Grey Cup - 1976 - Exhibition
Ottawa 23 - Saskatchewan 20
Our Last Grey Cup ever? - Matthew Sekeres -
TheOttawa Citizen - 26-11-2006
so often, sports produces a moment that sears itself into a community's
consciousness, something that becomes part of regional culture and more
than just a sports happening.
For Ottawa, that moment came 30 years ago Tuesday.
No one who saw Tony Gabriel's catch -- The Catch -- to win the 1976 Grey
Cup will ever forget it. Ottawa's Rough Riders beat Saskatchewan's
Roughriders 23-20 on Gabriel's 24-yard touchdown with 20 seconds to play,
a game -- and a finish -- front-and-centre among the Canadian Football
League's best ever.
In Ottawa, no sporting moment can match The Catch. It stands as the
signature play in 124 seasons of professional football, and given the turn
football has taken here, a century from now, that could easily still be
At the time, the NHL's Senators were still a quarter century away from
rebirth, and the Rough Riders were the No. 1 team in town. None of the
city's eight previous Grey Cups had concluded with such drama, and none of
the city's Stanley Cups occurred in the mass media age.
So when Gabriel hauled in Tom Clements' pass, team spirit hit an all-time
high in this town. Spontaneously, revellers bubbled over onto a rowdy Bank
Street. If this was what being a fan was all about -- communal celebration
and gathering under a common banner -- Ottawa had reached the summit.
It couldn't get any better. And it didn't.
Today, at a time when football is enjoying immense popularity in Canada
and the United States, the pro game lies dormant in Ottawa.
The nation's capital is without a CFL team for the second time in a
decade. The Renegades, founded in 2002, were "suspended" by the league in
April, just 10 years after the Rough Riders were folded.
And so, 30 years later, a city remembers The Catch. Since then, few
sporting moments have been worth remembering.
"I feel honoured and elated that I was responsible for that," Gabriel said
this week. "It is remarkable how many people tell me today that they had
some affiliation with that game. It seems there are many people from
Ottawa, and many Canadians, who enjoyed that day as much as I did." -
Thirty years later, Gabriel, 57, still spits out the play-call in the
huddle as though asked for his children's names.
"Rob, I, Fake 34, Tight End Flag," he said from his office in Oakville,
where he is a vice-president with CIBC Wood Gundy.
Thirty years later, Tom Clements, 53, still remembers waving receiver Gary
Kuzyk off the field, unwilling to call the play the coaches wanted.
"I had the play in mind. I just felt good about it," said Clements, now
the quarterbacks coach with the NFL's Green Bay Packers.
Thirty years later, Ted Provost, long blamed for the touchdown in
Saskatchewan, remains haunted by those frantic seconds and the
excruciating scene of Gabriel being mobbed by teammates and fans in the
"I remember the whole thing. If they want to remember me for that, there
isn't anything I can do about it," said the 58-year-old, who now owns a
residential building company in Columbus, Ohio. "It's been too long to
care anymore, but yes, I still remember it." "I remember the whole thing.
If they want to remember me for that, there isn't anything I can do about
it," said the 58-yearold, who now owns a residential building company in
Columbus, Ohio. "It's been too long to care anymore, but yes, I still
remember it." Gabriel and the principals can reconstruct the play in vivid
detail. Fans here and in Saskatchewan can tell you where they were, and
with each year, it seems more and more say they were among the 53,389 at
Toronto's chilly Exhibition Stadium that day.
Gabriel was seeing stars and slow getting up after a 10-yard reception --
and a vicious hit -- that brought the ball down to Saskatchewan's 24-yard
line. Offensive lineman Jim Coode, who died of ALS in 1987 after a
decorated playing career, encouraged him to his feet as offensive
coordinator Tom Dimitroff tried to send in a play from the sidelines.
"I hear Tommy (Clements) shouting, 'No, no,' " said Gabriel.
Clements had designs on another play, one that changed Gabriel's life.
"I ended up rolling out because of what the defence was doing," said
Clements, now 53, but at the time just two years removed from the
University of Notre Dame. The quarterback sent Gabriel to the right side
(codeword "Rob"), and positioned the running backs in single-file behind
him and the centre Donn Smith ("I" formation). To head coach George
Brancato's surprise, Clements called for a fake hand-off to fullback John
Palazeti ("Fake 34"), which should not have fooled the defence.
The quarterback intended to keep the ball and throw deep to Gabriel
("Tight End Flag").
Saskatchewan's defensive end to Gabriel's side was George Wells. The
linebacker was Roger Goree, and the last line of defence was Provost, all
fine players on the CFL's best defence.
As with Ottawa, confusion reigned on the Green Riders' side. Provost did
not receive defensive co-ordinator Jim Eddy's call, but the whole country
knew it was going to Gabriel.
"43 Jet-Cover 4," Eddy, a retired-but-spry 70-year-old, said from his
Oklahoma cattle ranch this week, remembering his call instantly.
"We wanted to double cover Gabriel with Goree and Teddy Provost." But
Provost called a different defence, as he was authorized to do, and it
wasn't one that double-covered Gabriel.
Saskatchewan had several options, including a play where Goree shadowed
Gabriel all over the field, and four players covered deep, ensuring that
Gabriel could be walled off before the end zone.
"It basically ended up as a man-to-man (coverage)," said Provost. "You
couldn't understand the calls because no one could hear you above the
crowd. I thought I should be calling timeout, but I thought I didn't have
an option." In fact, he didn't. CFL rules prevented defensive timeouts in
Because Ottawa's play called for a fake run, Gabriel had to set in a
three-point stance to sell the illusion. He worried about getting
downfield from that position, but to his amazement, Goree lined up inside
of Wells, meaning if Gabriel could escape a hit at the line of scrimmage,
he was free to run deep and attack Provost.
Before the snap, Gabriel took a subtle step to the right, and Wells never
Receiver Jim Foley distracted Saskatchewan corner Ray Odums by running a
clearing route. Ottawa's offensive line gave Clements enough time to
escape the rush, and Gabriel had enough time for his now legendary
"Ted went for my fake to the post, and that setup the flag pattern," said
"Had I dropped the ball, I would've kept running and retired right then
and there." In football, there are dozens of variables on every play, each
capable of creating heroes and goats when, in fact, it is almost always
more complicated than blaming one person.
Had Wells bumped Gabriel, had Goree lined up inside, had Odums or another
defensive back noticed what was going on, had Clements not had so much
time. ... All of this was rehashed in Saskatchewan during the aftermath,
but in the history books, Provost is the goat and that is not changing.
is a place Provost clearly resents.
When reached this week, he grudgingly agreed to be interviewed, saying he
has only once spoken publicly about The Catch.
He has visited Saskatchewan just once since retiring in 1978, and he has
not participated in any alumni events. Thirty years later, he still admits
to letting his teammates down, even if it wasn't entirely his fault.
Provost is a proud man. He was a twotime CFL all-star and an all-American
at Ohio State University in 1969. A year before, he returned an
interception for a touchdown against Purdue in the Buckeyes' national
championship season, and two years ago, he was inducted into the school's
Hall of Fame.
"I played seven (professional) years.
There were a lot of good plays, and a lot of bad plays, but none were at
the end of a Grey Cup game," Provost said. "It hasn't changed my life at
all, just a memory." The memories in Ottawa, of course, are much
Within minutes, three kilometres of Bank Street were overrun with cars and
party-goers, and the police were turning a blind eye to the minor
infractions, knowing they were outmanned. The horn-honking lasted for
eight hours, and there were even reports that prime minister Pierre
Trudeau joined the festivities.
In Toronto, defensive captain Mark Kosmos and teammate Mike Raines didn't
want to shed their uniforms and, with bottles of champagne, were locked in
the trainer's room long after the game had ended.
In all the hoopla, the team bus left without coach Brancato and his wife,
Barbara, who were found walking through the stadium parking lot by an
- The Rough Riders played in the Grey Cup game five years later, another
contest remembered through Gabriel, but this for the infamous double-pass
interference penalty that thwarted Ottawa's chance to kick a game-winning
field goal. That team finished the season 5-11, and were uglyduckling
finalist to the elegant Edmonton Eskimos, despite a spirited effort in the
But what followed The Catch, and became more severe after '81, was a
string of futility unimaginable in a 30-team league, let alone in the
The quality of the club's ownership and management declined significantly,
and the team's on-field performance followed suit.
"As an ex-Rough Rider, it has been very difficult for me," said Gabriel.
"I go back to (Ottawa) and it has been sad times since then.
"After the 2004 Grey Cup (played at Frank Clair Stadium), I thought it
would've kept the team around. The league says the right stuff ... but I
don't think it is going to happen. It hurts. It hurts."