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Hi again, folks. The CFL Beat is back this week with a look at the first Grey Cup game captured on video, and one of the most memorable weather-related fiascos of all time: the 38th Grey Cup, or as many better know it by, “The Mud Bowl!”
Date: November 25, 1950
Venue: Varsity Stadium, Toronto, ON
Toronto Argonauts fast facts:
- Season record: 6-5-1 (2nd in IRFU)
- Head Coach: Frank Clair
- Quarterback: Al Dekdebrun & Joe Krol
In these days, the road to the Grey Cup was very unclear for playoff teams due to a constantly-changing format. There would be multi-game playoff rounds, sometimes a best-of-three, sometimes a two-game, total-points series, and other times, the winner of the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (the forerunner to the CFL’s East Division) might have to play the winner of the Ontario Rugby Football Union, the country’s top amateur circuit, for the right to appear in the Grey Cup game. In the fledgling days of pro football, the difference wasn’t as stark, but by 1954, amateur clubs would no longer challenge for the title. In 1950, the Argos defeated the newly-merged Hamilton Tiger-Cats franchise (of the ORFU Tigers and IRFU Wildcats) in a two-game, total-points series, and then bested the ORFU champion Toronto Balmy Beach 43-13 before facing Winnipeg for the title.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers fast facts:
- Season record: 10-4 (1st in WIFU)
- Head Coach: Frank Larson
- Quarterback: “Indian” Jack Jacobs & Pete Petrow
In the WIFU, the playoff format was equally screwy. Sometimes there was a semifinal, sometimes not; sometimes the final would be a best-of-three series, and other times the winner of the WIFU would also have to play the winner of the ORFU for the right to appear in the Grey Cup, as historically, the WIFU was viewed as “weaker” than the longer-established IRFU – which shortly would not come to be the case. At any rate, in 1950, Winnipeg defeated Edmonton 2-1 in the West final, earning the opportunity to face Toronto for the national championship. Also different between the two unions was the size of schedule – Western teams played 14 regular-season games to the East’s 12. Regular-season schedule sizes wouldn’t be standardized until the 1981 season, when both conferences agreed to play 16 games each, up until 1986, when the schedule expanded to 18 games.
0:33 – A brief intro from our studio crew to give a quick rundown of the game before vintage footage begins. Also, Schultzie’s moustache is so unbelievably bad. Respect for committing to the bit, though.
2:01 – Footage begins, with an opening ad for Weston’s, “Makers of English Quality biscuits, candies, bread, and cakes”, who were the title of the Grey Cup at this time in its history. This 1950 crowd, at just over 27,000, was the largest the game had ever seen up to this point in time – though that mark would be broken several times over the next decade and beyond.
3:10 – Footage of the previous year’s Grey Cup game shows a punter slipping and falling on his ass. Hilarious.
3:29 – The field for this game is absolute dogshit – among the worst anyone has ever seen in the history of organized sports. The night before the championship game, there was an uncharacteristically large snowfall for late November in Toronto. Because the stadium lacked a tarp to keep the snow off the field, they had to send in some heavy machinery to clear the snow off the playing surface, greatly gouging it up in the process. By the next morning, the snow had melted and turned to rain, and the newly exposed dirt quickly turned to mud beneath the players’ feet. Game organizers and stadium officials were absolutely lambasted later for the atrocious field conditions, and under great pressure, vowed to improve them for future matches.
4:25 – The Bombers’ head coach, Frank Larson, looks very dapper onscreen in his three-piece suit and trilby hat.
5:32 – The Argos’ QB, Al Dekdebrun, was a journeyman, having formerly played for the Buffalo Bisons, Chicago Rockets, and New York Yankees in the fledgling NFL and AAFC. Dekdebrun would later play for Montreal and Ottawa, and was the starting QB for the ORFU’s Brantford Redskins, an “amateur” team, so to speak, in 1952. Following this is a series of highlight videos from Toronto’s playoff games prior to the Grey Cup.
7:31 – Footage of the Grey Cup begins. I’ve been told that the play-by-play was taken from the radio broadcast and overlaid on video footage, which would make sense, as national broadcasting didn’t officially begin in Canada until 1952, when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation formally launched its TV department. And LOOK at that mud. Oh my God. What an absolute pigsty. This is insane.
7:54 – Winnipeg QB Jack Jacobs’ pass is intercepted by end Don Scott, and wallowing in the mud, the Argos take over.
9:14 – Nick Volpe, the Argos’ kicker and punt returner, Nick Volpe, is getting interviewed in-studio by the ESPN Classic Canada crew about his memories of the game; he decided, along with fellow returner Teddy Toogood, that they weren’t even going to try and catch the ball – they’d just let it land in the mud and then pick it up and run. There’s a few other great stories in here – using tape to help figure out where to plant his foot for kicking field goals, and putting thumbtacks in QB Al Dekdebrun’s glove in order for him to be able to throw the ball when it was covered in mud.
14:30 – Back in vintage footage, Argos’ punter Joe Krol lets a punt fly; it bounces into the Winnipeg end zone for a…
The Argos lead the Bombers, 1-0.
16:30 – Nick Volpe kicks a field goal to put the Argos up 4-0.
16:46 – A high punt from Jack Jacobs smokes an official on the head when it comes back down. HEADSHOT!
18:26 – Bombers tackle Buddy Tinsley is unconscious after being hit hard; legend has it he almost drowned in that mud puddle before being helped off the field.
18:35 – Nick Volpe is back with the studio crew again, being asked about his memories of Tinsley and the drowning incident. While he’s skeptical of the possibility of drowning, he does say that he knew Tinsley was in pretty rough shape.
20:14 – Back to game footage again; on 2nd and 6, Bombers QB Jack Jacobs calls his own number and tries to hit the gap in the left of the line; as he’s tackled, he fumbles the ball – and Toronto’s Bill Bass jumps on it!
20:44 – Nick Volpe kicks a field goal to put the Argos up 7-0, right before the half ends.
25:02 – Winnipeg blocks Joe Krol’s kick and recovers; a few plays later, Toronto does the exact same thing to Jack Jacobs!
26:23 – The Argos have been operating in short yardage for a few play here; Tommy Toogood gets the ball to the one, setting up third down and 1 – for a possible touchdown.
27:06 – It’s a QB sneak – Al Dekdebrun is over for the touchdown! In these days, majors were only worth 5 points, hearkening back to Canadian football’s rugby union roots. Nick Volpe misses the convert, and it’s now 12-0, Argos.
30:04 – Jack Jacobs’s pass is intercepted – Al Dekdebrun, who’s back playing defense now, picks him off and is tackled at the Winnipeg 23!
30:44 – Joe Krol punts the ball away again, down to Winnipeg’s end zone, where the returner has to take a knee. It’s good for another…
It’s now 13-0, Argos.
30:58 – Pete Petrow is coming in to replace Jack Jacobs at QB for the Bombers.
32:10 – Winnipeg has the ball at the Toronto 15, but can’t score. It’s a clean slate for the Argos, who’ve won the 38th Grey Cup!
32:28 – The fans are ripping down the goalposts! Absolutely king shit.
33:47 – Nick Volpe, back in the studio, is telling a story about the Argos taking a team picture outside of Varsity Stadium with the Grey Cup – and everyone was drinking! 7-Up, that is. Apparently nobody drank beer in the locker rooms, which seems just a shame. The prize for winning? A game cheque – and a watch. That’s all. Just doing it for an average working man’s wages and the glory of the game! When asked how much he made playing for the Argos, Volpe recounts that his yearly salary with Toronto was $2600 a year – and on the side, he taught high school in Port Credit, a nearby small town, and coached school sports teams – which was a yearly salary of $2200. All in all, with inflation, that works out to $29,000 a year from the Argos and $24,500 from teaching – good for $53,500 CAD a year in 2020!
37:10 – The ball that Nick Volpe is showing on TV is the only one that was used for the entire Grey Cup game. It probably took weeks to dry out after this debacle!
The 1950 Grey Cup was the last time that a Grey Cup finalist has been entirely shut out – and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see a game of its kind again. Nick Volpe was awarded the Player of the Game thanks to his two field goals, and the city of Toronto had a parade for its beloved team. Hard to believe how much has changed in the years following, but it’s good to see that one way or another, football in Canada will find a way to persist, through all of the changes in the game and the world at large.
Thanks very much for reading! Check back next week, when we take a look at another famous weather debacle – the 65th Grey Cup, featuring longtime championship rivals Montreal and Edmonton!