Grey Cup week kicked off in very muddy fashion at a Toronto high school, as many of us used to the cushy confines of the press box got onto the field to get our hands dirty.
As the 100th Grey Cup festivities amped up in Toronto ahead of Sunday’s championship game between the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders, media members - this reporter included - took to a mud-soaked field in Scarborough, Ont., to re-create one of the most celebrated Canadian football games ever played - the 1950 Mud Bowl game between the Argos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
It was a celebration of football history, as reporters were outfitted in retro-stitched jerseys for the Winnipeg and Toronto teams, topped off with replica leatherheads. We struggled to move the ball in the thick, sticky mud just as the Bombers and Boatmen had back in 1950, when they played to a 13-0 win for Toronto at Varsity Stadium. Toronto firefighters had pulled up their trucks and doused the dirt field with water to simulate the muddy conditions.
On the day before that game back in November of 1950, a heavy snowfall hit Toronto, and when heavy equipment went out to clear the snow, it severely damaged the turf. As the snow melted the next day, and rain also fell, the field was soaked and turned into a muddy, soupy mess.
Watching the reporters slug through the mud in our flag football contest on Monday were several Argonauts alumni from the 1950 game - Arnie Stocks, Bud Fowler and MVP of the Mud Bowl, Nick Volpe. Throughout the day, students from the high school, Scarborough Academy for Technological, Environmental and Computer Education, also got to participate in a game versus their faculty and alumni and had football clinics and drills. The field was surrounded by marching bands, cheerleaders and thunderstick-yielding teens.
In the spring of 2013, the host high school will be have their field re-sodded and refurbished by the Argonauts and RONA. The Argos helped the school start up a football program two years ago with their Level the Playing Field program.
Our shoes, clothing (and for many of us, our hair) were caked so heavily in mud that they had to use a hose on us before they could let us back into the school. I caught up with Bud Fowler as my teammates and I headed inside. Fowler and several other Argos from that era still get together for lunch once a month in Toronto, and I was lucky enough to join them last month for a story I’m writing on 1952 tight end Zeke O’Connor for this week’s Globe and Mail.
Fowler said he thoroughly enjoyed our muddy contest and had a bit of advice for me as he had a laugh at my mud-covered face: “you really need to hit the showers.”