Calgary

 

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Toronto 11

 Grey Cup - 1971 - Empire Stadium - Calgary 14 - Toronto 11

McQuay immortalized by 1971 Grey Cup fumble - By John Dowd Canwest Services November 19, 2008

 

CALGARY - Anyone who played in it or saw it won't soon forget it. The first Grey Cup game played on artificial turf ended in a 14-11 decision for the Calgary Stampeders over the Toronto Argonauts at Vancouver's rain-soaked Empire Stadium in 1971.

"The memory I have is how wet it was," ex-quarterback Jerry Keeling says over the telephone from his Oklahoma home. "They put down that new tartan turf and the water just stood on it."

To this day, there are some people, mostly in Toronto, who blame that slippery turf for causing running back Leon McQuay to slip and fumble the ball as he rounded the end of his offensive line from the Calgary 11-yard line with less than two minutes to play.

"That's a bunch of crap," scoffs George Hansen, a former player and the Stampeders director of player personnel at the time. "That's merely the interpretation of the press that he fumbled and that he would have scored when they never scored in the whole game.

"He didn't slip. He was hit and made the fumble. I don't care what they say in Toronto, we won the ball game . . . they didn't lose it."

McQuay's fumble was just the beginning of a wild finish. The Stamps recovered the fumble but went two and out and were forced to punt with more than a minute remaining. As luck would have it, Toronto punt returner Harry Abofs had Jim Silye's offering go off his foot out of bounds, making it a kick out, and the Stamps retained possession and were able to kill the clock.

Victory ended a 23-year drought and gave the Stamps just their second Grey Cup in team history.

Keeling, along with teammates Herm (Ham Hands) Harrison, John Helton and Wayne (Thumper) Harris #50), all went on to be inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame following distinguished playing careers.

"It was a close game but it shouldn't have been," added Keeling, who didn't know the Stamps had made it to this year's Grey Cup game until contacted this week. "We fumbled a punt that they ran in for a touchdown and that's the only one they scored. It was great to win that game . . . it was a long time coming. We'd been in the playoffs, a couple of Grey Cups so it was real nice to win one."

Harrison, who also makes his home in Calgary, says the team took a whole new approach to the '71 game compared to their Grey Cup trips in 1968 and 1970.

"There was not much pressure on us in those first two games," he says. "It was like we were locked up, didn't have any fun . . . we were out of our element.

"So in '71 the coach (Jim Duncan) just told us to do whatever we wanted. I mean, we knew what we had to do, so set us free. We're not going to be out there running and ripping and doing stuff. The attitude going into that game was so different and we were ready, too. I never saw a team so ready. I think we could have beat anybody that day."

Keeling (pictured right), also a highly decorated defensive back, threw a touchdown pass to Harrison and sent running back Jesse Mims in for a six-yard score as the Stamps slid out to a 14-3 lead at halftime. Toronto's lone score was that fumble return by Roger Scales and a tough Stampeders defence did the rest in the first Grey Cup game played between the two teams. Kicker Larry Robinson completed the Stampeders' scoring with two converts.

"The field was fairly slippery but it wasn't all that bad," says Harris, who to this day is considered the best middle linebacker to ever don the red and white uniform. "We really didn't know what to expect so we had several different types of shoes we tried so the traction wasn't that bad. I know if we'd played on sod, we would have been knee deep in mud."

A few little puddles on that fancy new turf didn't cramp Thumper's style at all as he constantly put Argo quarterback Joe Theismann under pressure before laying his hands on the future National Football League star a couple of times for sacks.

"It was thrilling to win it finally because it turned out that was my last chance at a ring," adds the 70-year-old Harris, who joined the team in 1962 and made Calgary his home after being forced into retirement in 1972 because of a severe neck injury.

He still follows the club closely as a season-ticket holder and says he the current edition's chances of winning Sunday's Grey Cup game. "It'll be tough because it's Montreal's home field but they're a pretty salty team and seem to come through when they have to so I think we've got a good chance, a very good chance," he says. "And I think it's going to be another exciting game."

Helton was marking his third season with the Stamps and just starting to make a name for himself as one of the top defensive linemen in the league, something that would follow him throughout a star-studded, 14-year career.

"It's said that defence wins championships and that was evident on Saturday night here again," said the big unit of last week's 22-18 West final win over the B.C. Lions. "We had a terrific team of guys back in '71 and when you look back at it, none of us was any kind of a star other than Wayne . . . it was achievement of a combined team effort and I think that's probably the greatest thing about that win."

Helton, who looks like he could step right back into the lineup today, says any Grey Cup, Stanley Cup or big sports victory is not only important to the team but to the community and its citizens.

"Very few people ever had a chance, let's say there's a heap, to be on top of it," he explains. "I think a Grey Cup allows a team to be at the top of the heap, it allows your organization to be at the top of the heap, it allows your city and all your fans to be at the top of the heap. I think it's something that everybody, in some form or fashion, needs to have.

"It's amazing what that brings to the community."

 

 

 

 

 

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