Across the United States last week the nights were getting cold, the leaves had turned brown, and husky young men in colorful uniforms were well launched into the professional football season. The same annual phenomena were taking place across the Dominion of Canada, too, from Montreal to Vancouver, only more so. For there, already, some nights have been downright frigid, trees were already stark—and the professional football season, frankly and unabashedly referred to by many Canadians with more truth than originality as "autumn madness," had passed the halfway mark. Already two coaches had been fired, one of them Hampton Pool of the Toronto Argonauts; Ronnie Knox, the temperamental quarterback from UCLA, had gotten his annual burst of headlines, this time by quitting football forever in order to go to Mexico or Europe to write poetry.
Though the crisp Canadian air was filled with talk of football, the names you heard had a familiar sound south of the border as well. In the West two young men who, less than a year ago, faced each other as rival quarterbacks in the Rose Bowl were continuing their rivalry for different sponsors and this time for excellent first-year pay. Iowa's Randy Duncan was playing for the Vancouver Lions, California's Joe Kapp was a solid quarterback with the Calgary Stampeders. And both were learning a few tricks from the Mississippi State All-America, Jackie Parker of the Edmonton Eskimos. Back East, a Hamilton tackle with the hauntingly reminiscent name of Bronko Nagurski was blocking for Quarterback Bernie Faloney. Montreal's Sam Etcheverry, the most indestructible quarterback in football, if not the best, was playing in his 143rd consecutive professional game, pitching, as usual, to a 10-year veteran of professional football, Red O'Quinn, formerly of Wake Forest, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Bears.
All in all, there are more than 150 American football players, called Imports, on the rosters of the nine teams making up the Canadian Football League, plus 40 or so coaches, trainers and executives. The game they play differs little, really, from what you see in the U.S. The teen-aged drum majorettes in the half-time show kick their tasseled boots a little more friskily, perhaps, in order to keep their circulation going, and on the field the play moves along faster, with less dead time.
Canadian football is a good game for the spectators and it is good to the players, especially the Imports. Most of them really get a kick out of playing, plus—in most cases—more money in the early years than they would make in the U.S. (see box on page 86), good treatment, rapt worship from the fans and the chance to build a personal career in a booming country so crazy about football and football players that the fans turn out for practice.
"I came up here with nothin' six years ago," Big Billy Shipp of Alabama and Montreal said. "Now I got a good business, a nice home, money in the bank, nine Labrador retrievers and a Siamese cat."
Imports like Shipp are comparatively new in Canadian football. The sepia photographs of the shockheaded stars of the '90s, glowering grimly from the walls of the Ottawa Roughriders clubhouse, give proof that they've been playing the game a long time in Canada. But it wasn't until 1948 that all the clubs of the Canadian Football League began going after Imports. They sent out raiding parties armed with fat checkbooks south across the border to prey on the American pro teams. Many a proved star, under signed contract to an American club, was lured north in spite of it.
Four years ago the Canadian Football League and the National Football League made peace, and now they keep hands off each other's signed players. But they still compete fiercely for the rookies. Some clubs spend $50,000 a year recruiting college players in the U.S. Montreal's international telephone bill alone is over $5,000.
American players are far from resented in Canada; they are demanded. The vociferous fans want the best football they can get and, they have faced it, the few Canadian high schools and colleges fielding teams do not turn out enough good players to give them that American quality. And so they yell for Imports.
However, Imports cost big money. Most American rookies playing in Canada get anywhere from $8,000 for a rookie lineman to $18,500 for a top quarterback or ball carrier. This includes only the 10-week regular season, from August 18 through October 24. The series of postseason playoff games, which lasts approximately a full month, brings in more money. To hold down expenses, clubs are permitted to dress only 28 men per game (American teams field 36 men), of which only 12 can be Imports. Each club carries a half dozen or so Imports in reserve.
Because of the small squad and the nature of the Canadian game, the Imports must be a special breed of ballplayer. Most of them are expected to play both offense and defense. Even the specialists have to hustle. There are no time-outs (an extra minute is set aside between quarters for the TV commercial), and the field is longer and wider. "Getting in and out of the ball game is a 60-yard dash," Randy Duncan, who is fortunate enough to play only on offense, observed.
There are only three downs in Canadian football and, consequently, more passing and outside running plays. Everybody, interior linemen included, runs all game long. This can be wearying. After some 55 minutes of all-out football during a night game against Montreal early this year, Hamilton Tackle John Barrow collapsed with heat exhaustion and a succession of agonizing cramps. He had lost 15 pounds.
Now Barrow is not a small fellow unused to heat. He's a 245-pound former All-America from Florida. "Ah nevah passed out back home," he protested.
Nor, Barrow says, did he have it so good back home. The Detroit Lions offered him $12,500, plus the stipulation, unusual in pro ball, that he couldn't be cut for two years. He turned it down. "Up here," he said, "football's fun."
In Canada, when a player is hurt, the fans fill his hospital room with flowers and wires. When Her Majesty the Queen of Canada and some other lands visited Winnipeg this summer, Coach Bud Grant of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers attended the formal dinner in her honor and was introduced to her as one of Winnipeg's leading citizens. Apparently some fans would like to extend a kind of diplomatic immunity to football players. When Dave Mann of Toronto was charged with possession of marijuana and the club held him out of the lineup pending the outcome, the fans protested bitterly.
"Personally," one blistering letter to the management concluded, "I don't give a damn if he is guilty or not, and I think most of the fans feel the same way."
People wave and shout at the players as they walk down the street. Tom Jones, the monstrous tackle from Miami (Ohio), has a huge circle of admirers in Ottawa. He took me for a ride in his orange-and-white convertible, top down, and from both sides of the quiet streets came cries of "Hi, Tom!" and "Hello, Mister Jones!" which the emperor acknowledged with becoming dignity. Tom is the color of hot fudge, 6 feet 5, weighs 280, and was wearing a cap, sunglasses and a T shirt with Miami stenciled across the front in red.
"It's amazing how many people recognize me," he observed, pride and wonder in his voice. All this adulation is appreciated by the players. They play with abandon, knocking themselves and each other out for the customers. An almost unbelievable example of the old Canadian try occurred in the 1954 game for the Grey Cup and the national championship, when Eagle Keys, Eskimo center and the only representative of Turkey Neck Bend, Ky. on the field, played the last quarter with a broken leg. Such devotion to duty pays off; Keys today is head coach of the Eskimos.
Whether it is the inspiration of the fans or the radiance of the northern lights, some run-of-the-mill players in the States have developed into heroes in Canada. Dick Shatto was of so little importance to the University of Kentucky six years ago that when he got married his athletic scholarship was canceled. Shatto went back home to Springfield, Ohio and a job as a construction laborer. He wrote a letter to the Argonauts asking for a tryout and they said, sure, come along. For months before he reported, Shatto ran wind sprints for an hour every morning, put in a 10-hour day on the job, then ran more wind sprints in the evening. When practice began he was fast, sharp and ready; he made the team.
Today Shatto is tremendous. As a ball carrier and pass receiver he would star on any American professional team. He is also a great leader, a fine defensive player and an outstanding halfback. Although last year he played six games as quarterback, he still ranked second in total yards gained rushing. Off the field Shatto looks like a young man on the way to a meeting of a junior chamber of commerce. Intelligent, poised and an excellent speaker, he is now an executive with Canada Dry, Limited.
Another young man who never played his last year of college football is Gerry McDougall, a third-string tailback at UCLA. He was one of the players found half guilty of overemphasis in the Pacific Coast Conference scandals of '56 and was sentenced to sit out half of the games during his senior year. Then he took part in a harmless prank which received undue publicity (it was open season on football players that year) and was suspended from school. Depressed and despondent, he sat in his apartment for weeks, looking at the walls. His wife, Arlette, had to quit her job; a child was due. Their savings were just about gone when, in March, a scout for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats said the club would help him get a job if he'd sign a contract. Gerry signed and went to Hamilton right away. He borrowed an overcoat from Jake Gaudaur, the president and general manager of the Tiger-Cats, and landed a job at the first place they sent him.
July came, and practice. Without the experience he would have gained in his senior year, with everything to lose—job, his wife's happiness, his last chance to prove himself—he pressed too hard. It was obvious that he was going to be cut from the squad.
And then McDougall made one of the most momentous offhand remarks in the history of Canadian football. "You know," he said in the locker room one day, "my father was born in Canada."
After a moment of stunned silence Jr. Coach Jim Trimbleand President Gaudaur both went for the phone. They called Gerry's mother in California, asked her to airmail proof of her late husband's Canadian birth. The precious documents arrived the day of the opening game. Gaudaur flew to Ottawa, the capital, with the papers, then rushed back with governmental approval. He rounded up a judge and dragged him to the stadium.
And there in the dressing room before the game, clad in his hip pads, Gerry McDougall was sworn in as a Canadian citizen.
Canadian McDougall was no longer competing with Americans to make the team, but with his new-found countrymen. The pressure was off. McDougall, 6 feet 2, 218 pounds, fast and hard to bring down, went on from there to become the best back in Canadian football. Last year he led the league with 1,053 yards gained for an average of 5.9 per try, and scored two touchdowns in both the Grey Cup and All-Star games.
Off the field McDougall is sales representative for the Fruehauf Trailers Co., with Hamilton and environs his exclusive territory. Thanks to the canny foresight of Angus McDougall in being born in Nova Scotia, his son Gerry, at the age of 24, is now making over $30,000 a year.
Non-imports, like McDougall, are the most important players in Canada. The 12 Americans on each club can hardly play against each other efficiently for 60 minutes of two-way football. Thus football games are won in Canada today by the teams with the best Canadians. Both Winnipeg and Hamilton, which played for the Grey Cup the past two years and are picked to repeat this year, have enough good Canadians to play platoon football.
Some of these Canadians have familiar-sounding names. Buddy Tinsley, a Winnipeg co-captain, happens to be a Canadian from Waco, Texas. He never heard of Winnipeg until 1950, when he got an offer to come up and play. He looked the town up in an atlas. He is, of course, a naturalized citizen. Some of his counterpart countrymen are Vince Scott of Hamilton, John Bove of Ottawa, Nobby Wirkowski of Calgary, Rollie Miles of Edmonton and Chuck Quilter and By Bailey of Vancouver. Becoming naturalized is football insurance. It is pleasantly reassuring to 10-year veteran Vince Scott, for example, 34 years old, 5 feet 8 and 230 pounds, not to have to keep beating out those hungry American rookies, eight inches taller and 12 years younger.
Many more imports, year-round residents, intend to become citizens when their five-year waiting period is up. One of them, Hardiman Cureton, the All-America guard from UCLA, is a man without a country. He has been charged with draft evasion in the U.S., and there is a bench warrant out for his arrest if he steps over the border. He has a year and a half to go before he can become a naturalized Canadian. In the meantime he has a good position with the H. G. Barter and Son engineering and drafting concern, a new home and few regrets. "I love the change of seasons, the buds in the spring, the golden-brown leaves of autumn, the soft white snow in winter," he said quietly, staring at his hands, a little embarrassed at the words that came out of his mouth. "This is where my wife and I want to raise our children."
Canada, according to many of the Negro players, is a land almost without prejudice. Two—Johnny Bright and Rollie Miles—are teaching and coaching in white schools, something they could hardly do back home. As a matter of fact, it is easier for any player to have any job in Canada. Before the season begins, American clubs have a training and exhibition-game period that lasts two months, then practice every afternoon. In Canada, preseason training lasts only two to four weeks, and working players take their summer vacation to coincide with it. From then on they rarely miss a day's work, as football practice doesn't begin until 5:30 p.m.
"Even when we play what we call double-headers, games Saturday and Monday nights," Vancouver's By Bailey, a successful salesman, said, "we get back to Vancouver by 3 a.m. Tuesday. I'm at my desk at 9 a.m. sharp."
But though all these things—Cureton's golden-brown leaves and soft white snow, lack of prejudice, career opportunity—sound great, most players come to Canada originally for just one reason—money. Canadian teams give the rookie a bonus for signing, usually $1,000, and after that pay bigger salaries than American teams for a shorter season.
"I was with Philadelphia, Detroit and the Chicago Cards for four years," Frank Tripucka, the old Notre Dame quarterback said, squirming in his chair with anguish, "and all that time I could have been getting four grand more a year up here! Sixteen thousand bucks! It still burns me up." Tripucka took over as head coach at Regina recently.
In one case a Canadian team offered too much money and not only came close to losing a player but almost broke up a happy home. "I played four years for Jim Trimble on the Philadelphia Eagles," Ralph Goldston, one of the best, and meanest, safety men in the game, said, "but when he left to coach Hamilton I was traded to Green Bay and got cut. I called Jim and he told me he'd give me $10,000. Hell, that was twice what he was paying me at Philadelphia. My wife said he was trying to make a fool out of me and told me not to go. When I did go she was so mad she wouldn't come to the airport with me. And then I got here and sure enough, I make $10,000. But my wife and I don't mention it."
Wray Carlton and his wife had an entirely different experience, thanks to Canadian football. Carlton, fast Duke halfback, was the third-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in the National Football League draft and was leaning in the direction of Philadelphia when Coach Hampton Pool of Toronto heard of his impending marriage. Pool promptly arranged a honeymoon cruise in the Caribbean for Mr. and Mrs. Carlton, with final destination Toronto. They accepted. Pool, incidentally, is a travel agent in Toronto; he got Carlton and 5% commission to boot.
After all that intrigue, Carlton did not make the team and quit football. Pool was fired. Pool has probably spent his commission, but Carlton, at last reports, still had his wife.
Though Canadian football may be more demanding in some respects, most of the Americans playing there don't really care much, one way or the other. "What the hell," a half dozen Imports have told me, "you block, you tackle. That's football."
To specialists like Jack Hill of Regina, however, leading scorer among the five western teams last year, there is a big difference in Canadian football. One of Hill's jobs is to run back punts. "There's no fair catch and your own men can't block for you. You can't let it go—even if you're behind your own goal line you got to catch the thing and try to run it out," he said with a little shudder. "The other team can't come within five yards of you until you catch the ball, then—boom! It's suicide."
The players who have the hardest time adjusting to Canadian football are linemen from split-T teams. Take the sad case of Corky Gaines, a guard from the University of South Carolina. At South Carolina they played possession football. The quarterback rarely calls an outside play, and if he throws a pass the coach throws him in the briar patch. All the offensive guard does, therefore, all game long, is run into the man ahead of him. But in the Canadian wide-open game the guard must also pull out and hit the end, pull out and lead the interference, and drop back and protect the passer. Though the sage of Montreal, Coach Peahead Walker, was willing to keep Gaines on for his defensive ability at $9,000 a year, the young man became so confused that he fled to a London, Ontario semipro team to play the same game for $1,200.
Despite such tragedies, the Canadian game will most likely continue to attract many of the most sought-after American players. James E. Finks, who, after seven years as quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers and one year as backfield coach at Notre Dame is now the smooth young general manager of the Calgary Stampeders, summed it up this way:
"We're paying them more money and giving them more opportunity to play. Of the 25 men we bring to training camp, 17 are going to make the roster, and we can't afford to keep them on the bench. The fans are so knocked-out about football that every man, not just quarterback, is a hero in the community; they all get big buildups through press, radio and TV. What with our short season and no daytime practice, a man can really get started on a big career and have a hell of a lot of fun playing football at the same time."
FEW RULES TO LEARN
Americans going to Canada have few new rules to learn. In Canadian football there are 12 men on a team and three instead of four downs. Blocking is prohibited 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage but backs may move forward before the ball is snapped. The lone scoring variation is the one-point rouge, achieved when the ball is punted across the opponents' end-zone line. The end zones are 25 feet deep.
MORE PAY FOR ROOKIES
An American in Canada begins with a definite financial edge over his U.S. counterpart. However, salaries even up later on. Following is a comparison of amounts paid American players in Canada and in the U.S.: