November 13, 2006

Grey Cup Moments: 1972

1972 Grey Cup
When: Dec. 3, 1972
Where: Ivor Wynne Stadium, Hamilton. Attendance: 33,993.
Winning coach: Jerry Williams. Losing coach: Dave Skrien.

The beauty of the Canadian Football League — and often the Grey Cup game in particular — is there are the occasional storylines that seem so far-fetched, so unbelievable that even the folks at Disney would reject them as too sappy or unrealistic.

We offer up the 1972 Grey Cup as Exhibit A.

Not only did the Ticats capture the Grey Cup in their own park and in front of their own fans, they did it with a rookie quarterback in Chuck Ealey and an 18-year-old kicker in Ian Sunter.

Oh, and we should mention the win came against a talented and grizzled Saskatchewan Roughrider side that featured the likes of Ron Lancaster, George Reed and Tom Campana.

The Ticats, with a lineup that still featured Garney Henley, Tommy Joe Coffey and Angelo Mosca, finished atop the East Division that year with an 11-3 record while the Riders were just 8-8, but upset the Edmonton Eskimos in the West Semifinal and then crushed the hopes of Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans by winning the West Final in the Manitoba capital 27-24.

Ealey, who would be named the CFL’s top rookie in ’72, was superb in the Grey Cup, completing 18 of 29 passes for 291 yards and a TD. And with the two teams tied at 10 late in the game and 1:51 remaining, Ealey let the Tabbies on the eventual game-winning drive. He hit sophomore receiver Tony Gabriel — who would also play the hero for the Ottawa Rough Riders four years later, again spoiling the part for Saskatchewan fans — for three consecutive completions, then ran for two yards and hit Henley for another 12.

That’s when Sunter stepped on the field, was told by Henley to keep his head down and — with just 13 seconds remaining — connected on the game-winning try.

The victory marked the first time a home team had won the Cup. It also provided the perfect storybook-type ending to the career of Henley, whom many contend to this day was the greates player ever to suit up in the CFL. The product of Haiti, South Dakota was the last of the great two-way players. From 1963-71 he was an All-Canadian defensive back and in 1972 he was named an All-Canadian at receiver. That year his spectacular talents were recognized as he won the league’s Most Outstanding Player Award.

He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame after just a three-year wait — the fastest elevation to the shrine in the league’s history.

“That was the ultimate of my career,” Henley would say years later. “I never really thought about getting into the Hall of Fame until I retired. Then you start living on your past and thinking about what you did accomplish. It happened so fast I didn’t have time to dwell on it. It means a lot to me now.”

Hamilton Tiger-Cats 13 – TD: Dave Fleming; FGs: Ian Sunter (2); convert: Sunter.

Saskatchewan Roughriders 10 – TD: Tom Campana; FG: Jack Abendschan; convert: Abendschan.

Game Stars: MVP: Chuck Ealey, QB, Hamilton; Most Valuable Canadian: Ian Sunter, K, Hamilton.