Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Stone Thrower and the 1972 Grey Cup


(This story originally appeared in the November 2012 edition of Forever Young http://foreveryoungnews.com).

As Grey Cup 2012 rolls around on Nov. 25 in Toronto, there will be no escaping the fact that it is the 100th Cup game.

There will no doubt be debates over which of the 99 previous games is the greatest of all the “classics.”
Jael Richardson and Chuck Ealey returning to Portsmouth Ohio

Some will make a case for the 2009 match. Saskatchewan lost by a point to the Montreal Alouettes after being penalized for having an extra man on the field.

The Fog Bowl, played two over days nearly 50 years ago, will have its supporters, as will the exciting 1976 game between the Roughriders and the Rough Riders in which all 43 points were scored by Canadians.

I’m casting my vote, however, for the 1972 game held Dec. 3 at Hamilton’s Ivor Wynne Stadium – although I’ll admit I’m a little biased.

With a last-second field goal, the Hamilton Tiger Cats won an exciting match 13-10 over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Rookie quarterback Chuck Ealey was the star of that game and that whole season for the Cats.

I’ve been a CFL fan pretty much all my life. My earliest memory, now a little foggy, involves Hamilton punter Cam Fraser throwing a pass to Paul Dekker out of that strange punt formation Hamilton used to employ – 1958, perhaps?

While I’m a fan, I’m not what you would call a rabid one. However, the CFL has always held some fascination for me that other pro sports haven’t. I’ve never been sure why – until now.

With the hoopla involving the 100th game, I have had a chance to take a fresh look back at that ’72 game through the excellent TSN-produced movie Stone Thrower, the book of the same name and other random research.

The game represented much more than the typical east-west Cup contest and this is why: Ealey shouldn’t have been in a position to earn the game’s MVP award, because in a just world he would have been quarterbacking in the National Football League.

Bowl victories and an undefeated college record (35-0) at the University of Toledo weren’t enough to get Ealey drafted by an NFL team. Prior to the draft, his agent sent a “well-thought-out, professional, not harsh” letter to all NFL teams, Ealey recalls.

The letter went like this:

“The only position I’m interested in playing is quarterback. Thank you for your consideration.”

He wanted to play QB because clearly, that was the position where he excelled. But an Afro-American had no chance to compete for a quarterback position in the NFL of the seventies. There were no takers among NFL general managers. And so Ealey moved on.

This story isn’t unique, of course.

Charles Officer, the director of Stone Thrower, considered doing a “bigger picture” that would have looked at other Afro-American quarterbacks who came up here to play. Standouts like Warren Moon, Condredge Holloway, Damon Allen and Bernie Custis all had to come north for their opportunity.

In 1951 Custis, a star quarterback at Syracuse University, was drafted sixth overall by the Cleveland Browns. But the Browns had no intention of letting him play the pivot position so let him go to Hamilton. Custis became the first Afro-American regular starting quarterback in North America. Earning all-star recognition in ’51, he was moved to halfback the next season.

It’s the same story,” says Officer. “Bernie Custis coming up here and then getting switched over. He had to come here for a reason.”

Officer, an Afro-Canadian actor, writer, director and former semi-pro hockey player, believed that by documenting Ealey’s journey he could tell the bigger story of what was going on in American society in the seventies.

Meanwhile, Jael Richardson, Chuck’s daughter, has been on a journey of her own, recounted in her recently released book, similarly called The Stone Thrower: A Daughter's Lessons, a Father's Life. Richardson was born after her father’s football career had ended. As an adult she would go to Ohio with her Dad.

“When we went back to Toledo, people would start screaming ‘Oh there’s Chuck Ealey’ and ask for autographs,” Jael’s father recalls.

She’d go, so who are you? What did you do?”

Ealey acknowledges that he “never shared a lot of story of how I got here.”

It is hard today to fully appreciate the barriers Chuck Ealey faced growing up poor in Portsmouth, Ohio, a typical American small town. Portsmouth is the kind of a place that valued football players but didn’t let black children swim in their public pools.

Ealey remembers the prejudices that held him and others back and contrasts that with the freedom “to do things a lot differently” that he found when he arrived in Hamilton. “There were none of the issues that socially held you back or that seemed to hold you back in the States,” he stated. And so Ealey was able to continue with his winning ways that memorable rookie season, 1972, in Hamilton, all the way to the Grey Cup win.

As Officer told me of his movie:

It is a significant African American story that has everything to do about being Canadian.”

Yes, it is only a game but sometimes, like that 1972 CFL season, the life stories trump the game story.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Daniel Nestor


Yesterday my CBC Radio sports guy said there were no longer any Canadians left in the Australian Open.


He was wrong.  Daniel Nestor had moved into the quarter finals of Mixed Doubles. (Now he is in the semi-finals.)  


I’m not a huge tennis fan. But like other Canadians my interest has been piqued over the last year by the rise to prominence of Thornhill’s Milos Raonic and Montreal’s Eugenie Bouchard.  Right now they are ranked 8th and 7th respectively.


But Nestor, at 42 years of age, has been playing tennis at a high level for more than two decades.


I wrote a little piece on Daniel Nestor in 2011 after he had captured 75th doubles title and the season ending Year End Championships.


Since then he has won 11 more titles and two more Grand Slams not to mention being a key player in returning Canada to tennis greatness with a berth in the David cup World semi-finals in 2013.

Ten Random Highlights and Context to Daniel Nestor’s Remarkable Career.

1.  “Is Bill Clinton for Real?”  asked Time Magazine the week Number 238 ranked Daniel Nestor knocked off world Number 1 Stephan Edberg 4-6, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in January 1992 Davis Cup match in Vancouver.


2.  The year 1994 marked the first of Nestor’s doubles wins (this one with Bahamian Mark Knowles.)  His last win earlier this month with Rohan Bopanna marks the 22nd consecutive year and counting with at least one win.


3.  Nestor has won those 86 Career Men’s doubles championships with nine different partners from eight different countries.  Five times he triumphed with Montreal’s Sebastien Lareau including the 2000 Olympic gold medal.


4.  What can be said about Nestor’s longevity?  Ed Belfour was the NHL’s rookie of the year in 1991 when Nestor broke in as a pro.  Belfour retired in the 2004 season.  That year Nestor won Team of the Year honours with Knowles.  Twelve days after Nestor’s historic win over Edberg, the Atlanta Falcon’s traded twenty-two year old QB Brett Favre to Green Packers.  Favre had yet to complete a pass in the NFL but had been intercepted twice on four throws. 


5.  Nestor was born in 1972 (September 4th).  That is the same birth year as baseball’s Carlos Delgado (retired 2009) and NFLer Drew Bledsoe (retired 2006).  Hockey’s Jaromir Jagr, born in 1972, is the only active NHLer older than Nestor.


6.  But it is not just longevity Daniel has won the big tournaments as well.   Eight Men’s Grand Slams (French 4, Wimbledon 2, and  Australian and U.S. one each.1, with three different partners) and three mixed doubles grand slams (two Australian and one Wimbledon)  also with three different partners.


7.  He doesn’t always win.   But in addition to those 86 titles he has been a finalist 55 times.


8. Davis Cup began in 1900. It’s now the world’s largest annual international team competition in sport with 122 nations taking part in 2014. Nestor has excelled in these contests as well.  In singles, he has won of  fifteen of his thirty matches.  In doubles he is 31 wins against nine defeats.


9.  In spite of all of these achievements, Nestor has never won either the Lou Marsh trophy or the
CP  Athlete of the year.  While he and Lareau won the CP Team of the year in 2000 it would seem that more recognition is due.


10. Daniel created the Daniel Nestor Charity Event along with Karl Hale and Peter Henry in 2003. Karl and Daniel grew up together in North York, and decided  to give back to our community by organizing this annual event.  The event has raised over $1,000,000 for North York General Hospital.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Unbroken

Unbroken opened in Canadian theatres this week.

The first reviews I read were not that positive.  I'll have to go and judge for myself.  here is the trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrjJbl7kRrI

The book is a compelling one.
I read the book a couple of years ago.
It is a well researched by Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit, a story that is often cited as one of the best sports books of all time. In Unbroken Hillenbrand documents the story of American Louis Zamperini – Olympic athlete, World War II veteran and survivor of Japanese Prisoner of War camps.

I knew a little about Zamperini’s athletic achievements – including an eighth in the 1936 Berlin Olympics 5000 metres – but nearly nothing of his war experiences. Zamperini and his pilot floated 46 days in an open raft after crashing their B-24 in the Pacific. After the crash, bombardier Zamperini spent more than two years in captivity. Hillenbrand goes into great detail about brutal, almost unimaginable conditions faced by POWs particularly in the Ofuna Camp.  (See picture to right.)
Somewhat coincidentally, shortly after finishing this book, wife Karen and I visited the site of a former German POW camp on Lake Muskoka.
The German POW experience in Canada stands in stark contrast to those of Canadian, American, Australian and other POWs captured in the Pacific. More than 30,000 German POW’s were held in approximately 25 camps across Canada.

You can read my story at http://foreveryoungnews.com/posts/2297-home-in-cottage-country-german-pows-in-Canada