is another one of those actors who you would know to see, even if you didn’t know his name. Probably best known for playing alongside Clint Eastwood in a number of movies, Geoffrey Lewis also had a number of roles in various TV shows, including playing the character that drags The Man from U.N.C.L.E. out of retirement in 1983.

Eventually he had a daughter who may have eclipsed him in name recognition, but not in contribution to the pop culture of a decade.

In the movies
Geoffrey Lewis had a pretty prolific career in the movies in the 1980s. He opened the decade appearing in “Bronco Billy” with Clint Eastwood, after appearing alongside him in “Every Which Way but Loose” and “Any Which Way You Can”. He actually began his association with Eastwood back in 1973 with "High Plains Drifter". Lewis would close out the decade, playing opposite Eastwood in 1989’s “Pink Cadillac”.

In between there, he appeared in everything from the ill-fated “Heaven’s Gate (1980)” to “I, The Jury (1982)” based on the Mickey Spillane character Mike Hammer, to the ridiculous movies “Lust in the Dust (1985)” and “Stitches (1985)”, to closing out the decade in 1989 with “Fletch Lives” and “Tango and Cash.”

Geoffrey Lewis with his co-star Polly Holliday in the 1980s comedy "Flo".
It was just one of many guest and recurring roles he had in TV in the decade.
A familiar face
If you watched as much TV in the ‘80s as I did, you definitely would recognize Geoffrey Lewis. He had a guest starring role in pretty much everything you can imagine, from comedy to drama to night-time soap opera.

A sample of the shows he appeared in was “Lou Grant”; “B.J. and the Bear”; “Little House on the Prairie”; “After M*A*S*H”; “Blue Thunder”; “The Yellow Rose”; “Falcon Crest”; “Highway to Heaven”; “Spenser: For Hire”; “The Fall Guy”; “Scarecrow and Mrs. King”; “The A-Team”; “Magnum P.I.”; “MacGyver”; “Designing Women”; “The Golden Girls”; “Matlock”; and much more.

He often played the bad guy, and almost just as often was most comfortable in westerns. That’s where he played alongside Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott in “The Shadow Riders”.

The role that sticks out for me though, is in “The Return of the Man from U*N*C*L*E*: The Fifteen Years Later Affair”. He plays Janus, a turncoat U*N*C*L*E* agent who has resurrected their arch-nemesis T*H*R*U*S*H*, and is threatening to detonate a nuclear device. Only one man can deliver the ransom – Napoleon Solo, the original Man from U*N*C*L*E*. Geoffrey Lewis was awesome in the role.

Series TV
Lewis also had regular spots in two series.
He open the decade in 1980, playing Earl Tucker in “Flo”, a spin-off of the series “Alice” starring Polly Holliday. I remember it well, Monday nights I believe, on Channel 7 on peasant vision. Flo buys a rundown roadhouse and names it “Flo’s Yellow Rose”. Earl Tucker was the bartender, who really did not like working for a woman. “Flo” was cancelled after two seasons.

Two years later, Geoffrey Lewis was back, this time in the western spoof “Gun Shy”, a series based on the Disney movie “The Apple Dumpling Gang”. A gambler wins two children in a game of poker and moves to California. He played Amos Tucker, a wannabe outlaw along with his partner in crime Theodore Ogilvie (played by Tim Thomerson). There are two clips to the left advertising "Gun Shy". The show only lasted six episodes before cancellation.

Geoffrey Lewis with his daughter actor Juliette Lewis.
Parting thoughts
It pains me to see some of the eulogies written about Geoffrey Lewis lead with the fact he is Juliette Lewis’ father.

Geoffrey Lewis was much more than that.

He was a prolific actor who began his career in the 1970s and kept on working well into the 21st Century, making his last appearance in “Retreat!” in 2012. He also will appear posthumously in 2016 in “High and Outside”.

The fabric of television and movie history is woven not just by the stars. It is the supporting cast members who can provide a rich texture and environment for the stars to thrive.

The 1980s is filled with character actors who appeared in a wide range of shows, offering their talents as bad guys, fall guys, wise guys, and just guys.

Geoffrey Lewis may have been one of the best to play any guy you wanted.