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Howdy, folks. The CFL Beat is now entering into its curious new format, until such time that organized sports – and the #content mines – return with some regularity and normalcy. Every week, I’m going to be looking at a classic Grey Cup game throughout the decades, which, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, are all readily available to be consumed online. We’re going to start this week with the 1976 game, the 64th Grey Cup, played between the Ottawa Rough Riders and the favoured Saskatchewan Roughriders. Yes, a rivalry that launched a thousand jokes, indeed. But what a game it was!
Date: November 28th, 1976
Venue: Exhibition Stadium, Toronto, ON
Ottawa Rough Riders fast facts:
- Season record: 9-6-1 (1st in East Division)
- Head Coach: George Brancato
- Quarterback: Tom Clements
The 1960s and ’70s were good years for the Rough Riders; from 1960 to 1976, Ottawa went to the Grey Cup game six times, winning five. Frank Clair, who served as head coach and later as GM, was the architect of these fruitful years, and the field at Lansdowne Park now known as TD Place used to bear the name Frank Clair Stadium.
Saskatchewan Roughriders fast facts:
- Season record: 11-5 (1st in West Division)
- Head Coach: John Payne
- Quarterback: Ron Lancaster
The Saskatchewan Roughriders came after the Ottawa Rough Riders, but have an extremely similar name due to the fact that the teams played in separate leagues prior to 1958 when the eastern Interprovincial Rugby Football Union merged with the Western Interprovincial Football Union to become the CFL. The western Riders originally shared the black, red and white colour scheme with their eastern counterparts until 1948, when they switched to the classic green and white look that has remained ever since. Saskatchewan and Ottawa faced off in the 1966 Grey Cup, which was won by the Green Riders – their first-ever championship.
0:00 – God, look at this stadium. It’s so fucked up. The Toronto Blue Jays were set to begin play in the spring of 1977 – the coming year – so the Canadian National Exhibition worked to reconfigure the seating setup, making for the angular sideline view that you see here. The added seats meant that at the time, this was an all-time record for attendance at a Grey Cup game – but it would’ve been awful to be in the nosebleeds. Exhibition Stadium sucked for football, and sucked even more for baseball. What a piece of shit. Any chance I get to shit on Toronto, I will.
2:22 – Oh, man. A two-RB formation for Ottawa. Old-school football is hilarious. The Rough Riders had a good running game this season, but with Tom Clements, a Notre Dame grad, at QB, the passing game was pretty solid too.
8:49 – Wonderful Monds, cornerback. Oh my God, what an intro pic. This is a beautiful man.
9:23 – Ottawa intercepts!
10:25 – Yamaha Audio is staging a contest for a free Cessna and flying lessons, a trip to Tahiti, or a ski trip to the Bugaboo mountains in British Columbia. I wish TV ads were still like this today. This is followed up by an ad for the Chevy Monte Carlo, which features a man wistfully staring off at the sunset on the beach. The car is parked in the sand – what a way to showcase driving performance, GM.
11:28 – Look at this fucking stadium. What an abomination. It makes Candlestick Park look state-of-the-art. I’m going to have an aneurysm.
12:03 – An interview with recently-retired CFL legend George Reed, former RB for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who was working as the head of the CFL Players’ Association during that time. Nice to see his face on the screen!
15:30 – Ron Lancaster gets sacked and it’s ALMOST a safety. Sooooo close. Thanks, shitty artificial turf!
16:10 – An ad for K-Tel’s Super Gold double album? Incredible. A must-listen.
18:35 – How the fuck does Art Green not catch this pass? He’s wide-open with all the time in the world. Shit, my grandmother could’ve caught it.
19:15 – Ottawa scores the first points of the game with a Gerry Organ field goal.
21:35 – Oh shit! Rookie WR Bill Hatanaka takes a punt 78 yards to the house for the first TD of the game. An awesome run – Ottawa now takes a 10-0 lead after Gerry Organ makes the convert. At this point in time, this was the longest punt return TD in CFL history.
26:30 – This is a minute-long ad, and I have no idea what it’s selling, at first… we’ve got horses, snowy landscapes, and people gathering around a restaurant table… it’s… a beer ad! Labatt’s Blue. Possibly the most ineffective ad I’ve ever seen.
30:15 – Hoooo boy, was that ever close to a PICKERCEPTION. Tom Clements was a gamblin’ man.
34:12 – THEY ACTUALLY LET THIS AD RUN ON TV. WHAT. THIS IS INSANE. THOUSANDS OF CHINESE LABOURERS DIED TO BUILD THE CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY AND THIS IS HOW YOU PAY TRIBUTE TO THEM. HOLY FUCKING SHIT.
37:20 – Saskatchewan is looking much, much sharper to start this quarter. As the commentary mentions, the wind was a major factor here in Toronto – Exhibition Stadium was sometimes referred to as the “Mistake By The Lake”, clearly ripping off the Cleveland Browns…
40:43 – YUGE defensive stop by Ottawa, keeping the Riders just short of a 1st down at the 3-yard line. Awfully silly to not try a QB sneak here, considering Canadian rules mandating that the defense has to start a yard off the line of scrimmage.
45:35 – A lot of words about mining in a one-minute ad. This is so, so strange to see in what was must-see TV back in the day.
47:05 – Fantastic screen pass to Saskatchewan RB Molly McGee from Ron Lancaster. Poor bastard must’ve hated having a name like that – probably got in a lot of fights sticking up for himself, I bet.
49:49 – Saskatchewan gets on the board with a field goal.
52:26 – How the fuck does Canadian Pacific get so many ads? And why are they all so incredibly terrible?
53:43 – love the toque that Tom Clements is wearing in his headshot. I wonder if I can find one somewhere?
58:45 – Touchdown, Saskatchewan! Ron Lancaster hits Steve Mazurak on a slant, who takes it in for the score. The successful convert ties it up.
1:01:50 – Gary Kuzyk blows an incredible single-coverage opportunity – if he makes the catch, he’s gone down the sideline. A big missed opportunity for Ottawa.
1:03:00 – And another drop, this time by Jim Foley. Very disappointing for Ottawa, but kudos to Saskatchewan for finally getting their pass-rush activated.
1:03:40 – Molly McGee is injured. We’ll find out later that he won’t be returning to this game – a big loss for Saskatchewan.
1:03:53 – Tom Clements is intercepted by DB Ted Provost. Things are just going from bad to worse for Ottawa right now.
1:04:48 – Another Canadian Pacific ad. I’m a noted fan of trains, but goddamn, this advertising suuuuuuucks.
1:05:54 – An injured official?? How often does that happen anymore?
1:07:15 – Another Saskatchewan TD. TE Bob Richardson just goes full Gronk and lumbers over the middle after catching the checkdown pass. King shit. After the convert, the score is now 17-10 in favour of Saskatchewan.
1:09:12 – Saskatchewan kicker Bob Macoritti fucks up the kickoff. Hilarious. Once again, I’m blaming the terrible AstroTurf.
1:10:41 – Another egregious pick by Tom Clements. Ouch. He’s a forerunner for Brett Favre in this game. And to rub further salt into the wound, that’s LB Bill Manchuk making the play – not exactly known for his athletic prowess in the way that DBs typically are.
1:12:25 – That’s a massive sack of Ron Lancaster. He was scampering so far back there, I thought he might be trying to reverse the rotation of the Earth. 3rd and 37 coming up. Wow.
1:17:50 – What a bomb from Lancaster. Too bad that it was an incomplete pass – his arm strength really was something.
1:19:19 – Those orange suits from CBC were absolutely classic. Too bad we don’t get to see halftime, but I’m sure it would be awesome from a cultural standpoint.
1:23:55 – Ron Lancaster almost picked off – very close.
1:24:10 – sideline interview with the injured Molly McGee, who’s cracked some ribs – I have to laugh a little bit at how high-pitched his voice is. Not what I expected. That said, the injury’s a major bummer.
1:26:48 – Bob Macoritti hits a 51-yarder to put Saskatchewan up 20-10.
1:27:15 – An ad for Labatt 50! A beer that remains the nearest and dearest to my heart. In terms of cheap Canadian beer, it doesn’t get any better than this. In Quebec, my dad and his fellow citizens grew up calling it “Cinquante”, which you did regardless of language you spoke. Also, this guy treats his wife like shit. Seems like par for the course for the 1970s, really! We also have an ad for Boeing airplanes, which, honestly, seems hilarious to me. I know they’re advertising that people should merely take a flight on them, but if you choose, like I am, to imagine the ad in the context that people should go and buy a plane in the manner that they can a car, it becomes way funnier.
1:28:55 – Tony Gabriel snags an out route for a 16-yard gain. What a player he was. (His #77 is retired by the Rough Riders and the modern-day REDBLACKS.)
1:29:50 – Hap Shouldice, the head of officiating, has an awesome hat.
1:30:15 – Great run by Tom Clements to move Ottawa down to the Saskatchewan 40-yard line!
1:30:55 – Another catch by Gabriel!
1:32:20 – Gerry Organ kicks the field goal to make it a 20-13 game in favour of Saskatchewan.
1:32:45 – We got some Deliverance-esque banjo going to help sell Chevy trucks. Love it.
1:34:40 – All of the points in this game have been scored by Canadians. Fascinating!
1:36:05 – A nice pickup again by Saskatchewan TE Bob Richardson. This guy is a unit. 4 receptions for 63 yards and a TD at this point in the game.
1:39:10 – George Brancato looks quite silly with his big tags flapping in the wind.
1:39:35 – Bob Macoritti’s field goal attempt is short and wide left, and Ottawa RB Art Green safely runs the ball out to the sidelines.
1:41:10 – Tom Clements throws to the sideline and hits Tony Gabriel again. Ottawa looks much more competitive in this quarter than the previous one.
1:41:45 – Frankie Valli shilling his new double album for K-Tel. Cheesy goodness. Just $9.99 – what a deal!
1:44:55 – QB sneak by Tom Clements – he’s got the 1st down.
1:47:30 – FAKE PUNT!!! Gerry Organ picks up 51 yards on the run, taking it deep into Saskatchewan territory. Hell yes. Madden rules!
1:48:30 – And just like that, the momentum is gone. Clements throws his third INT of the game, this time to inside linebacker Cleveland Vann, who’s been a force all game long.
1:49:06 – The mutton chops look incredible.
1:49:35 – “You’re looking good, Buick.” The fuck kind of slogan is this? Also, the LeSabre was a piece of shit. I don’t care what anyone says.
1:51:05 – Saskatchewan is driving again.
1:54:20 – High snap on the punt, and Bob Macoritti has a tough, tough time getting the ball away. He’s super close to getting absolutely smoked here.
1:58:55 – “Labatt 50: Canada’s favourite ale.” Maestro’s, too. I like the storyline going with the fixing of the dock. But is it a euphemism for something else? MAYBE.
2:01:40 – Tom Clements rolls left and hits Jim Foley on an out route at the very last second. A crucial catch at this stage in the game.
2:03:42 – The Chevy Vega, Chevette, Pontiac Astre, and Acadian – a hilarious lineup of vehicles, especially since the Acadian was just a rebadged Chevette for the Canadian market. All shitty, shitty cars, but hey – $200 cash bonus! Also, why is watching a text scroll from a typewriter considered an effective ad?
2:04:29 – Gerry Organ kicks another field goal. The score is now 20-16, Saskatchewan. Time is running out for Ottawa to try and tie this one up…
2:08:00 – Saskatchewan has to punt again. This Ottawa defense has really stepped it up in the second half – they’ve completely shut the run game down and they’ve made Lancaster have to look for much shorter options.
2:10:15 – Art Green picks up the first down for Ottawa thanks to a screen to the sideline and a nice run.
2:11:35 – A big pickup by Tony Gabriel to bring the ball down to the Saskatchewan 10-yard line. Some fantastic one-on-one work by Gabriel to cut back and gain some additional yards.
2:12:25 – “The Annual Bed Race is on!” What?! I have literally never heard of this. But there’s Labatt 50 involved, so count me in. Also, Yamaha is blowing up some speakers in their addfor the NS451 Rock Monitor, which just seems wasteful to me.
2:13:28 – Cleveland Vann is hurt. If he’s not on for this last series, that’s a huge loss for Saskatchewan – he’s been their best defensive player this game.
2:15:51 – Tom Clements rolls right and keeps it, taking it down to the one-yard line. Shit is getting REAL, folks. It looks like he’s fumbled the football, but he’s down before the ball pops out. It’s third and one.
2:17:25 – Saskatchewan holds! Turnover on downs. 1:32 remaining.
2:18:00 – The Green Riders are likely going to run out the clock here… hopefully…
2:20:20 – Saskatchewan is forced to punt again. Not ideal. First down Ottawa, inside the 35-yard line.
2:21:05 – Art Green tries to take it up the middle. No good. There’s no huddle afterwards.
2:21:37 – First down! Across the field, to Tony Gabriel on the left side at the end of a crossing pattern. 31 seconds left.
2:22:44 – TOUCHDOWN! Tony Gabriel beats his coverage, and Clements finds him in the end zone. With the convert, it’s now 23-20, Ottawa. There’s 20 seconds left.
2:25:20 – Saskatchewan mishandles the kickoff. They have 13 seconds to score.
2:26:00 – That’ll do it! The Ottawa Rough Riders win the 1976 Grey Cup. An incredible game from start to finish.
With the victory, the Ottawa Rough Riders would win their final Grey Cup as a franchise. In 1996, the team folded due to gross financial mismanagement by a series of owners, bringing down the 120-year-old team with them. It was an incredibly sad time for football fans in town; it took until 2016, with the rebirth of the Ottawa REDBLACKS as the the city’s CFL franchise, for the Grey Cup to come back home for the first time in 40 years.
With the loss, the Saskatchewan Roughriders wouldn’t return to the playoffs again until 1988 – an 11-year drought that is unmatched by any other CFL team. John Payne, the team’s head coach, left to become the offensive line coach of the Detroit Lions. He lasted just one season in the NFL, returning to coach the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1978-1980.
The Most Outstanding Player on offense from this game was Tom Clements – despite throwing three interceptions, he put together enough offense at the end of the game to engineer a game-winning touchdown drive. On defense, the Most Outstanding Player was Saskatchewan LB Cleveland Vann, who had a big second-half interception of Clements while also racking up a bunch of other tackles along the way. Finally, Tony Gabriel, considered one of the best receivers in the history of the CFL, came away with the Most Outstanding Canadian award, with 7 receptions for 124 yards and, of course, the legendary touchdown.
Thanks for reading! Check back here next week, when we re-watch the 1991 Grey Cup, featuring the exploits of surprise CFL superstar Raghib “Rocket” Ismail.