December Grey Cup games: A look back

December Grey Cup games: A look back
Reading Time: 11 minutes.

December Grey Cup games were once a fixture of end of season play in Canada. After all, the first Grey Cup game ever played was on December the 4th 1909. Of late however we have become accustomed to the Grey Cup being played in November. So much so that the last time there was a December Grey Cup game was in 1972.

All of that is about to change. Because the CFL have finally announced tentative plans for a 2022 season. Plans that will see a shortened 14 game regular season culminate in a Grey Cup contest on December the 12th. Which will make this the latest a Grey Cup game has ever been played. Surpassing the previous latest date this game was played, December the 11th in 1937.

Of the 107 Grey Cup games played so far, 25 have been played in December. Or roughly 23% of the games that have been contested. But what were they like? A lot of them are from early on in the game’s history and had a very different feel to the contests we see today.

Nevertheless, I thought it might be fun to take a look back through the history of the December Grey Cup games in honour of the scheduling of the latest date a Grey Cup will yet have been played.

The First December Grey Cup Games

As noted above the very first Grey Cup game was played in December. As was the 6th Grey Cup game to be played, – on December the 5th 1914.

December Grey Cup – the first one

On December the 4th, 1909, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues triumphed over the Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club by a score of 26–6 in the first Grey Cup. We should note however that whilst this was the first Grey Cup game, teams had been competing for a national championship since 1892.

The Varsity Blues went on to win three more Grey Cups, and two of those next three came immediately after this win — completing the ‘threepeat.’ Making them the first Grey Cup Dynasty team.

The 6th Grey Cup – 1914

Toronto Argonauts win the 6th Grey Cup. Find a rundown here on Argonauts.ca

You can see how different things were over a century ago when you see that a 5-1 record carried the Toronto Argonauts to the Grey Cup game. That season they scored 145 points, including a record setting 47 points against Ottawa.

The Toronto Argonauts defeated the University of Toronto Varsity Blues 14-2 to take the trophy. You can read a little more detail about the game here.

The following year the Cup game was in November. From 1916 to 1919 no Grey Cup game was played due to a variety of factors. Including the First World War, Spanish Flu epidemic, and a rules dispute within the game. By the 1920’s however, the game was back on and December games would feature heavily.

1920’s December Grey Cup Games

Seven of the Grey Cup games contested in the Twenties would come in early December. The only exceptions were in 1924, 1927, & 1929.

The Grey Cup returns – the 8th Grey Cup, 1920

After a four year absence, the Grey Cup was contested once more. It was a familiar looking matchup too as the Varsity Blues and the Argonauts squared off once more. There was a light rain and slippery surface for most of the game. Although the Argos led 1-0 it was the University team who exacted revenge for their 1914 defeat coming out 16-3 winners.

1921 – The Argos do it again

The Toronto Argonauts made their fifth Grey Cup appearance, and picked up their second win in dominant fashion. this was the year the Grey Cup became a true national contest. The Western Canada Rugby Football Union joined proceedings and the Edmonton Eskimos became first Western team to challenge for the trophy.

Toronto earned the first shutout in Grey Cup history. The Argonauts were a dominant team that season. Between regular season (6-0) and playoff games (3-0 including Grey Cup) they were 9-0. The Argos had outscored the opposition 226 to 55. Meaning their 23-0 win against a mismatched Edmonton side was no surprise.

1922-1923 Queens University make a mark

In 1922 the Grey Cup saw the arrival of its second Grey Cup dynasty team as Queens University picked up the first of three consecutive victories. The game also featured the Edmonton Eskimos, (here briefly renamed the Elks), once more. They made it to consecutive Grey Cup games, but suffered the same fate as they did in 1921. They did lead 1-0 at the half before falling 13-1 to Queens in the end.

In 1923 Queens claimed the middle of their hat trick of performances with the biggest win in Grey Cup history as they demolished the Regina Roughriders 54-0. Queen’s outscored their opponents 124-14 and gave up just one touchdown on the way to the title. 

1925-1926 The Ottawa Senators take over

The 1925 Ottawa Senators Image from cbc.ca

In 1925, Ottawa defeated three-time defending champion Queen’s in the Eastern semi-final. This meant one Dynasty would replace another.

Some felt the Winnipeg Tammany Tigers were the strongest Western team yet. But the Senators had little trouble rolling them over 24-1. In four Grey Cup games the East had now outscored the opposition by a score of 114-2.

The Senators had stiffer competition defending the title in 1926. This time they outlasted the Toronto Varsity Blues by 10 points to 7. Frigid weather and a snowy field featured in this one. Some fans even wanted their money back. The CFL will be hoping for a better response than that in this year’s edition of a December Grey Cup I am certain!

It should be noted that the Regina Roughriders qualified for the final but with their season ending in early November, did not want to wait for the Eastern clubs to finish their playoffs.

1928 Hamilton over Regina

The 1st of December 1928 saw the Hamilton Tigers overpower a Roughriders team with pedigree. The Roughriders hadn’t lost a game in three years, not allowing a touchdown to be scored against them. None of that mattered here as the Tigers routed them 30-0.

1930’s December Grey Cup Games

The 1930’s was the decade of the December Grey Cup games. Every edition bar one from 1930-1939 was played in early December. The only exception coming in 1934 when the game was played on November the 24th.

1930-1934 A variety of winners

After the dynsaties created by Queens University and the Ottawa Senators, the Hamilton Tigers had also won back to back Grey Cups in 1928 & 1929. But the early 1930’s brought something else; a variety of winners.

The one consistent in fact was the runner up as the Regina Roughriders appeared in every Grey Cup game from 1928 to 1932 and lost all five.

In 1930 they were down 10-0 at the half but made a fight of it losing 11-6 to Toronto Balmy Beach 11-6. 1931 saw Regina downed 22-0 by the Montreal AAA Winged Wheelers. This was the only match held outside of Ontario in the first 42 Grey Cup games as the game was played in Montreal. The 1931 Grey Cup saw the first passing TD in the game’s history too.

The final of the Roughriders five straight defeats came in 1932 – the third consecutive December Grey Cup of the 1930’s. This time they lost 25-6 to the Hamilton Tigers. The Tigers took home their third Grey Cup in five years. Scant consolation for the Roughriders that their record of five consecutive Grey Cup appearances was a record that would hold for decades. Ultimately being surpassed by the 1977-1982 Edmonton Eskimos.

Rounding out the run of 4 different winners in four years came the 1933 game. Which saw the Toronto Argonauts defeat the Sarnia Imperials 4-3. The forward pass may have arrived but 1933 was the first time no touchdowns were scored in a Grey Cup. Kicking and Defence were dominant here.

1935 – The West wins!

On Decemeber the 7th, 1935, the Winnipeg ‘Pegs defeated the Hamilton Tigers 18-12. It was the first Grey Cup win for a team from west of Ontario. A key player was Fritz Hanson who returned 13 punts for an impressive 334 total yards.

Although the game was played in Hamilton, Winnipeg supporters could follow along. This was the first Grey Cup to be broadcast on national radio. Fans of the ‘Pegs, (not yet Blue Bombers), would hear Winnipeg make two passing TD’s before the decisive 78-yard punt return TD from Hanson that broke open a 12-10 game.

1936 Sarnia once more

In 1936 the Sarnia Imperials appeared in their third Grey Cup game in four years, and collected their second title. This time at the expense of the Ottawa Rough Riders who they beat 26-20. It was quite the contest, coming down to the last moments of the game. As time ticked away, Ottawa had a chance to tie things up. On third down and seven however the ball was batted down in the end zone confirming the win for the Imperials.

1937-1939 A tale of the Argonauts and Blue Bombers

The Toronto Argonauts collected their 4th and 5th Grey Cup titles in 1937 & 1938. On both occasions defeating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Firstly on Decemebr the 11th 1937, (the latest dated Decemebr Grey Cup until this year), the Argos won 4-3.

Toronto won much more convincingly the following year as on Decemebr the 10th 1938 they routed Winnipeg 30-7. Toronto trailed 7-6 in the final quarter when little known Red Story came off the bench. He would score three touchdowns in 15 minutes to seal the win.

In 1939 the decade was rounded out by Winnipeg claiming their second Grey Cup. Doubtless the Blue Bombers were happy to see the back of the Argos as they won a close one 8-7 against the Ottawa Rouhg Riders. A last-second rouge delivered Winnipeg their second title in five years.

The game was played on a snow-covered field at temperatures hovering around minus-5 degrees Celsius. So cold was it in fact that according to cbc.ca, “the day before the game, groundskeepers attempted to improve the state of the frozen field by lighting hundreds of litres of gasoline, but the field froze again overnight.”

1940’s December Grey Cup Games

The Toronto RCAF Hurricanes celebrate a 1942 Grey Cup win. Image from valourcanada.ca

The 1940’s were in complete contrast to the previous decade as the December Grey Cup games were on the wane. In fact there were only three Grey Cup matches contested in December, and one of those was the second game of a two legged affair.

1940 – A two game series

In 1940 the Ottawa Rough Riders and Toronto Balmy Beach played a two game series to decide the Grey Cup. All due to a rules dispute that saw Winnipeg excluded from defending their 1939 title.

The first game was played on November the 30th and the second on December the 7th. It hardly ignited public imagination as 4,998 and 1,700 fans turned out for each game respectively. The November game was played in heavy snow and the December game on a snow covered field.

The Rough Riders won the December contest 12-5, having been 5-0 down. They won the Grey Cup by an aggregate score of 20-7.

The two game series was usually reserved for the Eastern Final and has never been seen in the Grey Cup again.

1942 – A wartime Grey Cup

The 30th Grey Cup contest saw 12,455 fans turn out at Varisty Stadium in Toronto. There they saw two military teams compete. The Toronto RCAF Hurricanes winning 8-5 against the Winnipeg RCAF Bombers.

The Western Interprovincial Football Union and Interprovincial Rugby Football Union suspended operations for the duration of World War II, as most of the players had signed on for military service. This meant that 1942 delivered the first non-civilian Grey Cup match-up.

Lew Hayman, who had won three Grey Cups with the Toronto Argonauts in the 1930s, coached the Hurricanes to victory.  Winnipeg actually led 5-2 in the third. But the Toronto servicemen won out running in a TD and hitting a rouge to deliver the win. Toronto rushed for 218 yards and contrasted with Winnipeg who carried more of an aerial threat.

1945 – The Argos start another dominant run

On December the 1st 1945 the Toronto Argonauts claimed their sixth Grey Cup title. Their seventh and eighth wins would follow in quick succession in 1946 & 1947. The Argos would win each of those contests against Winnipeg thanks in no small part to Joe Krol and Royal Copeland, known as the “Gold Dust Twins”.

On a frozen field at Varsity Stadium, the Argonauts dominated on their way to a 35-0 win. The Blue Bombers got inside the Toronto 25-yard line only once during the entire game, where they fumbled away the ball. Pehaps a reflection of how one sided the game was came when fans started throwing snowballs in the stands.

It is well worth reading a deeper dive on the career of Joe ‘King’ Krol on the Argos own website.

1960’s December Grey Cup Games

The 1950’s had seen every Grey Cup game contested in the final week of November. But the 1960’s saw the twelfth month games make a return in 1961, 1962 & 1967.

1961-1962 Winnipeg over Hamilton

From 1957 to 1962 the Blue Bombers were on a tear in the CFL. Led by Head Coach Bud Grant they recorded a 75-21 regular season run. Which translated into 5 Grey Cup appearances (they were runners up in 1957) and four wins. The wins came in 1958, 1959, 1961 & 1962. In fact they made 5 finals in 6 years, and every time faced Hamilton.

The 49th Grey Cup in 1961 saw Winnipeg win 21-14. The score was tied 14-14 at the end of regulation and this was one of only three Grey Cup contests to go into overtime. You can read more about that here.

The 50th Grey Cup, played in 1962 has gone down in CFL legend as the ‘Fog Bowl’. The game started normally on Saturday, December the 1st, 1962. However, by the second quarter, a thick fog started to roll in over the field. Fans couldn’t see the action, receivers couldn’t see the ball and punt returners couldn’t pick out the ball until it hit the ground.

Just prior to halftime the fog rolled into Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. The 32,655 in attendance were left wondering what was happening on the field. Although not visible to the fans, play was able to continue into the fourth quarter. Visibility became so poor that referee Paul Dojack stopped play with Winnipeg leading 28-27. After a 20-minute delay, CFL commissioner Syd Halter decided that the remainder of the game would be played the following afternoon.

When the teams returned however no scoring was added and Winnipeg held on for another win.

1967 Joe Zuger’s game

The 1967 Grey Cup was held in Ottawa as part of Canada’s centennial celebrations. It marked Hamilton’s sixth appearance in the Grey Cup during the 1960s, as the Ticats hunted for their third title in the decade. The Roughriders were looking to defend their first ever Grey Cup championship won in 1966.

In the end Hamilton dominated winning 24-1. A far from average Joe Zuger was the player of the game. Scoring one touchdown, throwing for another and adding three singles he amassed 15 points on the way to MVP status.

Hamilton lived off their Defence and this was the sixth consecutive game that the Ti-Cats held their opponents without a touchdown.

The final December Grey Cup Game – 1972

The 1972 Grey Cup featured Hamilton and Saskatchewan. Image from youtube.

The final December Grey Cup game to be played, until now, came in 1972. The 60th Grey Cup was played on December the 3rd 1972 and saw the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defeat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 13-10.

In a nod to the future, the 60th Grey Cup was the first Grey Cup game to be playaed on Astroturf. It also saw the Tiger-Cats become the first team in the CFL’s modern era to win the Grey Cup at home.

The game itself saw Hamilton take a 10-0 lead before Saskatchewan tied it up before halftime. The Defences dominated in the second half. But, the Ti-Cats got moving with 1:51 on the clock and set up the winning Field Goal. 19-year-old rookie place kicker Ian Sunter kicked a 34 yard winner on the last play.

What can we expect from a December Grey Cup game?

49 years and and 48 Grey Cup games later we are once again expecting a December Grey Cup game. We can see from these games that there has been some incelement weather down the years.

But that’s not really an issue. After all, 1991 saw the coldest Grey Cup ever (-16 degrees Celsius at kickoff), and that was in November. The 1996 Grey Cup was so wintery it became known as the ‘Snow Bowl’. And it was played in November.

Of the recent Grey Cups 2017 was played in a chill and snow, in November – and it was a glorious spectacle.

Whatever happens, the idea of a season, and of the first December Grey Cup game in almost half a century is something CFL fans can get behind. After missing a season in 2020, we are desperate to see the teams take the field once more.

We look forward to the league and the Grey Cup adding to their storied histories and watching it all unfold.

Banner Image: A Grey Cup Classic – the Fog Bowl played in December 1962. Image from theglobeandmail.com

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