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?

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