“The husky halfback with the legs only slightly smaller than a dray horse’s ripped up a scrimmage in such startling fashion that even coach Frank Clair was seen to smile for the first time in two weeks,” reported Hal Walker of The Globe and Mail.
The first time he touched the ball, Mr. Curtis galloped 80 yards. The Argos agreed to pay him $200 per game.
Fisticuffs and racial epithets
Early in the season, Mr. Curtis was at the centre of an incident in which blows were exchanged during a game against the Ottawa Rough Riders. He objected to a hard tackle by a guard “who needs no encouragement to rough up any opponent, especially a coloured one,” the Star noted.
Newspaper accounts describe Mr. Curtis retaliating with a punch, for which he was cuffed in the face by another Ottawa player. In the ensuing melee, a pile of players wound up in a pack on the ground near the Argos bench. Later, it was revealed another Rough Rider, Howie Turner, who was from North Carolina, had taunted Mr. Curtis with a racial epithet.
The slur incensed the Argonauts coach, who was even more outraged when his protestations to Ottawa’s general manager were met by further disparaging racial remarks.
The two teams were to meet a few days later in Ottawa, but before the opening kickoff, according to an account in The Globe, Mr. Turner jogged over to the Toronto sidelines to apologize to the coach, who called over his star halfback.
“What I said last week was in a ball game, Ulysses,” Mr. Turner said. “I didn’t mean it and I want you to know I’m sorry.”
“Thank you,” Mr. Curtis replied. “Thanks very much.” The two men shook hands.
The Argonauts finished in second place in the Big Four before knocking off the first-place Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a two-game, total points series.
Three days later, the Argos faced Balmy Beach, champions of the Ontario Rugby Football Union, with the winner to advance to the Grey Cup against the Western champion. The Argos had little trouble with their crosstown rivals, winning 43-13, with Mr. Curtis scoring three touchdowns.
The 1950 Grey Cup game is remembered less for the score and any feats of athleticism than for the conditions, as a heavy snow followed by a quick thaw left the turf at Varsity Stadium looking like a slush pile at the start of the game and like the Western Front at the end. (At one point, Winnipeg’s injured Buddy Tinsley, stretched prostrate in a puddle, was thought to be drowning.)
Led by kicker Nick Volpe, who booted two field goals and, in those days of two-way players, also made a touchdown-saving tackle, the Argos prevailed, 13-0.
At season’s end, Mr. Curtis was named a first team all-star halfback, an impressive debut.
Argos’ last Grey Cup for 31 years
It was in the final game of the 1951 season during that Mr. Curtis became the unwitting protagonist of one of the odder plays in Canadian football history. The visiting Rough Riders were nursing an 18-12 lead when Mr. Curtis intercepted an Ottawa pass intended for Mr. Turner, his tormentor from the previous season.
The Argo was racing along the sideline with a clear path to the end zone. “He’s on a sprint,” recalled Mr. Wirkowski, the quarterback. “Nobody’s going to catch him. Then, all of a sudden …” A figure darted from the Riders bench. Riled by the sight of an opponent about to score, Pete Karpuk shucked off his warming blanket and raced onto the field. He failed to tackle a startled Mr. Curtis, but slowed him enough for another opponent to catch up and bring him down on Ottawa’s 22-yard line.