All about their first time – the 1971 grey Cup

All about their first time – the 1971 grey Cup

This coming the Sunday the champions of the CFL East and West Divisions, the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders will square off for the CFL championship in the 105th Grey Cup match. The game will have the feel of an East Coast Superbowl for veteran american football watchers from this side of the pond, kicking off as it does  at 11:30 PM UK time.

The Calgary Stampeders have made it to the Grey Cup 14 times in their history and have won on seven of those occasions. The first in 1948, and the latest in 2014. Meanwhile the Toronto Argonauts have appeared in 22 Grey Cup finals winning 16 of them. The first in 1921 and the latest in 2012.

There have been 104 Grey Cup finals before this one but in all that time the Argos and Stamps have only met in the big game 3 times. Those times were the 2012 Grey Cup where Toronto defeated Calgary 35-22; The 1991 Grey Cup where Calgary upended  Toronto 36-21, and the earliest meeting of them all: the 1971 Grey Cup which finished Calgary 14 Toronto 11.

That 1971 game is best known for an infamous play by the Toronto Argonauts’ star running back Leon McQuay who late on in a close game slipped on the soggy field and fumbled the ball, whilst trying to cut to his left. The fumble was recovered by the Stamps D snuffing out a chance at tying the game.

The statement the McQuay tried to cut and fumbled the ball might just be selling the impact of that play short though. People still talk about that play even now – it’s become another part of the rich patchwork of folklore that adds to the mystique of the Grey Cup game itself.

The Argos had a real chance to win in the fourth quarter when McQuay, (the East Division’s Outstanding Player nominee in 1971), was handed the ball on a second-and-seven from Calgary’s 11-yard line. McQuay was expected to put the ball in place to at least try and kick a game tying field goal. Instead, he fumbled, Reggie Holmes recovered for the Stamps and Calgary survived.

The fumble was actually the result of McQuay hitting the turf without being touched. The contact with the ground dislodged the ball causing the fumble. Unfortunately for the Argos this was allowed within the rules at that time. Subsequently, the rule was changed such that the ground was not allowed to cause a fumble.

That is the play that gets remembered but it still wasn’t over even then. With 1:53 left, the Stamps started deep in their own territory and failed to gain a first down. They punted to give the Argos another opportunity but Toronto’s returner, Harry Abofs, attempted to catch the wet ball and accidentally kicked it out of bounds when reaching down to pick it up. CFL rules stated that when a ball is kicked out of bounds, possession goes to the other team so Calgary’s offence were able to once more take to the field and this time run down the clock.

Calgary’s fans would be quick to point out their win wasn’t all about that one play. Their defence sacked Toronto quarterback Joe Theismann six times, broke his nose and held the Argos without an offensive touchdown in the game.

The game was the first Grey Cup to be played on artificial turf and in soggy conditions at Empire Stadium the Argos only touchdown came when Calgary fumbled a punt which was recovered and returned for a score.

Leo Cahill became the Argonauts first Coach of the Year recipient in this year and it was arguably the high point of the Cahill era as the Boatmen beat arch-rivals Hamilton in the Eastern Final 40-25, before a rash of injuries and a poor 3-11 1972 season would see Cahill replaced by John Rauch (yes the same John Rauch who led the Oakland Raiders to their first AFL championship but lost to Vince Lombardi and the Packers in Superbowl II).

Theismann would go on to win the Superbowl with Washington but is on record saying that “every time the football season rolls along, losing the Grey Cup..doesn’t sit well”

Each year a new layer is added to the history of the Grey Cup but I wonder if the 2012 edition will still be getting talked about 46 years down the line in the same way that the original Grey Cup meeting between these two teams does?


Chris Lawton

Chris Lawton joined the team in 2017 and has been writing about the CFL ever since. He originally started following the NFL with the 'first wave' of fans when it was shown on Channel 4 in the 1980's. He has been a keen supporter of the Miami Dolphins since 1983. Chris first encountered the CFL in 2016 and instantly fell in love with the Canadian game. He has been writing about the CFL from the inception of Ninety-Nine Yards. You can find him on twitter as @CFLfanUK

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