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By Ted Michaels, CFL Editor - Archive - Email
A history lesson
Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - It's what a documentary should be: gripping, evoking a visceral reaction.

On Monday evening, TSN, the broadcast rights holder for the CFL, unveiled the first of eight documentaries about the CFL and the Grey Cup, directed by some of Canada's most acclaimed and award-winning filmmakers.

The series is called "Engraved on a Nation" and leads up to the broadcast of the 100th Grey Cup on Sunday, Nov. 25.

What makes this series unique is every documentary is seen through the eyes of different directors, most of whom aren't sports fans.

The first show was called "The 13th Man" and examined the unique love affair between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their fiercely loyal fans, who pack Mosaic Stadium, and, in essence, become the 13th man.

Ironically, the 13th man played a part in the biggest disappointment in Riders history. The documentary followed the team's heartbreaking loss at the 97th Grey Cup on Nov. 29, 2009, when the Riders were playing Montreal at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.

On the last play of the game, with Saskatchewan leading 27-25, Montreal's Damon Duval's 43-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.

The Roughriders stormed the field, thinking they had brought the fourth championship to the province's only professional sports franchise.

That euphoria turned to horror. Saskatchewan was penalized for having 13 players on the field. Duval was given a second chance and nailed the kick to give Montreal a 28-27 win.

To its credit, the documentary never identified which Saskatchewan player was the 13th man on the field.

- The series also will delve into the career of Ohio-born Chuck Ealey, who found refuge in Canada and the CFL, in the face of racial intolerance in the United States.

"Stone Thrower: The Chuck Ealey Story" follows Ealey, who as a starting quarterback went undefeated in high school and at the University of Toledo.

He signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1972, and the rookie led them to a Grey Cup win in front of the home crowd at Ivor Wynne Stadium, making him the first African-American quarterback to win the Grey Cup. Along with giving him a place to play the game that he loved, Canada became the place Ealey chose to raise his family, and where he proudly remains rooted today, garnering success in the financial planning industry.

- "The Kid From La Puente" is Anthony Calvillo's inspirational journey from the gang-ridden slums of east Los Angeles to Montreal, where he builds a family and emerges as one of the greatest quarterbacks in Canadian football history.

In a nice touch, Calvillo's younger brother Mario is the narrator. It will examine how Calvillo pushed through repeated obstacles - on and off the field - to lead the Alouettes to its first Grey Cup in 25 years in 2002.

- There are times when football and life cross paths. "Playing a Dangeroud Game" deals with a scary moment in Canadian history. As tensions heightened during the Quebec FLQ conflict in 1969, CFL commissioner Jake Gaudaur not only planned to hold the Grey Cup in Montreal for the first time since 1931, but he invited the FLQ's arch-enemy, the Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, to perform the ceremonial kickoff at the beginning of the game.

Russ Jackson, the Canadian-born quarterback of the Ottawa Rough Riders, was oblivious to the dangers plaguing Montreal. This was the last game of his illustrious career and he was determined to beat Saskatchewan in what was destined to be one of the greatest games in CFL history against a complicated backdrop of political unrest. Jackson, to this day, has never acknowledged the rumors that death threats were made against him in the days leading up to the game.

- "The Crash of Flight 810" documents a tragic time in CFL history. In 1956, Empire Field in Vancouver was the scene of an annual East vs. West All-Star game. A flight carrying five All-Star players crashed in the Canadian Rockies, killing everyone onboard.

In an ironic twist, current Calgary Stampeder Edwin Harrison's grandfather Calvin Jones was on his way to becoming one of the greatest offensive linemen to ever play football when he died in the crash. Harrison is shown embarking on an emotional journey that takes him from Calgary to Texas to Ohio and, finally, to the crash site.

- When the Toronto Royal Canadian Air Force Hurricanes won the 1942 Grey Cup, it boosted the morale of a country deeply affected by war. After their victory, many Hurricanes were sent overseas to fight. The Hurricanes' Jake Gaudaur, a flight instructor who stayed behind in Canada, was devastated when many of his teammates became casualties of war.

In "The Photograph," Gaudaur's daughters Jackie and Diane, embark on an emotional quest to discover why the Hurricanes and the old team photo were so important to their father, and ultimately to the rest of the country.

- I vividly remember a camera shot in the 1973 Grey Cup game, featuring the Edmonton Eskimos and the Ottawa Rough Riders. The shot showed someone in the stands at CNE Stadium in Toronto, holding a sign that said "No Grey Cup-No Oil."

While people chuckled at the sign, there was an undercurrent of truth to the message and that is the topic of "Western Swagger." The discovery of oil in Alberta solidified Canada as an energy superpower during the 1970s and 80s.

And on the field, the Edmonton Eskimos set a record that probably will never be broken: five consecutive Grey Cup titles.With the mighty Eskimos dominating on the field, former Eskimo and Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed battled Trudeau in the boardroom over the National Energy Program, which risked putting Alberta's economy in a dangerous tailspin and tipping the country on a brink of constitutional chaos.

- They were a bunch of fun-loving vagabonds. As a kid growing up in Hamilton, as a Tiger-Cat fan, I despised them. They were the 1971 Toronto Argonauts. They were the "Greatest Team That Never Won."

Legendary CFL coach Leo Cahill spent a fortune on a young and wild roster, fielding one of the league's most colorful teams with characters like "Tricky" Dick Thornton, Dave Raimey, Jim Stillwagon, Gene Mack, Leon McQuay and Joe Theismann. The Argos made it to the 1971 Grey Cup only to have their championship dream fade away on a last-minute fumble by the late Leon McQuay.

For some, this series will serve to educate people into what has made the CFL so unique through its 100-year history. For others, it will bring back memories.

For all of us, it's a much-watch.

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML.

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