Saturday, 30 November 2013

The 1962 Fog Bowl

Hamilton kicker Don Sutherin who missed 2 converts and a field goal
in the 1962 'Fog Bowl' Grey Cup (courtesy Post Foods)

Saturday, 1 December 1962, Regina, Saskatchewan, 51 years ago in a few days…

I rolled out of bed about 6 AM and headed for the living room. Why? It was the Canadian Football League’s great event, Grey Cup day. I was 10 years old, coming on 11 in January.
Back in the early 1960s, they played the CFL championship game on a Saturday--no kidding--and usually a week later in the year than they do today. What I really enjoyed were all the sports movies they would play on local CKCK-TV hours before the start of the game. Yes, starting about 6 AM. I can’t remember, for sure, the actually movies I saw that particular morning, but I do recall some of them during that Grey Cup Saturday time period when I was a kid. There were football ones about the legendary old Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne… and the great Los Angeles Rams halfback-receiver  Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. They would show baseball ones too, like the one based on the life of pitching great Grover Cleveland Alexander played by Ronald Reagan. And my favorite, It Happens Every Spring, where actor Ray Milland played a college scientist who accidentally discovered a liquid solution that eluded wood. He simply smeared it on a baseball and it went around every bat. Perfect for pitchers, right? A huge baseball fan, he then took a leave of absence and went to throw for the St. Louis Cardinals. Ah, fun times watching those movies on Grey Cup morning.

The site for the 1962 Grey Cup would be CNE Stadium in Toronto. Over 32,000 fans turned out to watch the injury-riddled 11-5 Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the heavily-favored 11-4 Hamilton Tiger Cats square off once again. These 2 teams had faced each other in the 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1961 Grey Cups, with the Bombers winning all but one.  The head referee was Regina’s own Paul Dojack. The starting quarterbacks were Kenny Ploen for Winnipeg and Joe Zuger for Hamilton. Due to injuries, Ploen, however, would also be playing at the defensive halfback spot, thus sharing the QB role with back-up Hal Ledyard. That day Toronto bookmakers had the Cats favored by 8 points.

The head coaches, the same ones since 1957, were Hamilton’s in-your-face  Jim Trimble and Winnipeg’s laid-back Bud Grant, who incidentally was a receiver for the NFL Philadelphia Eagles when Trimble coached there in the early 1950s. I said the in-your-face Trimble because he had let it be known that Winnipeg’s win over Calgary in the 1962 Western final the week before was nothing but a fluke and that the Bombers didn’t belong in the championship game with his mighty Tiger Cats. “We’re going to “whomp the hell out of them,” Trimble promised the press and fans. Upon reading his quote in print, the Bombers were livid. You’d think Trimble would have learned his lesson by then. During the 1957 Grey Cup, which the Cats won 32-7, the Bombers felt that Trimble’s squad was running up the score. Prior to the 1958 game, Trimble told the press that the Cats were going to “waffle” the Bombers...whatever the heck that meant.  Instead, Grant’s squad got even and won 35-28 in a very hard-hitting contest. Winnipeg won again in 1959 by 21-7, and again in 1961, the first OT Grey Cup by a 21-14 score. Was Trimble just blowing smoke again? Were the Bombers up for another win in 1962?

On  television, CBC and CTV networks were taking the action to our Canadian homes. The Americans, for the first time, were picking up a CFL game, sending Jim McKay of ABC’s Wide World of Sport fame north of the 49th parallel to beam the signal south. What better game to pick up then a Grey Cup match? The CFL executives were ecstatic about this American exposure to the Canadian game.

As far as the weather, fog had been a concern all week in southern Ontario. At noon the day before, visibility in Toronto had been down to less than a city block. The morning of 1 December started out well with sunny skies and temps in the low 50s. Then dense fog began to form over Lake Ontario around noon. But by the 1 o’clock game-time start there was a distinct haze across the field, only a short distance away from the lake. It was only a glimpse of what was to follow on that historical day. By the end of the first quarter, a 7 mile per hour breeze blew this cold, moist fog into shore and it mixed in with the Toronto pollution. And that spelled trouble. According to local reports, visibility farther away from the lake was down to a half mile or better. But not at the CNE along the water.  In the stands, the fans and the media had trouble seeing across the field. The TV networks were forced to switch to their sideline cameras on occasion to pick up the plays. But the action was often too hard to follow. For those who could see  the play on the field, Tiger Cat halfback Garney Henley ran for a 74-yard touchdown to open the scoring. Hamilton kicker Don Sutherin missed the convert to make the score 6-0 at the end of the quarter.

Despite the fog, all hell broke loose in the second quarter when a combined 5 TDs were scored, a record for a Grey Cup game quarter. Running back Leo Lewis (nicknamed the “Lincoln Locomotive”) ran in from the 6 yard-line after a 102-yard Bomber drive. A short time later, Lewis took a handoff from back-up quarterback Hal Ledyard, then threw a flea-flicker pass to Charlie Shepherd in the end zone. Hamilton scored 2 in a row when Bobby Kuntz crashed in from the one and Henley scored  on an 18-yard romp after a Winnipeg fumble two plays before. Sutherin kicked the first convert, but missed the second one. That made two misses for him already. Bombers turn, Ledyard threw a pass to Farrell Funston, who lateraled to Leo Lewis who ran 36 yards to the house.  Bombers left-footed kicker Gerry James booted his 3 convert attempts and at the half the Bombers were up 21-19.

With visibility worsening almost by the minute, CFL commissioner G Sidney Halter informed the combatants and officials to cut the halftime break from the usual 25 minutes down to 15 minutes. In the third quarter, Ti-Cat QB Joe Zuger threw his only TD pass to Dave Viti, a 36-yarder. With the Sutherin convert, the score stood at 26-21 Hamilton. Then Leo Lewis did it again. He returned a kickoff 60 yards to the Hamilton 33. On the same drive, Charlie Shepherd hit paydirt for his second TD, a 4-yard plunge. James’ convert put the score at 28-26 Bombers. One more point was scored  in the third quarter when Don Sutherin scored a single off a missed field goal from the 32. Several Hamilton players, including Sutherin, claimed the kick sailed through the uprights and that the officials blew the call.

The game was a real challenge to the broadcasters. CBC’s Johnny Esaw announced at one point to the home viewers, “I really don’t know what’s going on down there.” I was at home in our Regina living room wondering the same thing, with some of my family members looking on. From his vantage point, ABC’s Jim McKay let his American audience know that he was impressed with the play at field level, by stating, “This is the greatest football spectacle of them all. I’ve not seen hitting as hard as this in any game. What a pity the fog has to spoil it.”

By the end of third quarter, trouble was brewing in the stands from the fans who shelled out good money but couldn’t see past their noses. Someone finally yelled out, “Only one thing left to do. Let’s get down to some serious drinking.” Then a fight broke out between opposing fans that threatened to turn into a brawl if not for the police arriving to cool things down, to which one  Bomber fan looking on, uttered, “How do yuh like that. It cost me 500 bucks to come here this week, and they break up the only action I can see.” There were even stories about one endowed woman who performed a striptease in the stands. Too bad there were no jumbo-trons back then.

All game long, the Tiger Cat coaching staff and players were complaining about Paul Dojack’s calls, especially  about  Sutherin’s field-goal attempt. And they complained even more when Dojack, with 9:29 remaining in the fourth quarter, decided to call the game temporarily, hoping for the fog to lift. “When I couldn’t see the sidelines from the hash marks,” Dojack said later, “I knew it was time to stop it.” Now it was up to CFL Commissioner Halter, who called the weather office during the down time. Then came the first of the conflicting reports and quotes. Winnipeg wanted the game to continue because they were up by one point. Hamilton, supposedly, wanted to start all over with a new game the next weekend. However, Cats QB Joe Zuger  admitted later, “All the players wanted to finish it Saturday.” So, what’s the right Hamilton story? Meanwhile, Halter waited 30 minutes, then decided to call the game until 1:30 the next day, the Sunday. Bombers coach Bud Grant couldn’t believe Halter’s decision. He wanted to keep playing. “I could see every pass, every punt, and every flanker. I could see that last pass to Latourelle {Bomber receiver} even though it was on the other side of the field.”   Halter also announced that no new tickets would be sold. Anyone who still had their Saturday ticket stubs would have the same seat for Sunday.

I’ve also heard 2 versions on how bad it was for the players on the field. There’s coach Bud Grant’s version, then there’s Garney Henley who said, “You could see the bodies coming at you, but only from the knees  down.” Joe Zuger, after his TD toss to Dave Viti, said, “I threw it up into the air and I don’t know how he saw it coming down.” Some accounts had the players not seeing passes, punts and kick-offs, while others had the players getting by quite nicely and seeing fine. Some Tiger Cats stated they saw Sutherin’s kick go through the uprights, while others said it disappeared into the fog. Bombers Frank Rigney said, “There was a ceiling of probably 8 or 10 feet. It was like a big cloud hanging over us…when we punted, we’d just go like hell and look for the guy looking for the ball.”

Winnipeg halfback Leo Lewis, the 1962 'Fog Bowl' Grey Cup MVP
(courtesy Post Foods)
For Sunday, both teams were now in an unusual bind never before heard of. They couldn’t go out to celebrate in the evening. A one-point lead with over 9 minutes still left on the clock would not warrant it. It was still anybody’s game. As far as a curfew, Bud Grant said to his team captains, Frank Rigney and Herb Gray, “You have 10 minutes to play and a lifetime to think about it.” Grant left it up to the players. The captains had a team meeting to set their own curfews. Playing again the next day did not give the players time for their bruised bodies to heal, either. Several players on both sides were forced to take pain killers before suiting up on Sunday for the 15,000 fans who showed up on a glorious, sunny day, free of fog. According to Rigney, it was not a pleasant thing hearing the players’ screams as the needles were sinking in. The teams also had to squeeze gingerly into their same sweaty uniforms because there was no time for them to be cleaned. Yuck!

And wouldn’t you know it. By the time the fans and viewers could finally see the game, nothing happened. Winnipeg’s total offense for Sunday afternoon was a whole 4 yards, while Hamilton moved the ball much better, netting 105 yards, with back-up QB Frank Cosentino at the helm. The game ended with Hamilton on the Winnipeg 52. There, Joe Zuger, one of the best punters ever in CFL history, tried for a long single to tie it up. The ball got as far as the 3 yard-line, where Kenny Ploen fell on it to preserve another Bomber win over the Tiger Cats, their fourth in 5 years. Leo Lewis took MVP honors--deservedly so--with his spirited play in the second quarter.

Over the years, I’ve read about how Tiger Cat place-kicker Don Sutherin was the goat, missing 2 so-called routine converts and a chip-shot field goal. Although converts have been sure things for a few decades now, they were far from routine in the 1950s, the 1960s, and even into the 1970s. For example, Sutherin’s 1962 regular season Eastern Conference counterparts’ kicking stats were as follows: Ottawa’s Moe Racine missed 7 of 43 convert attempts, Toronto’s Billy Mitchell missed 4 of 32, and Montreal’s Bobby Jack Oliver, although he had the best average, still missed 2 of 34. Sutherin missed 7 of  44 on the year, and in the field goal department kicked 12 and missed 15, normal accuracy for the era. So, was Sutherin really the goat? Then again, Bombers Gerry James successfully kicked all his 4 convert attempts. Ironically, the Tiger Cats kept Sutherin for several more years, while the Bombers released James in the off-season for refusing to take a pay cut.

Concerning the foggy weather for the 1962 Grey Cup game, it really was a bit of a freak. I know from living in Southern Ontario since 1976 that it’s quite rare to see fog rolling in so late in the day. We usually see fog in the morning, then it burns off before noon and is gone.

I guess it was just meant to be. The Fog Bowl sure put us on the map, though. CFL great Jackie Parker, then with the Edmonton Eskimos (traded to Toronto in the off-season), drove all the way up from his home in Tennessee to watch the Grey Cup live in Toronto. “It was the best game I never saw,” he concluded.

I didn’t see much on TV, either. But at least I can say I experienced the weirdest football game ever played. I have to wonder…what would today’s CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon do if a similar fog situation arose at a Grey Cup game?

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Regina Tornado

Damage to houses after Regina Tornado, 1912 (Canadian Public Domain)

Seeing that the Saskatchewan Roughriders--my favorite sports team--are in the Grey Cup this weekend and that the game will be in Regina, what better story than a Regina one...right?

Sunday, 30 June 1912 was a hot, muggy day on the prairies of southern Saskatchewan. In the capital city of Regina, people were outside enjoying themselves, despite the heat. But, what the heck…they were almost used to it by now because this stifling weather had persisted for weeks. Besides, nothing would deter the people of Regina from celebrating the upcoming Dominion Day (now Canada Day) on Monday.

The streets and houses were already decorated with lights, flags, bunting and other paraphernalia. The people were jovial, ready to celebrate the country’s 45th birthday. That afternoon, Regina’s mayor, Peter McAra Jr was showing some Grand Pacific Railway VIPs around the modern city of 30,000-plus Reginans. He was proud of his city with such visually-pleasing scenery as tree-lined boulevards, paved streets, planked sidewalks, the lovely residential neighborhoods the grandiose, and the newly-constructed Legislative Building at a cost of $3 million. Regina had sewer and water lines installed and an expanding warehouse district in the northeast. It also had 5 public schools, one Catholic school, a college, 2 hospitals and 3 daily newspapers, the Leader, the Province and the Standard.

My grandfather, Ted Oancia, 13 at the time, was living in the city. To beat the oppressive heat, he and a few young, male friends went skinny-dipping at a secluded spot on the eastern side of Wascana Lake, near Broad Street, within sight of the Legislative Building. Immigrants from Romania just 2 years before, my grandfather’s family had a strong link to the Legislative Building. Ted’s father, Dobre, had worked on the site for a time in 1911-1912 mixing roof tar at $2.50 a day. Prior to that, he helped construct the first wooden sidewalks in the downtown and residential areas  at $1.50 a day, a job he was fortunate to nab shortly after arriving from the old country. For a period of 2 months in early 1912, my grandfather’s mother, Maria, spent 3 hours each evening cleaning the newly-completed Legislative Building rooms for a pretty-decent 50 cents a night.

Even young Ted had a job there for 2 weeks in 1911, paid 75 cents a day to carry countless pails of water from a nearby well to the thirsty workers.  Grueling work, I’m sure for all three. After the water-boy job, Ted earned  $12.00 a week setting pins in a downtown bowling alley, then selling
Winnipeg Free Press newspapers on city street corners for 10 cents a copy. His earnings there were anywhere from $1.50 to $2.50 a day. By June 1912, Dobre and Maria had already left town. They had paid $10 to file for a quarter-section homestead about 115 miles southwest of Regina, in the Stonehenge area. Ted’s parents and his 4 siblings had arrived there in the spring of 1912, leaving Ted (the oldest of the kids) behind in Regina to work at the tender age of 13. He lived in a room above a downtown city restaurant and ate his meals at a nearby confectionery for $10 a month.

By 4 PM that June 30 afternoon, the heat began to vanish and the barometer took a nosedive. Heavy, menacing thunderclouds appeared in the southwest. At 4:45, two gray-green funnel clouds appeared 10 miles to the south and began to head north towards the city and its unsuspecting residents. The funnels quickly turned brown from the debris and ground it was picking up. Then either the 2 funnels formed into one or one of the funnels simply disappeared. No one knows for sure. Those in the city who could see what was happening headed for home. On the very edge of Regina stood the new Legislative Building on the southern shore of Wascana Lake. Observers stood in awe as the funnel cloud--with the awful sound of a roaring train and accompanied by rain, lightning, and hail--headed straight for the stately structure…

Before the twister reached the city, it had taken aim at several farms, throwing animals and machinery around like toys. The first fatality was Quebecer Andrew Roy, a visitor to one of the farms. By now it’s estimated that the tornado’s path was nearly 500 feet wide and had picked up internal speeds of over 200 miles per hour…

Luckily, the twister went right around the Legislative Building slightly to the east (although it blew out any closed south-side windows and caused some damage inside), then tore across the man-made Wascana Lake in the form of a waterspout, picking up a few million tons of water in the process.  A few hundred feet to the east, my grandfather and his friends watched in shock, not believing what they were witnessing, as their clothes were being blown away, never to be seen again. Meanwhile, across the lake to the west, Bruce Langton and Philip Steele were paddling together in a canoe, desperately trying to reach shore. They were spared when Steele was knocked into the water and Langton was carried by the storm to Wascana Park on the north side of the lake. Langton came out the worst, a broken arm, while Steele was in shock once he reached the shore on his own. Next, came the well-to-do residential district on the other side of the park, along Smith and Lorne streets, east of Albert Street (the north-south main artery where I used to cruise with my ’63 Chevy in my early adult years). This was where the swizzle-stick crowd resided in their large homes with landscaped yards worth anywhere from $7,000-18,000. Their streets were paved and almost all the homes had electrical and sewer hookups. Some had garages housing the new phenomenon, the automobile. Several houses took direct hits, while others nearby exploded from the pressures inside. Other houses alongside these ones were miraculously untouched.
The entire area was drenched in Wascana Lake water, along with rain from the storm.

1912 Regina Tornado damage to the Metropolitan Methodist Church, YWCA, and Public Library (Canadian Public Domain)

Still moving north but on a more narrow path now, the twister badly damaged Knox Presbyterian Church on 12th Avenue and Lorne Street, the Metropolitan Methodist Church nearby, and down from there the new Central Library that had just opened 6 weeks before, a building that the famed Andrew Carnegie had donated money to.  The 2 square blocks of Victoria Park, across the street, took a direct hit and was a wasteland of ripped-up trees. In the same area, the YMCA and YWCA  were also in ruins, both resulting in at least $50,000 damage each. Then the twister took a turn to the northeast to the warehouse district on the edge of town where the deadly path widened again. The CPR Roundhouse was stripped bare, rail tracks were bent, boxcars were thrown into the air like cardboard containers, warehouses were crushed, a 75,000-bushel grain elevator was blown over, and more houses destroyed, these ones belonging to the lower, working-class families made of wood, not the stronger brick-built ones of the south. The 2-story telephone exchange on the east side of 1700 block Lorne Street was completely demolished, while 11 people were inside. None were hurt.  The tornado continued on…into the open country for about 7 miles where it petered out…finally…

Back at his home on Victoria Avenue near Hamilton Street, Mayor McAra stood with his Grand Trunk VIPs on the front lawn, stunned by destruction around them, after having to dive for cover in the house only minutes before. Meanwhile, my grandfather and his friends waited by their swimming spot until sundown, four hours later, before they entered the city, naked and in shock. A few anxious parents were quite relieved to see the boys alive and unhurt despite their nakedness. Early the next morning, Ted and his friends went out to view the destruction. A few blocks away was a jewelry store that had collapsed and the kids started helping themselves to a few of the articles in the rubble. But a policeman came along, took the articles and chased the boys away. They then went down to the next block and found another badly-damaged store, but the same policeman was hot on their tails and threatened to arrest them. This time, they took off back to their own houses.

Rated a F4 on the Fujita scale, the Regina Tornado left behind twenty-eight official deaths (still the worst Canadian storm in death count), hundreds injured, 2,500 people homeless, 500 buildings and 30 cars destroyed or damaged, and at least  $1 million in property damage, the equivalent of almost $500 million in today’s money. All this from a destructive path 3 blocks wide and 12 blocks long. One of the destroyed homes belonged to Walter Scott, the premier of the province. In the aftermath, the city charged the homeless for the use of cots sets up in schools and parks. They also charged the homeowners for removing rubble from in and around their homes. Nice guys. Kick them while they’re down, why don’t yuh. The city could have been a little more understanding, like Andrew Carnegie, who paid the $9,500 reconstruction bill to replace the public library roof and all the blown-out windows, even though he had already contributed to the building in the first place.

What exactly is an F4 tornado? Officially, it means a…devastating tornado…207-260 miles per hour…well-constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundations blown off some distance; cars thrown and large missiles generated.

Every historical event has its oddities. And the 1912 Regina Tornado was no exception...

Opposite a couple open windows in the Legislative Building, final exams for all the Saskatchewan grade schools were stacked in piles along several tables inside one room. When the tornado raced around the south side of the building, it sucked the papers out the windows. As a result, the teachers were forced to pass or fail their students based on what they remembered about each boy or girl in their class…

In town the day of the storm was twenty-four-year-old English actor William Pratt, whom we know better as Boris Karloff, the man who later played in a lot of creepy horror films that scared the living daylights out of me as a kid. The Jeanne Russell Players, a traveling theatre group he was with, had gone broke the day before and left him stranded in Regina without a cent to his name. After the tornado, he received 20 cents an hour to help clear debris. After that, he stayed and worked in Regina loading baggage for the Dominion Express Company until October, when he left the city to join another theatre group, the Harry St Clair Players in Prince Albert. Up to his death in 1969, Karloff was plagued with back problems associated with the tough, manual labor jobs he had to take on to make ends meet after the Regina Tornado hit…

Newly-weds Frank and Bertha Blenkhorn were British immigrants, having arrived in Regina in early spring, 1912. Frank had just started his own real estate business.  They were walking together through Victoria Park when the storm roared through. They tried to run to one of the buildings surrounding the park. They didn’t make it, and both perished. Three months earlier, they had booked passage on the RMS Titanic, but arrived at the Southampton, England dock too late for her maiden voyage. The ship was supposed to be their honeymoon…

In the 3 July 1912 edition of the Morning Leader, just 3 days after the tornado, the following was printed…”Nothing—mark the word nothing—can check Regina’s progress. The Regina of the future is to be far greater than the Regina of the past. The new Regina will rise, Phoenix like from its ruins and for magnificent new churches and public buildings, for handsome residences, for substantial business houses, for beautiful streets and noble parks and boulevards will far out rival the Regina that was so badly stricken last Sunday.”

Within days, fellow Canadians came to Regina’s aid by sending medical supplies, building materials, clothes, and food, along with tradesmen such as carpenters, electricians, and painters. Over $200,000 in financial relief came to the city to help home and business owners who had suffered through the ordeal. In all, 64 businesses were affected. Within a week, most business were operating once again and a few months later, life in Regina was almost back to normal.  It took 2 years to completely repair the damage following the storm. To beautify the city once again, 40,000 new trees were planted.  The municipal government of Regina borrowed $500,000 from the province to reconstruct their city and paid the loan back by 1922. Then it took until 1958 for the province to repay the lender, the Bank of Commerce, with $1 million in interest.

My grandfather remained in Regina until the spring of 1913, when he headed forty miles west to Moose Jaw. He worked as a shoe shine boy until October 1913, then made his way by train, hitching a ride then walking to the Oancia homestead 15 miles southwest of Assiniboia to help out on the farm. There, he received a warm welcome from his parents and siblings. Ted married my grandmother, Stefania Kostuik, in 1922. They remained in the same area, set up farming and raised 10 kids, then retired to Assiniboia in 1967.They’re both gone now, but always remembered.

The Regina Tornado of 1912 is still discussed in our family today, over a hundred years later.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Sports Simulation Board Games

I have to admit that I’m a nut for sports tabletop games. An absolute, card-carrying nut. Football, baseball, hockey are the ones I go for. You can obtain the games complete with cards, boards, dice, and booklets.  Or you can get the computer versions. Some of you may have seen the sports magazine ads over the years for a couple of  the biggies, APBA and Strato-O-Matic. APBA is the oldest of all these board games, having been around since 1951. Their original sets from the 1950s are collector items now and worth some dough. games has entered the field in the last ten years with some fabulous games.   So has Skeetersoft, Inc. with their APBA-style cards and boards with their own excellent modifications and refinements. Out of these mentioned, the baseball games were and are the biggest sellers, although football makes its presence known, too.

What are sports simulation tabletop games, you ask? Well…they are games based on the real-life performances of players in any given year. A different card set for each sport comes out after the end of a season, based on how well (or bad) the player and his team had performed. There’s also past seasons--great seasons of the past-- like the 1950s and the 1960s, the heyday of sports.

Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle 1961 Skeetersoft cards
What you actually do is play a game in your favorite sport with the names and performances of  ball or hockey players, using their stats. And it’s so cool.  Over the course of a few games, just as in life, a great player can tear up the league on a hot streak or he can go into a horrible slump. You can play complete seasons of a certain team. For instance, you can get a 1961 baseball season set and replay all of the 162 games for the New York Yankees and see if Roger Maris hits 61 homers for you, too.  All this with cards, dice, and boards or the computer versions. And you can do it at home. You pick the lineups, make the substitutions, and so forth, including cheering and swearing at the outcomes. You can play with someone across the table or go solo, which I do. Once you know what you’re doing, the games don’t take that long. A normal 9-inning baseball game can take under 30 minutes and a hockey game about an hour. Then you record the individual stats and you keep going to the next set of games.

My favorites are APBA, which you can find at I like their hockey and baseball products. I also use a lot of Skeetersoft, Inc. baseball cards. Note the photo of  Skeetersoft Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris cards from the 1961 reprint set. I love their master cards. You can try them at I can’t leave out for their Canadian Football League game, which they call COLD SNAP, but their others look great, too, including their hockey, baseball, and NFL games.  And get this…they also have board games for lacrosse, wrestling, bowling, demolition derby and roller derby. You name it, they got it.

In 1962, when only 10 years old, I obtained my first sports simulation game. My cousin, Bob Petrie, a fellow sports enthusiast like myself, gave me his original 1957 APBA baseball game for a whole $3. I had to borrow the amount from my parents. How many kids that age had $3 in their pockets? What an investment on my part. I still have the original cards, although I had to throw out the team folders when they just plain wore out. I gave the original boards to my son, Barrie, when he was 8, and he still has them. He’s 37 now and an avid sports simulation player. Since 1962, I have played well over 8,000 APBA baseball games and nearly 900 APBA hockey games. OK, you might think I have a lot of time on my hands.  Well…no. I’m just always finding things to do, writing articles, books and screenplays included. And I’ve kept the records of all my season replays. With my original 1957 set, I replayed the entire American and National Leagues schedules in the late 1970s (yes, every team). Thankfully, there were only 8 teams in each league then who played 154 games, not the 162 of today.  It took me almost 3 years, but I did it. And the stats were dead-on with how the teams finished in the standings. Every team! The individual stats were very close, too. And APBA had been on the market only 6 years at that point. They were just babies then. Their game is much more sophisticated today.  I loved playing the Yankees in the original set, especially Mickey Mantle, who hit a real .365 that year. My replay, he was down a bit at .356.

The replays I enjoyed the most over the years were Mickey Mantle’s pennant-winning years with the Bronx Bombers, which were 12 in total between 1951-1964. I played them all, some seasons more than once. All on cards, two on computer, with some card sets more than once when the cards were updated. In all, Mantle hit a whopping 640 homers in 17 New York Yankees season replays. I don’t just live in the past, although Mantle is still my favorite ball player of all time. I have played some recent seasons. For instance, the 2009 Yankees and the 2006 Detroit Tigers. I also enjoyed several Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers sets, 1951-1956, inclusive. By the way, the 1950s had a real good mix of outstanding hitters and excellent pitchers.

COLD SNAP CFL game box
I just started playing COLD SNAP in the last few years. is unique because they are the only sports simulation game company that has a CFL game. Being a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan, I’ve replayed that team mostly, but some other teams as well to show that I’m not too biased. Complete team seasons, too, of course.  Note the 2009 PLAAY.COM Roughrider offense card and the COLD SNAP box attached in this article. For the Riders, I’ve played 2 of the Ron Lancaster years, 2 of the current Darian Durant  years, plus the 1960 Winnipeg Blue Bombers and 1960 Toronto Argonauts. I’ve yet to purchase PLAAY.COM’s NFL game, but if it’s done the same way as the CFL game, then they have a hit on their hands. Their baseball game is brand spanking new, and looks intriguing, to say the least.

So, it must be obvious to my readers that I’m not only a sports fan, but I’m also a stats guy. I’m a history buff, as my bio states, so I how could I not be a stats guy? If you’re into both sports and stats, then I highly recommend sports simulation games for you. But I do urge you to “play the era,” as I call it.  For instance, in modern baseball  there’s hardly any complete games thrown by pitchers. The starters go 5 or 6 innings, then it’s to the pen…long man, set-up man, then closer in the last inning. Play the modern seasons that way, if you expect the true realism and the stats to be close. But if you get a season from the 1950s or 1960s, you have to consider that starting pitchers threw more innings and more complete games. Closers usually went the last 2 innings in tight ball games. Some teams even had 4-man starting rotations.

The internet is a great help because there’s sites that give you the individual stats you need, plus every box score in major league baseball going back to 1900. I don’t necessarily do the exact same boxscore  starting lineups on each scheduled day, but I do check the games for the starting pitchers. Also, if a player, let’s say, played in 120 games at third base, then do that. As far as hockey goes, I go by the same factors. Nowadays, there’s 4 forward lines and 3 defense pairs per team. In the Original Six, there were 3 forward lines, 2 defense pairs, and 3 spares…usually 2 forwards and one defenseman.  See what I mean?

Original 1957 Mickey Mantle APBA card (one of my personal favorites)
So…here’s how the games work. The example is the attached photo of my original 1957 Mickey Mantle APBA Card, and the back of another card to show you what all the backs looks like. Cool, right? The 3 black columns represent dice rolls. With the game comes a large red dice and a small white dice. If you shake the two and it comes out, say,  1 and 1, that’s 11. Across from the black 11 is a red 5. Let’s imagine the bases are empty when the Mick comes up. Remember, there are 8 possible situations from bases empty to bases loaded. You look up the number 5 on the bases empty board and it reads a double. In half of the other base situations it may be a homer. If you shake a red 5 and a white 1, then that’s 51. Across from 51 is a red 8. Which is a single, in most cases, but it depends on the pitcher Mantle is facing. The hit may be taken away by some of the better pitchers and turned into an out. Everything is on the boards. If a guy plays an entire season in your reply, each one of the black dice rolls will come up approximately 20 times. Times that by 36 possible black rolls and you have about 700 plate appearances, depending on the team he plays for etc. But, of course, very few players last a complete season, plus there’s walks and sacrifice flies and such that don’t count as time at-bats.

Anyway, I hope I’m making sense. By the way, across from Mantle’s black 66 there’s a red 1. That’s a homerun! A tater! A solo shot! Mantle’s card represents a hitter who had close to 40 homers. Actually, he had 34 that year, because he missed a dozen games.  Also, a red 13 on his card is a strikeout…a 14 is a walk…an 11 is a single followed by a stolen base. He had a lot of walks and strikeouts, for sure. Then again, he was a power hitter. Anyway, there’s a lot more to the game than the above explanations. My Mickey Mantle example here is only the basics. There’s also good defensive plays by the better fielders, pitchers who strikeout more batters than the average pitcher…slow, medium, and fast base runners…good and bad outfield throwing arms…on and on…

COLD SNAP 2009 CFL Saskatchewan Roughriders offense card

So, what season replays do I have on the go now? Two, actually. For baseball, I have played 40 APBA games of  the 1956 Cincinnati Reds, who were an interesting team. With a real life 91-63 record, they were involved in a heated National League pennant race that went down to the wire. Milwaukee won 92 games, but Brooklyn took the flag with 93 wins. The Reds led the league with 221 homers, 775 runs scored, and a .441 slugging average. Frank Robinson hit a then-record 38 homers for a rookie. They had an excellent defense, but their pitching was only so-so and frustrating to deal with at times. My other replay is APBA hockey, the 1959-60 Montreal Canadiens. Only 10 games played so far. That team was significant in that it was the last season of 5 Stanley Cups in a row, and the last year Rocket Richard played. Once the 2013 CFL season ends and the cards are made available, I’ll reply the Saskatchewan Roughriders, naturally.

If you purchase one of these games…BEWARE…it may become addictive. I know, believe me. It’s a curse. For those married men, I hope you have a good relationship with your wife…  Just kidding.

Above all else, do have fun!


NOTE: A special thanks to for their permission to use their copyrighted material for this article.