Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Casey Wilson had just witnessed her first football game at Queen'sUniversity in Kingston. She had come a long way from Vancouver to attend the school, somewhat influenced by the guiding hand of her father Chris. She was thrilled with the event.

The Golden Gaels had trounced the highly-touted University of Western Ontario Mustangs 43-16. (One of the Bronx cheers from the undergraduate rabble frequently resounded from their stands: "Overrated!") She came fully garbed in Frosh tam and coveralls-affectionately dubbed as her "puke suit"-for obvious reasons. Even her father donned the attire, for traditional purposes.

Jimmy Allin hails from Corbyville, a transplant from Belleville. He played three years in the Belleville Minor Football League. Even then, prior to his teen years, it was obvious that he was an outstanding athlete. He was wiry, shifty and fast. (Last year, when commenting on a former Queen's player, Bryan Crawford, now with the Argos, one of the coaches told me, point blank:"You can't teach speed.")

Queen's jumped out to an early lead because of turnovers. At the beginning of the first quarter, the Western centre snapped the ball five feet over the punter's head into their end zone, resulting in a Queen's safety. Queen's led 23-1 at half time.

All of the graduating classes that were being honoured at Homecoming are afforded the pleasure of parading around the track from the graduate side of Richardson Stadium, to the undergraduate side. The students are most gracious in their recognition of us old dogs.

I finished up at Queen's forty years ago, but I felt like a kid in the parade.There were golf carts wheeling dignitaries and other graduates from the class of 1943-some even earlier! The antics of the Science frosh at half time merit a note. Mom and Dad are required to fork out more than a couple of hundred bucks for a beautiful yellow Engineers' leather jacket. This is, of course on top of tuition, roomand board, books, and the like-serious chump change.

The first thing the frosh do is dye the jacket purple. Then they paint their faces and their bodies purple. Then they rush onto centre field at half time-perhaps a couple of thousand of them, remove their beloved jackets, and commence swinging their garb and thumping the turf. It makes a wonderful sound, in unison. One you likely won't hear again for some time. At least until next year's Homecoming game.

Western clawed their way back into the game in the second half. Two quick touchdowns and the score tightened up at 23-14. The Gaels provided little offence. Again, after first and second down, they prepared to settle for a 41 yard field goal. Jimmy Allin knelt to receive the snap. They faked the field goal, and Allin ran around the corner for a first down. The Gaels capitalized on the break, and went on to victory.

Allin also picked off an errant throw late in the fourth quarter.The Gaels defence contributed to the win. Under a constant drizzle, they kept the Mustangs' attack at bay with four sacks, four interceptions, forcing five fumbles. A nostalgic tear wallows in the duct as one ponders the contributions of Gaels from yesteryear-those from the great teams of the '50s that I caught as an infant: Ron Stewart, Gary Lewis, Gary Schreider (a member of the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame). Teams from the Sixties that I watched as an undergraduate: Jim Young, (Dirty Thirty from the British Columbia Lions of the CFL). Don Bayne, Bayne Norrie, and the incomparable Cal Connor, who played seven years as a Meds student.

Mike Schad starred for Moira Secondary School in Belleville before heading to Queen's. After he left the school , he had a stellar career in the National Football League and the CFL. Along with Jock Climie, a fine player and now a polished football commentator, and Vince Panetta-volunteer coach with Hotch's Auto Parts in the BMFL, they formed the nucleus of great Queen's teams in the Eighties.

With the win, the Gaels now stand at five and zero. They have not done that since 1989. That was before Casey Wilson was born. But she will savour last Saturday's win the rest of her life. It is all part of the wonderful Canadian university football tradition.

James Hurst

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Monday, September 22, 2008


History Makes History!

No matter what the historical event, inevitably it will become part of history at some future date.

When they turned out the lights last night at Yankee Stadium, and completely wore out the record of Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York”, they posted a sign on the front door: “No Further Activity Scheduled. Please walk across the street for future Bookings”.

The Yankees put up enough runs on the board to defeat the Orioles. Most of the Yankee faithful crossed their fingers in hopes that Derek Jeter would hit the last home run in the park. Unfortunately, Jeter had been hit on the wrist with a ninety-three mile-an-hour fastball the previous day. He went zero for five on the last night, understandably so.

Johnny Damon hit the first home run of the game. But there is an underlying thought that Johnny still has a little too much Red Sox blood in his veins to be a true Yankee.

George Herman Ruth hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium. “The Babe” became legend at the Stadium, in the city, in the game. The ball park has often been called “The Place that Ruth Built”. Babe was not exactly adept with a hammer and nails, but he did provide sufficient offence that most current major league accomplishments are compared to him.

Following his opening day belt, Ruth commented that “God only knows who will hit the last homer in Yankee Stadium”. That mystery was solved last night when the middle Molina brother, Jose, cleared the fence in left field. All three Molina boys play major league baseball. All three are catchers. Their household would likely have been like the Sutter residence in Viking, Alberta. Six Sutter boys played in the National Hockey League. Apparently, they fought constantly at home!

After the game, Yankees’ captain, Derek Jeter, led the team on a slow walk around the walls of the Stadium, past Monument Park, back to the dugout. It was a tribute to the fans. Even in his closing address, Jeter paid tribute to the paying customers. Smart thinking. Because after he is gone, and after all of the other Yankees are gone, the paying customers will still be there.

The Yankees have won more World Series Championships than any other team in baseball. They have gone through hills and valleys in pursuit of the title. Ruth and Gherig led the way when the Stadium was first built. Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio provided the impetus for other championships. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra all became legendary in the game as Yankees.

Years from now, Yankee fans will speak reverently about Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettite, Mariano Rivera and others. This has been a tough season for the Bronx Bombers, from the get-go. Management decided to change leaders on the field and replaced Joe Torre with Joe Girardi. Many players spent time on the injury list. And yes, the Yankees and all of Major League baseball spent the season recovering from the drug scandals that broke in the off-season. Roger Clemens was noticeably absent from much of the last game celebrations. His contributions on the field were most significant; however his defiance off the field has not endeared him to the Yankee management, and the Yankee faithful.

My first trip to the Stadium was in early September, 1954. Mantle, Rizzuto, Berra, Andy Carey and Enos Slaughter took the field. Whitey Ford was on the mound. They faced Bob Lemon and the Cleveland Indians. I wore the Yankee uniform my parents had purchased for me the previous day at Macey’s. Yanks won 3-2.

The Yankees close out the Blue Jays’ last home stand this week in Toronto. Neither team is in the hunt for the playoffs, although the Jays have improved immensely following the All Star break.

See you at the park. Save me some Cracker Jacks.

James Hurst

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Buffalo Bills 2008-So Far, So Good

As the great debate sizzles, there will still be NFL football in Toronto for the next four years. No one has even hinted that there is any comparison between the event in Toronto, and the ones in Orchard Park.

It is not just a game in Buffalo. It is indeed an event. You must go there to believe. Those that do, often return. It is, after all, American football at its best. You may use all of the comparisons to American society, to the American way of life. There are bits and pieces of the way they live south of our border wrapped up in their weekend pursuit. But that is not a negative thing.

After all, football is just a game. And the game is an escape from life as it has been handed to you-good or bad, rich or poor.

Number one son, Arthur James, recently returned from his second Bills game this season. And he still has a wad of tickets to head back to New York State for more. He sat near the end zone, a few rows above the field, a location that I scoffed at from his mug shot. He retorted that it was perfect, that he had seen three wonderful Bills’ touchdowns under his nose.

And he also had a chance to experience the pre game antics of an avid Bills’ fan named Kenny. At any given time prior to a Bills’ game, there are more than fifty thousand fans wandering around the parking lot, drinking in the sights and sounds (and the occasional bubbly) of the game before the game.

Kenny is a little extra special. He brings along an entourage of buddies prepared to entertain the fans. This mild-mannered, bespectacled Clark Kent type begins to wander, innocently looking for a little mustard and ketchup for his burger. His buddies oblige, opening up on him with several containers of the condiments in caulking guns. When Kenny is covered from head to foot, they cease fire. Kenny has not missed a game in years, and he cleans up pretty well after the onslaught.

Kenny is part of the enormous tailgate party that begins early in the morning, game day, and ends several hours after the final gun. In Green Bay, the team hires the local junior farmers to clean the place after the game. I do not believe there are that many farmers in New York State to tidy up after Kenny and the rest of the fans are finished.

Ah yes, the game. The Bills are now two and zero. There are fourteen more games to play before the playoffs, and that includes the game this weekend against the Oakland Raiders. Raider fans always add a little spice to the party. Several thousand of their faithful make the cross-country trip to support their woeful team. The Raiders still have a long way to go to recapture their glory days. Bills’ receivers will feast on their porous defence this weekend. Kenny and his friends should go home happy.

The Bills are led by Trent Edwards. Following his rookie season last year, he looks most comfortable at the helm. Drafted 92nd overall, he was the twenty-ninth pick in the third round. He began the year as an understudy to J. P. Losman, and took over in Game Three. He finished the season with a respectable 56 % passing completion rate. Another rookie last year, Marshawn Lynch, ran for more than one thousand yards. That combination, Edwards and Lynch, is the first to top the 1000 yard mark since 1989 when Rodney Peete and Barry Sanders led the Detroit Lions.

The Bills have the Chargers and the Jets, with Brett Favre, following their game against the Raiders. On November 17th, they host the Cleveland Browns in the nationally televised Monday Night Football game. In a previous column, I interview Kellen Winslow, the great Hall of Famer from the Chargers. His son now toils for the Browns; hopefully, I will get a chance to pick his brain following the tilt with the Bills.

With the number of red, white, and blue flags now appearing on the streets, interest in the Bills has increased significantly since the pre-season game in Toronto. Buses are heading weekly to Orchard Park from the Quinte area for the festivities, and the game. Kenny’s group is situated behind the stadium. He may be a bit offside, but no one is throwing any flags in his direction.

Get your passport updated. That always helps. The Bills will “make you want to shout”!

James Hurst

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Shoulda Woulda Coulda

I trust you will tolerate the terrible spelling. The purpose of the title is to introduce the concept of “What might have been…” with regard to the Toronto Blue Jays season.

There were many disappointments to the team at the beginning of the season, and the Jays could never recover from that time. Manager Cito Gaston recently summarized that time by saying that things would have been different had the Jays reached .500 baseball (winning and losing the same number of games), then going five games up on that figure, then ten games up on that.

As of last Monday night, the Jays record stands at 76 wins, 66 loses. Just where Cito wanted them a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, too little too late.

Some of the members of the current roster decided to put on their hitting shoes a little too late in the season.

Alex Rios is an example in point. He won the Player of the Week Award for the period ending September 7, 2008. He batted .414, hit three home runs, two triples, three doubles, and drove in eight runs. That is exactly what was expected of Rios at the beginning of the season. It just didn’t happen.

On the Jays web site, in an article by Brittany Ghiroli who writes for Major League Baseball, Rios states: “ I’m seeing the ball pretty good at the plate. I’m being a little more patient and swinging at balls that I want to swing at, instead of swinging at everything. I think that’s one of the things that I’ve been doing good right now.”

When Gaston took over the reigns in mid-season, he asked former Athletic great Gene Tenace to take over the job as his hitting coach. With Rios, so far, so good.

Even Gaston looks to next year for great things from Rios: “I think this kid is going to get back to where he was before and be even better.”

The team stands in eleventh place in hitting in the American League, out of the fourteen teams. They are near the bottom of the heap in terms of home runs.

From my perspective, unless you are Brooks Robinson, you must hit at least .250. There are a lot of Blue Jays on the current roster, and several who have departed who are below that line.

There are certain moves made by management prior to the season, and during the season that just didn’t pan out. Frank Thomas, Shannon Stewart, David Eckstein, Matt Stairs, Kevin Mench and Brad Wilkerson all batted far below their potential this season.

John McDonald is a superb infielder, and part of a Jays team that fields with the best of them in the American League. But John is batting .217, and that is just not enough.

Greg Zaun handles pitchers well, and is an asset behind the plate; however, he is batting .231, and his ability to throw out base runners is deplorable.

Injuries have crippled the Jays this year. Then again, every team goes through those same situations. But the Jays could have used Aaron Hill, Scott Rolen, Vernon Wells, and Joe Inglett far more often than they did. Neither of those players has been in uniform for 100 games so far this year, and the team has played 140 games.

The Jays are Number One in pitching. They have the best Earned Run Average in the American League. Halladay and Burnett continue to lead the league in strikeouts. They are getting quality performances from several other hurlers.

Too little, too late.

But these are professional athletes. They are playing for pride. They play this game because they love it. Doubt that? Just watch the team when one of their players hits a home run to win a game in extra innings!

The Jays are now in a spoiler position. They have one series against the White Sox, one against the Yankees, and two against the Red Sox and The Orioles. They can certainly do a lot of damage before the season wraps up. Cito and the rest of the brass will get an opportunity to see what the future will bring as rookies will be called up from the farm system to strut their stuff.

September baseball. So near, and yet…

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Football! Football! Football!

Now that all of the little kiddies have gone back to school, we have come to the realization that fall can’t be too far away. There will be a World Series of baseball soon, the puck will drop in earnest, and hoopsters will be dunking their hearts out.

For the moment, however, the action on the gridiron takes precedent.

Three different leagues are heating up in this area of the country.

Last weekend, the University of Toronto Blues came from behind to defeat the Waterloo Warriors 18-17. How important is that victory to U of T? It just happens to be the first game that they have won in almost ten years! They had lost 49 straight games prior to the Labour Day weekend game.

There are many U of T alumni lurking in the shadows who now may hoist a blue and white flag to celebrate the win. The streak was the longest in Canadian University Football history. A field goal with 26 seconds left by rookie kicker Andrew Lomasney provided the Blues with the victory.

In Kingston, the Golden Gaels celebrated their first victory of the season over the McMaster Marauders.
There are no greater rivalries in the Canadian Football League than those interprovincial ones: Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta, and Hamilton and Toronto in Ontario. These rivalries are not matched in any other sport. The Habs-Leafs conflict has lost its lustre. The Blue Jays hosted the Expos for an annual Lester B. Pearson Trophy game each year, but you will not witness that happening again for quite some time.

The fans get stoked long before opening kickoff for both of those Labour Day games. This year, the Western game preceded the Eastern tilt, and the Eskies laid a thumping on the Stamps.

Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray was sharp in Calgary, completing 26 of 38 passes. He has now moved into second place on the list of Eskimo quarterbacks as far as touchdown tosses, trailing Warren Moon by one strike. He threw three strikes for paydirt in the game. These two teams complete a home and home series this weekend.

The Ticats had only won two games this season prior to the weekend, both against the Argos. Hopes were high in Steeltown, as the double blue from “Hollywood North” arrived at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

Bryan Crawford, a fourth year player out of Queen’s University, had spent part of his bye week holiday in Belleville at the Ribfest. The Argos brought their road show with cheerleaders and free tickets to Zwick’s Park. Chris Malette is the venerable curmudgeon from The Intelligencer who keeps politicians and those who would like to be politicians on their tippy toes in Belleville. He won the media title for tossing the football through the hole, with the capable assistance of one of the cheerleaders. He was almost humble in victory.

Crawford hails from Hamilton, and grew up a Ticat fan. “But now I am with the Argos, and all of that has changed,” he told me. A most personable player, he entertained old and young alike for several hours along with teammate # 80 Steve Schmidt. In an article on the Argos web site, Crawford summed up his feelings on the game: “Playing in a Labour Day Classic at Ivor Wynne is like playing in a homecoming game at Richardson Stadium (in Kingston).”

Crawford is a special teams player. This means, unfortunately, that he rarely gets on the field; kickoffs, punts, field goals---that’s about it. So when he got the call from Coach Stubler to go in for a key play in the fourth quarter, he was pumped. Quarterback Kerry Joseph faked a hand off up the middle, stepped back, and slipped the ball to Crawford scooting around the left end. The Ticats were caught completely off guard.

Crawford’s touchdown, his first career score, put the Argos ahead 27-26. They continued to seize the lead, then cough it up until the final gun blessed them with a 34-31 victory in Hamilton., completing the first half of the season.

The National Football league gets under way Thursday night, with the Superbowl Champion Giants taking on the Washington Redskins. Because of our proximity to the United States, many football fans save their energy for the NFL, and for the Buffalo Bills. I know a few who concentrate more on the Buffalo Jills, but that is another story!

The Bills played one pre-season game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto against the Pittsburgh Steelers, leaving the local fans licking their chops for more. They will play one more game this year in Toronto, against the Miami Dolphins. In an interesting turn of events, the Dolphins are now led by Chad Pennington. He was usurped in his job at quarterback with the Jets by Brett Farve. Farve flew the coop in Green Bay, and humbly accepted several million dollars from the Jets to come out of non-retirement retirement.

The Dolphins play their first game against the Jets. Great scheduling! The Bills open Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo against the Seattle Seahawks. On the meteorological front, Hurricane Gustav failed to deter the New Orleans Saints from opening their season at the SuperDome in The Big Easy. Chalk up a small victory in the battle of man against nature.

Crack a few cold ones, get out the chips and dip. Cheer on your team. Even in Wellington there are still few Cowboy fans!

James Hurst

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