Of all the players who have ever suited up for the CFL and the NHL, Gerry James holds bragging rights to one achievement no one can match.
In 1959, James starred for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and helped them win the Grey Cup for the second year in a row. That same 1959-60 NHL season he took to the ice for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens.
That makes James the only player to appear in both Cup finals in the same season.
Lionel Conacher, one of Canada’s best athletes in the 1920s and 1930s, is the only other player to have played for the Grey Cup and Stanley Cups, but not the same season.
James’s career has just been celebrated in a new book, “Kid Dynamite — They Gerry James Story” by Ron Smith and he was at Jackpot Casino over the weekend signing copies and trading stories with fans.
A fit-looking 78, James has plenty of stories to tell about his dual career that began when he was only 17 and joined the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, one of the youngest ever to suit up in the CFL.
“I think they signed me to play because they didn’t want me to go to college,” he said.
He was still a Winnipeg high school football player when the Blue Bombers offered him $50 a week to try out for their team.
“I thought, ‘Boy, this is found money. How could a guy get so lucky to try out for the Bombers, and plus get paid a salary?’”
Despite being a boy among men — and not just any men, but some of his personal heroes — the transition to the pros went pretty smoothly.
“As long as I kept my mouth shut they were good,” he said with a grin.
He would go on to an all-star career as kicker and running back on the powerful Bombers teams of the 1950s and 1960s that saw his team appear in six Grey Cups, winning four of them.
He won the first-ever Schenley Award, which goes to the Most Outstanding Canadian in the CFL, in 1954, and won it again three years later. At one time, he held 18 CFL record and still holds the record for most touchdowns by a Canadian running back. He also holds the record for most post-season appearances (36).
His nickname “Kid Dynamite” was a spinoff from his father, who also played in the CFL and was known as Eddie “Dynamite” James. His father was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1963 and Gerry would follow in 1981, the only father-son duo in the hall.
In football, he was known for his speed, but in hockey it was a different story. He wasn’t fast but he was tough. “Sort of a ruffian” is how he describes it.
In the year, he won the 1959 Grey Cup, he suited up for 44 games with the Maple Leafs, including a 10-game run in the playoffs that ended in a Montreal Canadiens four-game sweep.
In 149 games for the Leafs over five seasons, he had 14 goals and 26 assists and 257 minutes in penalties.
“I think I probably led the Leafs in penalty minutes for the short time I was there,” said James, who played at five-foot-11 (1.8 m) and 185 pounds (84 kg).
His lack of a natural gift for hockey led to his line, which included Duke Edmundson and Johnny Wilson, being dubbed the “Puke Line,” a play on the Boston Bruins “Uke Line,” which included players of Ukrainian heritage including Hall of Famer Johnny Bucyk.
In his career, he played against some of the all-time greats, Jean Beliveau, Maurice “Rocket” Richard and Gordie Howe among them.
Once after running Beliveau in front of the Leafs’ net, the legend gave him some advice: “James you should stick to football,” he recalls with a laugh.
He still counts it as a privilege to have played against Rocket Richard in one of his last shifts before icon retired in 1960.
While he counts Gordie Howe as the best player ever; “for flash and dash and for spectacular things you would want to see the Rocket.”
After his playing career, James coached for a dozen successful years in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and coached the Moose Jaw Warriors in 1988-89 in the Western Hockey League.
So what does James think of the NHL lockout?
“I just think it’s totally ridiculous. I’d like to see these guys who are making $3 or $4 million try and go out and get a job in today’s world. They would find it very difficult.”
James said his salary topped out at around $12,000 as an NHLer.
“The thing we played for the most when I was playing was the pension plan. Our pension plan was the best of all major sports.
“Nowadays the players don’t care about the pension plan because they’re making so much money.”
James now lives on Vancouver Island with his wife Marg.
For more information go to www.ronsmith.ca