Canadian soldiers mingle during an event with the Grey Cup on June 30, 2008 at Kandahar Airfield. It has been lost, forgotten, stolen, held for ransom, caught up in a compromising position with exotic dancers and even come under attack by the Taliban. Such is the rich and colourful history of the Grey Cup.
Photograph by: Alexander Panetta, THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — It has been lost, forgotten, stolen, held for ransom, caught in a compromising position with exotic dancers and even come under attack by the Taliban.
Such is the rich and colourful history of the Grey Cup.
The iconic trophy wasn’t supposed to honour a football champion. It was going to be awarded annually to Canada’s top senior hockey team, but Sir Montague Allan beat Earl Grey to the punch by issuing the Allan Cup.
Grey later donated the trophy to recognize the Canadian rugby winner. At the time, the Grey Cup was made at a reported cost of $48.
Today, the hallowed trophy’s value awarded yearly to the CFL champion is estimated at $75,000.
To those who compete for it, the Grey Cup isn’t about money. It’s a 100-year-old trophy that’s steeped in tradition and woven tightly in Canada’s cultural fabric. The Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts will add to that history when they face off in the centennial version of the CFL’s title game Sunday at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.
Mark DeNobile, the executive director of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, says the Grey Cup has taken its lumps over the years based on the condition of the trophy when it returns home to Hamilton.
“Whatever the team does with it while they have it as Grey Cup champions, we really don’t want to know,” he said. “A few times, yes, it has come back in rough shape.”
The Grey Cup has had adventures at home and abroad.
On July 1, 2008, DeNobile, former CFL players Roger Aldag and Steve Mazurak, Ottawa comedian Mike MacDonald and the George Canyon band accompanied the trophy to the Canadian Forces base in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
While there, the base came under attack by the Taliban.
“The Taliban launched three missiles into us and we were on the stage when it happened,” DeNobile said. “The air sirens went off just like you hear it, you have to grab the ground for 90 seconds, they blow a whistle and you run into a cement bunker. After all that, George Canyon went back on and played, but the Cup stayed on stage throughout the attack.
“Two years later, CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon and (league vice-president) Doug Allison took it back there and had their own incident where something was bombed, so the Grey Cup is 2 for 2 in Kandahar.”
After helping the B.C. Lions win the Grey Cup last November, linebacker James Yurichuk took the trophy to new heights.
When it was the Brampton, Ont., native’s turn to have the Cup for a day, he took it via helicopter to the top of a mountain in British Columbia and had a friend film him raising the trophy above his head as the sun set behind him.
Other players have chosen to share the trophy with fans. Members of the victorious ‘92 Stampeders took it to a strip club.
And while the Grey Cup has survived the two foreign attacks, it didn’t fare so well in 2006 after the Lions defeated the Montreal Alouettes. During the post-game jubilation, the trophy broke in two when offensive lineman Kelly Bates lifted it above his head.
That didn’t deter Bates and his teammates, who continued celebrating with both pieces.
It wasn’t the first time the Cup was broken.
In 1987, it snapped when a celebrating Edmonton Eskimos player sat on it. Four years later, tape held the neck of the trophy intact when it returned home with the Argonauts.
And in 1993, it was again broken when Edmonton’s Blake Dermott head-butted it.
Last December, Wally Buono stepped down as B.C.’s head coach just over a week after winning the Grey Cup for a record-tying fifth time. But in 1998, the CFL’s all-time leader in wins as a coach nearly added another wacky chapter to the championship’s history.
Hours after Buono’s Stampeders earned a wild 26-24 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the victorious team nearly left Winnipeg without the trophy.
The Stampeders returned to their hotel for a reception after the game. They then headed to the airport for their chartered flight home only to realize the trophy had been left at the hotel.
As panic set in, salvation arrived in the form of the trophy, which someone had placed on a bus headed to the airport.
“There were so many people getting their picture taken with it (at the reception) so I left early to get the buses organized assuming someone else would take care of it,” Buono said at the time. “All of a sudden we don’t know where it’s at.
“Fortunately, when the third bus came, someone was smart enough to have put it on. It was a big relief.”
The Cup is insured, but whoever signs for it is responsible for its safe keeping. If it’s lost or irreparably damaged, the signee is on the hook for its replacement value.
The Stampeders’ weren’t the first team to lose track of the Cup.
In 1964, the B.C. Lions sent someone back to their hotel to retrieve it after arriving at the airport empty-handed. And in 1984, hours after a team celebration, former Bombers GM Paul Robson sheepishly returned to an empty Winnipeg Arena to find the trophy sitting on a table at centre ice.
Former Toronto kicker Mike Vanderjagt lost the Cup in November 1997 when he took it to a bar in his native Oakville, Ontario, and it was stolen.
Early the next morning, a college student who reportedly joked she’d give $100 to have the Cup in her apartment found it in her kitchen. Police were called and the trophy was returned to a relieved Vanderjagt.
It was also stolen in 1969 from Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park and held for ransom. When the CFL balked, Toronto police found the Grey Cup in a storage locker at the Royal York Hotel.
The University of Toronto won the first Grey Cup championship in 1909, but didn’t receive the trophy until the following March as Grey’s staff reportedly forgot to have it made. And once the school got the Cup it held on to it, figuring it didn’t have to return the trophy until another team beat U of T in the title game.
That happened in 1914 when the Argonauts captured the title. Since then, the winning team has made the trophy available to next season’s champion.
Unlike the Stanley Cup, which has routinely been won by American teams, the Grey Cup has been awarded to a U.S. squad just once. That was in 1995 when the Baltimore Stallions captured it before relocating to Montreal as the Alouettes to start the ‘96 season.
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