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Hi again, folks. The CFL Beat is back this week with a look at the CFL’s 1958 championship game – the first time in history that Canadian football was united under one formal league!
Date: November 29th, 1958
Venue: Empire Stadium, Vancouver, BC
Winnipeg Blue Bombers fast facts:
- Season record: 13-3 (1st in WIFU)
- Head Coach: Bud Grant
- Quarterback: Jim Van Pelt & Kenny Ploen
In the late ’50s and early ’60s, the Bombers and Ti-Cats had a fierce Grey Cup rivalry going – these teams faced each other seven times, with matchups in 1953, 1957-59, 1961, 1962, and 1965. They also squared off in 1984 and 2019 – the Bombers’ victory last season makes them reigning Grey Cup champions. With the start of the 1958 season, amateur football teams in Canada were formally locked out of competing for the Grey Cup, although they hadn’t really competed since 1954 – the amateur Ontario Rugby Football Union was populated mostly by military teams in its latter years, and with most players returning to civilian life after the end of World War II – not to mention the promise of professional contracts for play – the ORFU ceased to the be the powerhouse it once had been. The last Grey Cup champion from the ORFU was the St. Hyacinthe-Donnacona Navy team of 1944, who beat Hamilton 7-6 in the final.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats fast facts:
- Season record: 10-3-1 (1st in IRFU)
- Head Coach: Jim Trimble
- Quarterback: Bernie Faloney
You might notice that Hamilton played just 14 games in their regular season, compared to Winnipeg’s 16; that’s because when the CFL was first established, it was really a consolidation of two separate football leagues – the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (comprising Ontario and Quebec), and the Western Interprovincial Football Union (comprising Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia). Due to their historic nature, and due to the limitations of cross-country travel across Canada in an era where flying was uncommon & prohibitively expensive (and train/road travel was time-consuming and tedious), the WIFU and IRFU wouldn’t face each other in regular-season play until the 1961 season. It wasn’t until 1974 that Eastern and Western teams’ regular-season schedules became balanced at 16 games.
0:44 – A little preamble from CBC’s Elliotte Friedman about Grey Cups from years past – the CBC used to have a program called “Grey Cup Classics” when they needed sports filler back in the day. (I miss CBC having CFL broadcasting rights, though no doubt TSN has continued to do a good job since winning the contract.)
2:10 – Footage starts. Jim Van Pelt is the Bombers’ quarterback AND kicker – and he’s wearing number 86. Super weird. Old football kicks ass. No names on the sweaters, so I’m probably going to fuck this up a bunch in my watching.
2:53 – Bernie Faloney airs the ball out right to a receiver on a corner route trying to get past the DB – it’s no good. The ball hits the turf and just dies. The beauty of a grass field, I guess? Also, Faloney is wearing number 92 – weird QB numbering kicks ass.
6:01 – Chain gang is coming out to measure whether or not Faloney picked up a first down. Love the socks the officials have on. Faloney is just short by a few inches.
8:06 – A nice pitch-off from Faloney to halfback Don Sutherin, who picks up a first down and takes the ball down into Winnipeg territory for the first time.
10:20 – Halfback Gerry McDougall takes a checkdown pass down the left sidelines down to the 9-yard line, where he “went into touch” – a fantastic turn of phrase that I would love to see used in regular football vernacular again. All you futbol fans out there, I see you nodding your heads with me.
11:14 – Touchdown, Hamilton! McDougall runs to the right from the nine, scoring the first points of the game. After the kick, the Ti-Cats are up 7-0. I love the old rounded end zones of Empire Stadium – the running track cut the corners quite fiercely, meaning that they weren’t exactly 25 yards deep as Canadian football rules mandate. I never got to visit this stadium – the Lions moved out to the state-of-the-art domed BC Place in 1982, well before I was even born – but the pictures make it seem quite lovely.
12:16 – Don Sutherin, a halfback, is also Hamilton’s kicker, and he muffs the kickoff – it’s just 23 yards in all. Cool to see that the commentary is keeping track of this stat – it’s not something you see that often in the modern era.
13:19 – Interception! Tiger-Cats defensive halfback Eddie Macon picks off Jim Van Pelt, and he takes the ball all the way to Winnipeg’s 23-yard line before being tackled.
13:45 – Never mind, penalties negate the interception. WOMP WOMP. First down Bombers. The drive continues.
16:54 – FUMBLE! The ball’s scooped up by Ralph Goldston, Hamilton’s defensive halfback, and he takes it to the house! After the convert, it’s now 14-0, Ti-Cats. A terrible start for Winnipeg.
20:50 – Jim Van Pelt gets smoked. Winnipeg has a whole lot of nothing on offence right now.
21:20 – Bombers are aided by an offside call against Hamilton, making it 2nd and 3. Leo Lewis is starting to get some touches – Winnipeg is starting to build up a ground game here.
22:44 – Handoff from Van Pelt to backup QB Kenny Ploen, and his pass to halfback Charlie Shepherd is complete for a big gain!
23:54 – Touchdown Winnipeg, on a wonderfully creative play – QB Kenny Ploen takes the snap and flips the ball to halfback Leo Lewis, who hits a streaking Jim Van Pelt with a pass down the left side for a wide-open score! This rules. Two quarterbacks in on the same play, with one lining up as a receiver and the other as a decoy and blocker. God, I fucking love this. After the convert, also by Van Pelt, it’s 14-7, Hamilton.
27:59 – Three minute warning for the FIRST quarter?! Yes! I’m not sure when this rule was changed – I’ve been trying to find it online, without much luck thus far.
28:20 – Bernie Faloney gets sacked!
31:25 – There’s a sideline official with a flag on a stick, and I’m not certain what it’s supposed to signify.
32:21 – Another fun throwback football moment – a starter’s gun is fired to end the quarter!
34:12 – Nice run from Faloney to pick up a first down for Hamilton.
35:05 – Hamilton attempts a field goal – but the kick is short, and Bombers halfback Gordie Rowland runs the ball up to the 25. Winnipeg takes over.
38:30 – Leo “The Lincoln Locomotive” Lewis, Winnipeg’s star halfback, has yet another nice run to pick up a first down for the Bombers.
41:56 – On third down, the Bombers go for it – Van Pelt completes a pass to left end Frank Gilliam, who picks up a first down. A great play for Winnipeg as it looked like their drive was just about to fizzle out!
42:30 – It looks like Van Pelt’s going to be sacked for a sizable loss, but he manages to get a pass off to the end zone – but Hamilton swats it down.
43:13 – Van Pelt rolls left and has a Mahomesian sidearm pass to Gilliam, who’s wide open… and can’t hold on to the ball. What a shame.
43:50 – Jim Van Pelt kicks a field goal from 22 yards out. It’s now 14-10, Hamilton. The Bombers are making their way back into this one. The footage doesn’t show Van Pelt kicking a second field goal a few minutes later to make the score 14-13 for the Ti-Cats.
46:15 – It’s the final play of the first half, and it’s a… BLOCKED PUNT! Winnipeg DB Norm Rauhaus steps in front of the kick, sending the ball backwards into the end zone, and he pounces on it! Jim Van Pelt kicks the convert, and Winnipeg takes a 20-14 lead into halftime. Just an atrocious play call to not take a knee here.
47:43 – Elliotte Friedman recounts the story that Hall of Fame Hamilton tackle Angelo “King Kong” Mosca absolutely hated Coach Trimble’s decision to punt on the final play of the half, and publicly ripped him for it later.
49:25 – Touchdown, Ti-Cats! Bernie Faloney goes end zone to Ron Howell, and after the successful convert, Hamilton’s back in the lead, 21-20!
54:02 – Winnipeg’s fullback Charlie Shepard punts the ball away; Hamilton defensive halfback Eddie Macon receives the kick and starts to make the return, but he fumbles! The ball is recovered by the Ti-Cats’ Bobby Dawson, however. Crisis averted.
59:19 – FUMBLE! This time, it’s Bombers’ ball – Gordie Rowland recovers, and Winnipeg takes over with great field position, at Hamilton’s 23-yard line.
1:00:47 – Kenny Ploen gets the snap this time, and he throws a pass to Charlie Shepard, who gets some contact but brings the ball down to the 6-yard line.
1:02:25 – Shepard gets another carry and picks up a few more yards, but it’s still not quite enough. However… Hamilton is called for the offside.
1:03:28 – This time, Shepard makes no mistake – he takes the ball up the gut and scores. After the convert kick by QB Jim Van Pelt, it’s 27-21, Winnipeg.
1:07:04 – We’re into the three-minute warning in the third quarter. The first play inside the warning is a good run by Ti-Cats’ halfback Milt Campbell. Campbell, interestingly enough, won a gold medal in the decathlon at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia!
1:09:18 – Bernie Faloney sends an absolute bomb of a pass to HB Ron Howell, who’s run a go route – and it’s a beauty of a touchdown play! After the kick, Hamilton regains the lead for the third time this game, 28-27.
1:10:29 – Chet Miksza is coming in to replace Don Sutherin as Hamilton’s kickoff man, which rules, because most of the time, he plays centre or guard. BRING BACK FAT GUY KICKERS!
1:11:44 – I figured out what the sideline flag on the stick is for! It’s the one-minute warning flag!
1:14:08 – Jim Van Pelt rolls right and hits Leo Lewis on an out route at the Hamilton 30. Winnipeg’s been back-and-forth with the Ti-Cats all game long.
1:14:55 – We hear a rundown of the old CFL playoff overtime rules: two ten-minute quarters, with teams alternating ends after each quarter. If they’re still tied after that 20-minute session, then they’ll take a short break and then run two more.
1:16:00 – A great play from Jim Van Pelt to Kenny Ploen, as Van Pelt rolls left to hit Ploen who takes it right down to inches from the goal line!
1:16:48 – Touchdown, Bombers! Van Pelt keeps the ball and dives over the pile to cross the plane. He’ll then follow up his major score with the convert kick, making it 34-28, Winnipeg.
1:22:29 – It looks for a moment like Winnipeg’s scored another touchdown thanks to a great run from right end Ernie Pitts, but sideline officials mark him having just barely stepped out at the 31-yard line. The crowd boos the officials heartily.
1:24:26 – The “Winnipeg Board of Strategy” (What an unbelievably classy name for a coaching staff! My God!) may be calling for a field goal attempt here on 3rd and 6. Alas, it’s not to be. Instead, it’s a punt. But wait! Charlie Shepard’s punt sails through the back of the end zone! That means it’s a…
Some fans have jumped onto the field to try and take the ball. Hilarious. The score is now 35-28, Blue Bombers.
1:29:07 – Bernie Faloney connects with Eddie Macon over the middle for a fantastic catch in double coverage, and he sheds two tackles to take the ball up to the Winnipeg 41.
1:29:44 – Another completion, this time to left end Paul Dekker who takes it to the 24. Hamilton’s charging. Can the Bombers hold them off?
1:30:20 – Faloney keeps it and runs a bootleg out to the right sideline, picking up a few more yards. There’s an injury on the play, and we cut to break. Hamilton’s drive is no good.
1:31:18 – DOG ON THE FIELD! The officials shoo him away. He just wants to help out the chain gang, dammit!
1:31:55 – Another fantastic run from Charlie Shepard, who has a great head of steam and finally gets hauled down at the Hamilton 40. It’s a 48-yard pickup for Winnipeg!
1:32:51 – FUMBLE! Winnipeg halfback John Varone loses the ball, and it’s recovered by Hamilton guard Vinnie “Golden Dome” Scott. A fantastic nickname for a bald guy. 21st century nicknames just cannot compete with those from the Silent Generation.
1:33:41 – Faloney connects with right end Harry Lampman for another completion, and Lampman gets up from the ground looking awfully muddy.
1:34:18 – Bernie Faloney calls his own number and runs the ball directly to midfield for another first down. There’s one minute left…
1:35:27 – Faloney is getting run down by two pass-rushers, and he heaves a deep one down the right sidelines looking for Ronnie Howell. It bounces off a few Winnipeg defenders’ hands, but Kenny Ploen comes up with the interception! Norm Rauhaus ends up running the ball back the other way. That should do it for this one, folks.
1:36:43 – Fans flood the field as they celebrate the Bombers’ Grey Cup victory in style!
As it turns out, Jim Van Pelt scored 22 points in this game – two touchdowns, two field goals, and four conversions in all. While there was no Grey Cup MVP award at this time in league history, there’s no question that Van Pelt should have won it. As Elliotte Friedman notes beginning at 1:36:55, Van Pelt wasn’t supposed to be the hero of the game – Kenny Ploen had a long, storied career as the Blue Bombers’ quarterback, but he had been injured off and on throughout the 1958 season, and so it was Van Pelt who was pressed into duty as the starter for the championship game. While Ploen is considered one of the greatest Blue Bombers of all time, Van Pelt got his moment in the sun thanks to his heroic efforts to deliver Winnipeg’s first championship in seventeen years.
These two teams met again the following year in 1959, and Winnipeg would win again. The Bombers would also claim titles in ’61 and ’62, while Hamilton took the trophy home in ’53, ’57, and ’65. While the Tiger-Cats and Blue Bombers have only met twice for the Grey Cup since 1965, the most recent drama-filled matchup in 2019, won by Winnipeg, likely brought back memories of these historic years of the late ’50s and early ’60s, which helped to cement pro football’s hold in Canada.
Thanks for reading! Check back next week, when we take a look at a Grey Cup game that amazingly almost didn’t happen for a variety of reasons – the 1996 “Snow Bowl” between the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos.