The CFL season is heading towards the playoffs and before we know it the Grey Cup will be upon us.
In the run up to that game in November I thought it might be interesting to do a series detailing the first time each team in the league captured the grand old trophy.
The 54th Grey Cup saw 36,553 fans on hand at Empire Stadium in Vancouver. There they saw the 9-6-1 Roughriders defeat the 11-3 Ottawa Rough Riders 29-14.
The Run up to the Game
The Roughriders had never won the Grey Cup, although they had appeared in the game on 8 occasions. All of that was in the dim distant past as 7 of those defeats came in the pre-modern era before the Second World War.
The other came in 1951 when they had lost to these same Rough Riders from Ottawa.
The Riders had been a founding team in the inaugural CFL season in 1958. Since then they had appeared in the playoffs five times but never progressed past the Western Final.
Over the previous 4 seasons they had defined mediocrity going 32-28-4 and losing 3 Western Semi-Finals and one Final.
There was another way to view it though. That was to say that the Riders steadily improved through the decade, and the 1966 season was their best in many years.
Their 9-6-1 record, and a win over Winnipeg in the western conference finals gave them another shot at the grand old trophy.
Ottawa were heavy favourites going into this one however. It has even been suggested that they were, “so heavily favoured to win that the TV networks had set up cameras in Ottawa’s dressing room on Saturday afternoon”.
Grey Cup Playoffs
Saskatchewan and Ottawa were Western Football Conference and Eastern Football Conference leaders respectively.
That meant they had the luxury of watching other teams fight it out to reach the Division Finals.
Saskatchewan won a best of 3 series against Winnipeg 2-0 thanks to 14-7 and 22-19 victories.
Ottawa were much more dominant on their way to the championship. They played a 2 game series against Hamilton in which they won both games. Two dominant performances, 30-1 and 42-16 saw them comfortably through on an aggregate score of 72-17.
The Grey Cup Game
The Riders D put on a surprisingly good show. During the second half the vaunted Rough Riders offense led by Russ Jackson never made it past midfield.
Which was quite a turnaround. The scoring in this one opened when Jackson hit Whit Tucker for a 61 yard touchdown.
The conversion was missed on that and Saskatchewan got some momentum after picking Jackson off. That led to Ron Lancaster throwing a nine yard TD. With the convert the green Riders led 7-6 at the end of the first.
That lead was extended early in the second when Lancaster threw his second TD.
The Eastern Riders got back into it with another long bomb. This time Jackson hit Tucker on an 85 yarder. A rouge on a punt meant it was tied 14-14 at the half.
Those were to be Ottawa’s last points as the Saskatchewan D corralled them in the second half. The third was scoreless but in the fourth quarter Lancaster threw his third TD of the day.
Saskatchewan controlled things on the ground as George Reed had 31 carries for 133 yards including a 31 yard touchdown scamper. The bulk of his yardage came after halftime as Saskatchewan wore Ottawa down.
A rouge completed the scoring and the Riders won their first Grey Cup in an upset 29-14.
This was a game that finished with 4 seconds left on the clock. Fans had invaded the field and with the Roughriders up by 15 the officials just ended the game.
Perhaps it wasn’t so surprising Riders fans were so keen to celebrate. They had waited a long time for this!
What Came Next
The Roughriders remained one of the top teams in the CFL for the next decade, qualifying for the post-season in every year.
Between 1966 and 1976 they were an impressive 117-55-4 in the regular season.
Despite that sustained success however the Riders did not win another Grey Cup during this period; Saskatchewan lost 6 Western Finals and in the Grey Cup in 1967, ’69, ’72 and ’76.
A period of decline followed. Between 1977 & 1987 the failed to make the playoffs once. Poor attendance reflected at the gate and in 1987 they held a telethon and a raffle to raise money against debts.
After you’ve experienced such lows though the highs are all the sweeter. The Riders had their first winning season in years in 1988, and in 1989 won their second Grey Cup.
The affection that team is still held in by the fans was demonstrated in a recent anniversary celebration.
Like all teams the Roughriders have had periods of highs and lows since then. They even claimed two more Grey Cups, – in 2007 and lastly in 2013.
With 15 Grey Cup defeats in their storied history and just the 4 wins, Rider fans crave another shot at the grand old trophy.
Banner Image: The Riders celebrate their first Grey Cup in 1966. Image from: Regina Leader-Post