Who can forget their first time?
Mine was after the moon landing and before the Woodstock music festival and giant hippy convention in the summer of ’69. On Aug. 11 of 1969, I attended my first CFL game in Edmonton and few events have ever topped that experience.
It was a tale of two cities during that summer when the football fortunes of Edmonton were compared to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The ’Riders were riding the wave of a dynasty led by a young Ron Lancaster and George Reed. They were no mere mortals to me — these guys were green and white gods.
The Eskimos were well past the glorious ‘50s teams and well into a long run of mediocrity in the ‘60s. Neill Armstrong was their coach and he didn’t quite launch the Eskimos into the same orbit as his famous Apollo 11 namesake.
The hopes of the Eskimos rested upon the shoulders of Corey Colehour, a two-year Edmonton quarterback legend who was in his final year of a less than stellar career. His main offensive threat was running back Jim ‘Long Gone’ Thomas, a fleet-footed rocket in cleats who never quite lived up to his hype.
The only thing that really kept the 1969 Edmonton Eskimos in a game was their defense, led by Hall of Fame tackle John LaGrone and sidekick Greg Pipes. These guys made things respectable for a team headed nowhere in the summer of ’69.
My brother Jerry and I had already spent about three years as Alberta-born Saskatchewan Roughrider fans thanks to the heavy influence of our Saskatchewan-born parents who had moved to Red Deer after the war. The 1966 Grey Cup championship and Saskatchewan’s subsequent high-level contender status had cemented the relationship between us and the mighty ’Riders for a lifetime.
On the other hand, we had an older brother who was a dedicated Eskimo fan and was old enough to remember and revere the ‘50s dynasty Eskimo teams. He was also aware that we would probably condone human sacrifice if it meant actual attendance at a live ’Rider game.
However our brother Bruce made things easy for us and off we went to Edmonton for a date with football destiny and a chance to see the Saskatchewan Roughriders on an actual football field instead of a TV set. It was the first time that we had seen them in colour. Clarke Stadium probably sat about 18,000 people in 1969. It was the biggest crowd we had ever seen in one place and it was a very intimidating experience for two ’Rider fans in a green and gold jungle.
This was an era well before massive migration from Saskatchewan and we felt incredibly outnumbered; it felt like we were the only two ’Rider fans in the entire stadium. We remained quiet throughout the entire game until the last minute of the game when Ron Lancaster hit Bobby Thompson on a 60-yard pass-and-run play to win the game. We came out of our seats and screamed our lungs out and thought that if we were about to die, we would die happy.
That is a moment frozen in time and I still feel grateful to my late brother and the ’Riders for a timeless lifetime memory 40 years later.
Local freelance writer Jim Sutherland’s CFL column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at mystarcollectorcar.com.