Monday, September 21, 2009
A recent blurb in the Toronto Globe and Mail brought back vivid memories of an encounter we had years ago in Belleville.
In about 1953, a university professor from Toronto, George Luste, grew up in the NDG area of Montreal. He and his friends played football for hours near the apartments on Walkely Avenue. On one particular summer day, a stranger came up to the group and asked if he could teach them how to play better.
“He was unassuming and patient as he showed us how to throw the football-fingers gripping the lacing, how to plant your feet when throwing long, with throwing arm back, how to improve the spiral on the football, how to elude incoming linemen, when to throw, and on and on. We continued our game and he played quarterback for both sides. In our huddle, he explained where the receivers were to run, where they might expect the ball to go, how the linemen had to block and provide a protective pocket for him.”
Luste had no idea who the man was, but he realized that the man threw “gently that day for us eager but clumsy young kids.” One of the older boys then realized that the man was Sam Etcheverry, star quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes.
Sam Etcheverry was one of our heroes as well. “The Rifle” came to Canada from the University of Denver, where he still holds most of the Pioneers’ passing records. On many a bright fall Canadian afternoon, he dropped back in the pocket and fired a perfect strike to his favourite receiver, Hal Patterson. He was an East Division All Star six times, and the CFL’s most outstanding player in 1954.
Etcheverry still holds the record for passing yards in a Grey Cup game with 508 yards. The Alouettes in fact lost that game in 1955 to the Edmonton Eskimos.
For some inconceivable reason, the Alouette brass traded Etcheverry and Patterson to the lowly Hamilton Tiger Cats in 1960. “The Rifle” headed south to play for the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL, before retiring in 1962. He returned to Montreal in 1964 to coach the Quebec Rifles of the United Football League. He later coached the Alouettes to a Grey Cup victory in 1969.
Sam Etcheverry is a member of the CFL Hall of Fame, and was voted one of the top 50 players of the modern era. He died August 29, 2009.
Metro Prystai played twelve years in the National Hockey League. He won three Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings in 1952, 1954, and 1955. The Yorkton, Saskatchewan native began his career with the Black Hawks, but had his heyday with the Wings.
Probably at around the same year, and the same time as “The Rifle” threw at the kids in Montreal, we were playing a little pickup hockey on Church Street in Belleville. It was not easy, as the Protestants were pouring out of St, Andrews Presbyterian, St Thomas’ Anglican, and Bridge Street United. The Catholics headed south on Church from St. Michael’s.
A lot of vehicular traffic to deal with. No one hollered “Game ON!” at that time. We just played. A smartly dressed young man watched for a moment, then asked to join in. Obviously, he knew something about the game. He stickhandled around us and deposited the ball between the posts with ease.
We were neither shy, not intimidated. “Who are you?” we bellowed. He quietly responded, “My name is Metro Prystai, and I play for the Detroit Red Wings.” We were awestruck. Simply the mention of the name of one of the “Original Six” gained reverence.
Prystai was staying with a few other Red Wings in Rossmore, just across the Bay of Quinte. A Detroit scrap dealer, Larry Eggert had a cottage there, and would invite the players for a weekend of water skiing. They would line up for ice cream cones at Tobe’s County Gardens. You might find Red Kelly, Len Lunde, or Bob Goldham in that lineup. Eggert’s daughter Pam was known to model a hula skirt at the evening dance parties at Tobe’s! Those were the days!
Metro Prystai currently resides in Yorkton, Saskatchewan.