Johnson: Stamps reminisce ahead of final visit to aging Winnipeg stadium
Khan, Bauer among those with Bombers ties
No wonder Obby Khan is a trifle miffed. He’s already shelled out for the merchandise.
“I bought this big framed piece of memorabilia,” confesses the Calgary Stampeders’ mammoth offensive lineman, “that said ‘Last Ticket at Canad Inns Stadium.’ I was ticket No. 60, with all the players being assigned tickets for their numbers. It was autographed by everyone. All framed in this huge mat thing.
“It’s up there now, on a wall in my house. Wasn’t cheap, either.
“‘Last Game at Canad Inns Stadium ...’”
Khan shakes his large, bearded head slowly.
“And, well, obviously it wasn’t.
“Guess I’ll have to buy another one.”
Saturday, the Calgary Stampeders head in for their last game at the outdated digs in Winnipeg, the House that the brilliance of quarterback Indian Jack Jacobs helped build at 1465 Maroons Road way back in 1953.
They figured July 14 of last season would be a final goodbye to fading one-time glamour queen. But innumerable construction delays since pushed completion of the new $190 million Investors Group Field out at the University of Manitoba campus back to next summer.
So the Stamps make one final stop.
As President/CEO Lyle Bauer, who spent a goodly portion of entire adult life inside the facility in both playing and executive capacities, and oversaw a few nip-’n-tuck facelifts over the years, puts it:
“You can only put so much rouge and lipstick on the old girl.”
For a smattering of Stampeders, the trip is sure to be nostalgic. Khan, for instance, spent seven seasons as a Bomber. Pat Clayton, director of medical services, had seven, too, tending to various owies. Quarterback Kevin Glenn, five. Wideout Arjei Franklin toiled two years in the blue and gold, Romby Bryant three and a half.
Bauer started there playing centre for a decade and wound up GM for another 10 years.
“I do have a lot of great memories,” says Khan. “There’s a lot of nostalgia about that place for me. So, yeah, I am happy to be going back one more time. I mean, the stadium itself is . . . uh . . . ready to be demolished. It has no admirable quality to it outside of the fans that fill it. That’s just a shell. It’s fans who give it a soul. Fans give it life.”
Much has happened within its confines since Winnipeg Stadium was christened on August 14, 1953, and the first Bomber game, versus Ottawa, was held the next night.
Wins. Losses. Grey Cups. Joy. Sorrow. Good teams. Bad teams. Great teams.
The Stones, U2 and David Bowie played there. So, alas, did Frank Pillow, T.J. Rubley and Benji Dial.
Those names of the Big Blue legends that controlled a city’s emotional heartstrings there continue to resonate. Kenny Pleon. Leo Lewis. Herb Gray. Dieter Brock. James Murphy. Joe Poplawski. Frank Rigney. Willard Reaves. Chris Walby. Milt Stegall.
“Those places,” says Bauer, “have ghosts. They do. They carry the presence of all the greats that ever played there, inside them. I think as a football team that spirit resonates, and helps carry you through tough times. History, nostalgia, tradition, call it what you will.
“The House That Jack Built has a spirit.
“There comes a time, with anything, when you have to move on, though. When I started my career, there was virtually nothing around that area . . . the Veledrome, some warehouses. Now it’s smack dab in one of the most valuable retail spaces in that city.
“So right now, it’s probably not at its highest and best use.”
For years, says Khan, the visiting dressing was infamous around the loop.
“I went in there with Ottawa. And that was, without question. the worst locker-room you’ve ever seen. In your life. Hamilton — take a bow — has that honour now. But at that time, there was nothing to compare. Metal lockers, dripping ceiling, fans pouring beer on you from above. The toilets didn’t work, the showers didn’t work.
“Awful. Awful, awful, awful.”
Bauer can’t argue the degree of direness.
“Compared to what it had been, after we fixed it up for the 2006 Grey Cup that room is the Taj Mahal, though. Believe me. Fortunately, I never, ever, had to spend any time inside that hellhole as a visiting player.”
Khan will always relish his memory of the notorious beer snake, since banned, instigated by the fans in the ribald Section S, a slithering mass of thousands of beer cups, stacked from the upper deck down to the lower deck.
“I remember we were at midfield, there was a TV timeout, and they’d been building this snake,” he reminisces. “Suddenly, somebody in the huddle says: ‘What the hell is THAT?’ As we marched the ball closer, down the field, maybe more out of curiosity than anything else, it was like ‘Holy crap, that’s 5,000 to 10,000 cups of beer stacked on top of one another!’ ”
For Kevin Glenn, the end zone cannon that serenades Bomber majors stands out. Franklin fondly recalls his first pro touchdown, a 79-yard pass-and-run play, scored there.
“Before they tore the old Arena down, the wind was just so unpredictable,” recalls Bauer. “It’d come out of the north and run — run hard — down the pipe. I remember one game playing Hamilton, and the wind whipping a newspaper all the way down the field.
“Chris Walby picked it up and started reading it! He was lined up across from Leo Ezerins. We had a pretty good team then ...”
For those who once called it home, Saturday marks the chance to look around, to take in its badly faded glory, once more. To be reminded in our increasingly cookie-cutter world of the quirks, the eccentricities, that made stadiums of that era individual, unique.
This time, it’s certain, will be the last time.
“After so long,” says Kevin Glenn, “you do need change. No different than living in a house. Being in one place so long, you want to get bigger and better, right? You love the place you’re living in, it holds a lot of fond memories for you and you’ll always remember it.
“But after a while, you want the granite countertops, the hardwood floors, the bigger back yard, don’t you?
“That’s only human nature.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
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