Football gods owed us one

Alouettes have been robbed of victory twice in the past

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
The Gazette, Wednesday, December 2, 2009

If time and chance conspired to give the Alouettes the Grey Cup, let it be said that the gods owed Montreal for two historic and painful one-point losses in the national championship.

As in, 1954 and 1975. As in 26-25 and 9-8, scores indelibly engraved in the annals of heartbreak in Montreal.

Call it equalization. Until Sunday's shocker, Quebec had been a have-not province. Now it's Saskatchewan's turn. Thanks to a stupid Saskatchewan penalty for too many men on the field, the Alouettes rekicked a missed field goal and won the Cup 28-27 on the last play of the game.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, sitting on an apparently insurmountable 27-10 lead, the Green Nation's brain trust opted for field position and forced the Alouettes to re-punt after a Montreal penalty, deliberately allowing a rouge in the end zone, providing the single point that proved to be the margin of victory. Watermelon heads!

It was, as Robert Frost said (in a different context) "a gift outright."

Somewhere in heaven, Sam Etcheverry was smiling. And wherever he is, Don Sweet must have wished for a re-kick. Or perhaps you haven't heard these histories of heartbreak:

In the 1954 Grey Cup at Toronto's Varsity Stadium, the heavily favoured Alouettes, leading 25-20, were deep in Edmonton territory, at the 10-yard line with only a couple of minutes to play.

Etcheverry, the Als quarterback, threw a lateral pass to running back Chuck Hunsinger, who dropped the ball. Rather than ruling it an incomplete pass, the referee - whose name, Hap Shouldice, lives in infamy - called it a fumble.

Which wouldn't have been consequential, except that Jackie Parker, a two-way threat as a defensive back as well as the Eskimos' quarterback, scooped up the ball and ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown. Final score: Edmonton 26, Montreal 25.

As a 7-year old, I cried for days, not just because Sam was my idol, but because he was our neighbour at Benny Farm, a Central Mortgage and Housing Corp. development for families of veterans of the Second World War.

On the quadrangle where we played touch football, Sam occasionally would toss us a pass. How good was that with the guy who, in the 1950s, was the biggest name in town after Rocket Richard?

Years later, when we were both members of the Montreal Athletic Association, we became friends. He played handball there daily, while I had what passed for a poor game of squash. "How was your workout?" he'd always ask. To this day, and especially since his death last summer, he is revered among MAA members for his kindness to all.

The last time I saw him there, during Grey Cup Week in Montreal last year, he was in a very mellow mood, having just attended an event with the great receiver Hal Patterson. With Red O'Quinn, they made a trio of automatic inductees into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

But Sam never got over the loss to Edmonton in 1954, or at least, he never forgot the call. "It was the wrong damn call," he told me in 1997 when the Alouettes, tossed out of the Olympic Stadium by a rock concert, returned to their natural home at McGill Stadium.

"It was hard to swallow," Sam said.

After that, Montreal couldn't solve Edmonton, and lost to them in the next two Grey Cups, 34-19 and 50-27. Etcheverry, as the Als coach, finally got his Grey Cup ring in 1970, but as he told me in 1997: "It doesn't make up for the ones we lost."

So you can imagine how they are feeling in Saskatchewan this week.

And then, consider how Don Sweet must be feeling after Alouettes place-kicker Damon Duval got a second chance to kick the winning field goal just as time expired in Calgary last Sunday.

On another Sunday, this one in 1975 at Calgary's McMahon Stadium, the Alouettes were struggling against the Edmonton Eskimos, trailing 9-7 late in the fourth quarter, when they moved the ball down the field just as they did last Sunday night.

The back-story: Als' coach Marv Levy had decided that Jimmy Jones rather than Sonny Wade - who'd already won Grey Cup rings in 1970 and 1974, and who would win another in 1977 - would be his starting quarterback. But the weather, and Jones, came up cold. Finally Levy sent Wade in, and he moved the ball down the field, primarily with a huge pass to Larry Smith, now president and CEO of the Alouettes.

"Well, that oughta do it," Sonny said, as he came off the field with under a minute to play, to Ted Blackman and me, as we stood at the Als' bench.

But on the next play Don Sweet, the best kicker of his generation, missed the winning field goal from the 10-yard line - a chip shot that he squibbed and missed by inches.

No way he would have missed it twice. But he didn't have the chance.

 
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