The 110th Grey Cup is this weekend in Hamilton, featuring the Winnipeg Blue Bombers against the Montreal Alouettes, and we Argo fans are still reeling from losing to Montreal in the East final a few days ago. But Cathy and I are going to Hamilton anyway, because it’s a great national party.
That’s the thing. There’s football, and then there’s football ATMOSPHERE around the game, and I love them both.
There are plenty of awards for football. The Grey Cup itself, of course, and the Most Outstanding Player, and the Coach of the Year, and the Rookie of the Year, etc etc etc. But I don’t think people come to the games just for the football. They also come because of the overall game day atmosphere.
An Award for Game Day Atmosphere
So I hereby propose that the CFL should have an award for Outstanding Contribution to Football Atmosphere. An award that recognizes things that happen off the field, including
- pregame tailgate parties
- cheerleaders, dance teams
- pep bands
- wacky fans with funny signs
- crazy traditions
- oddball but entertaining mascots
- postgame parties, especially at the Grey Cup
Let me explain with a few examples. And my choice, at the end.
Paul Weiler as Hamilton’s Pigskin Pete
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have a much-loved mascot named Pigskin Pete, who leads their fans in their Oskee Wee Wee cheer, and who was portrayed for years by a gentleman named Paul Weiler. He passed away in 2014, and all CFL fans were sad, even if we had no idea what the heck “Oskee Wee Wee” meant.
Here’s the CBC report on his passing.
This is Paul Weiler as Pigskin Pete III, photo by Eddie Sokolowski, courtesy the Ticats.
Now, I always thought that Pigskin Pete should have a young sidekick named “Pigskin Petite”, but I digress. Whether you like the Ticats or not (I am in the “not” category), as a CFL fan, you had to respect that tradition. It made the game days fun, and if you heard the crowd belting out “Holy Mackinaw, Tigers, Eat em Raw!” led by Pigskin Pete, it made you wish your team had a cheer like that.
(We do, we say “ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOS” but in a very sophisticated way.)
He made the games fun. The Pigskin Pete tradition continues, but Paul Weiler did it for 30 years, better than anyone.
Dal Richards, BC Lions Band Leader
I’ve written about Dal before. A popular Vancouver bandleader who led the Lions band in the 1950s, he created the 1968 CFL Songs record album, which gave us the song “Go Argos Go” and other team songs that are still heard to this day.
Every time the Argos score, we sing Go Argos Go, and I think of Dal, who I was lucky enough to meet at age 97. Here he is, autographing a copy of the album for me. We donated that album to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, where it truly belongs.
Those songs make game day fun and add a great sense of tradition to our league.
CFL Fans Fight Cancer
This outstanding group of fans …
organizes a hugely successful fundraiser every year and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars so far for a cancer charity in each Grey Cup host city. Their annual Grey Cup event is one of THE places to be. This year’s event at the End Zone Bar and Grill in Hamilton was packed!
The Calgary Grey Cup Committee
People from Calgary have been stirring things up at the Grey Cup since 1948, when a group of Stampeders fans arrived in Toronto for the Grey Cup complete with a horse, and even today, there is this bizarre tradition of Calgary people trying to get a horse into the Grey Cup Hotel. I’m sure that will be happening in Hamilton this week.
But the Calgary folks also put on a fabulous free Pancake Breakfast – it’ll be in Hamilton on Friday and Saturday this week – and they also happily took part in various goofball unsanctioned Not the Grey Cup Parades that some of us would organize when the game was happening somewhere that didn’t have a parade. (See more below.)
The first Calgary Grey Cup Pancake Breakfast, in 1948
The Box J Boys
Named after the area they used to occupy at the former Ivor Wynne Stadium, this group of boisterous, kilted Ticat supporters have done a wonderful job organizing massive Ticat tailgates, and they always welcomed our Argo band warmly, recognizing that the true spirit of a rivalry is to say “Argos Suck, but thanks for coming.”
The Spirit of Edmonton
Every year the biggest party at the Grey Cup is the Spirit of Edmonton, hosted by a powerful group of Elks fans who didn’t have much to cheer about this year, but who manage to create THE event of the festival. Their Saturday breakfast and its accompanying mysterious Sluice Juice is legendary – and their party hosts all the CFL cheer teams, bands and other acts, and it’s always THE place to be.
A view of the Spirit of Edmonton Breakfast at the 2012 Grey Cup, moments before Argonotes took the floor.
(They told us once “You guys in Argonotes are just about the best act we have” but I promise that is not influencing my vote.)
The 620 CKRM Saskatchewan Roughrider Pep Band
And finally, my friends in the Rider pep band, who for 30 years have been travelling to the Grey Cup – at their own expense – and entertaining crowds everywhere they go, and who even take the time to visit public schools in the area to perform for the kids and show them that you can have fun making music with your friends your entire life.
Argonotes, of course, had a very friendly rivalry with these guys for the 22 years we were around, and we always enjoyed staging some mock Battle of the Bands thing during the Grey Cup, and then sitting down and enjoying lunch, or as we’d call it, the Annual CFL Pep Band Summit.
Both of our groups at Joe Badali’s in 2012 after a memorable band battle.
Our band packed it in after 22 great years, but the Rider band keeps going, full of pep and vinegar, whether their team is in the game or not.
Here’s Global News’s report of the Not the Grey Cup Parade in 2007, featuring Argonotes, the Calgary Grey Cup Committee, the Saskatchewan band and a cast of hundreds of fans, all pumping up Toronto for the 95th Grey Cup in a proud volunteer way.
I’m sure there are more. I’m sure there are plenty of people who work hard build the atmosphere in every CFL city, frequently as unpaid volunteers, and without them, the games wouldn’t be fun and frankly, nobody would go and the league would collapse.
Whaddya say, CFL, how about an occasional award to recognize these folks? You could name it after Paul Weiler, or Dal Richards, or both. It’s the Saskatchewan band’s 30th year. Time to honour them, I think, or any of the others who keep our great game going.
CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie, if you need people for the nominating committee, you know where to find me.