When you love a sport you tend to fall in love with all of it. Meaning that you want to know all about how and why things happen in the game. You also want to know how the sport got to where it is today, who were the stars of the past and what mark they may have left. For many the history of the game they love holds a fascination.
Thus it was with great interest that I read that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are inducting Melvin ‘Fritz’ Hanson into the team’s Ring of Honour. According to Ed Tait, (@EdTaitWFC) writing on their website he was ‘the first superstar in the history of the Winnipeg Football Club’ https://www.bluebombers.com/2018/09/18/ring-honour-inductee-fritz-hanson/
How times have changed
There’s something quite compelling about seeing old black and white stills of players from the bygone eras of football. Be they NFL, CFL or college players they look like something from a different world. You can see the evolution of the game in the changing kits that teams have worn from the very earliest days of the sport, through the changing formations teams used, the differing approaches to how a the game is played, the change from run oriented to a pass oriented attacks and so many more minor details.
You are drawn to see these old players, coaches and administrators. Perhaps we are so drawn to them because we know that even though the game they played was so different, still the modern game would not exist without them. The modern gridiron players are standing on the shoulders of the giants of the game’s past.
Another area that has changed enormously is in how the game is reported. Setting aside the explosion in blogs and fan based content, the prose produced by the professional sports-writer has in itself undergone a huge transformation.
For example writing about the performance of Illinois RB Red Grange against Michigan in 1925, Grantland Rice was compelled to write,
“A streak of fire, a breath of flame
Eluding all who reach and clutch;
A gray ghost thrown into the game
That rival hands may never touch;
A rubber bounding, blasting soul
Whose destination is the goal.”
Rice wrote with a unique poetic meter. He almost conveyed a senses of the Homeric odyssey onto the achievements of the young men he wrote about. We may extol the virtues of the modern player but I doubt you would find such purple prose on sports website these days!
Rice had memorably ingrained Grange into the american sporting conscience and he is still remembered as the galloping ghost. Yet north of the border playing in the CFL in the 1930’s and 40’s was another man sometimes dubbed the galloping ghost. In fact he was also known as the ‘Golden ghost’, ‘Twinkle Toes’, and the ‘Perham Flash’. A lot of nicknames and a lot to live up to, which is exactly what he did.
A true championship player
Hanson joined the Winnipeg Football Club in 1935, during an era that saw a mass import of American talent to the Western Conference. He signed for $125 a game and free room and board – not an inconsiderable offer during the depression era! He would spend 7 years with Winnipeg, putting together some great moments. Perhaps the greatest and most important moment came in his first season in 1935.
The 1935 Grey Cup was played on the Hamilton Amateur Athletic Association Grounds, and Winnipeg’s opponent was the Hamilton Tigers. In that game Hansen returned 13 punts for an impressive 334 total yards. According to Hanson’s bio on the Canadian Football Hall of Fame website, (of which Hanson was a charter member in 1963), it notes to that this was the first championship won by a Western team. So an important moment in the development of the game as a truly national sport in Canada.
In Hanson’s time with the Bombers they would become the football power in western Canada and reach the championship games again in 1937, 1938, 1939 and 1941, winning in 1939 and 1941.
Like so many players of this era his pro-career was interrupted by service in the Second World War. He returned for one season before retiring briefly. Hanson would finish his career by playing 2 seasons (1947 and 1948) with the Calgary Stampeders including being part of the team that went undefeated to a Grey Cup victory in 1948.
It’s always fascinating to look back at players you don’t know from a time so different from our own & Winnipeg adding Hanson to their Ring of Honour has been a great opportunity to do that. You have to wonder, how will this era be viewed in years to come? Who will be remembered and who will be forgotten? We can’t have all the answers but it’s going to be fun getting there I am sure.
Original image from Bluebombers.com