|Calgary Albertan, Saturday November 26 1949 Cartoon by Laurie Artiss|
Filchock was drafted into the NFL in 1938 in the first round by Pittsburgh but was sold to the Washington Redskins mid-year. He spent six seasons in Washington, initially as a back-up but eventually sharing the quarterbacking duties, with Sammy Baugh (missing 1942 and 1943 in the Navy playing with service teams). In 1946 he was signed to a three year $35,000 deal with the New York Giants where he played quarterback and halfback and led the team to first place in the East and a birth in the NFL championship game.
|1946 Giants Program Filchock story & 1942 Giants Program cover photo of Hapes|
Joining Filchock in the Giants' backfield was another star player, Merle Hapes, who rushed, received passes, returned kicks and played defence for the team in 1942 and 1946 (with war duty in between).
Literally the day before the 1946 championship game a gambling scandal broke implicating both players as having been offered $2,500 bribes to affect the outcome of the game. Both players had refused the money but Hapes admitted he was approached and Filchock denied it outright.
Hapes was suspended but Filchock was allowed to play and evidently did all that he could to lead the team to victory but the Bears won the title by ten points. Subsequent trials convicted the gamblers involved in the scheme but neither player was charged with any crime. Despite that both players were banned from the NFL and all their affiliate leagues indefinitely.
|Representative Giants at Eagles NFL 1946 Program &|
common Program roster from the same season
So in 1947 Frankie Filchock found himself playing for the Hamilton Tigers of the Big Four in Canada. His participation in the at that time still nominally "Amateur" sport in Canada was contentious and the other three teams as well as the league opposed his eligibility. Despite that, the Tigers played him anyways because his drawing power was generating sell out games even though the team was technically forfeiting them by doing so.
By the end of the season the league had reconsidered their position on Filchock, he was named player-coach after the existing coach resigned and he ended up the Eastern All-Star Quarterback, despite the Tigers finishing dead last with a 2-9-1 record.
Frank's salary was considerable (said to be around $7,000 in 1947 and according to the Artiss cartoon was nearer $15,000 by 1949) and he was a major attendance draw in every stadium. Unfortunately for the Tigers there was no gate sharing agreement in the I.R.F.U. and as Hamilton were the ones paying Frank's league leading salary, they eventually withdrew from the league over the dispute.
|Hamilton Tigers 1948 Program Filchock story|
there is no mention of Frank's reason for leaving New York
Having moved to the O.R.F.U. for the 1948 season the Filchock led Tigers swept away all opposition in the weaker circuit compiling a perfect 9-0 record. They won both league playoff games to claim the championship, then lost the East final to the Ottawa Roughriders of the Big Four.
In 1949 Filchock joined the Montreal Alouettes back in the Big Four and ironically Merle Hapes joined the Tigers in the O.R.F.U. as Hamilton won their second consecutive league title. However Filchock's Alouettes crushed Hapes' Tigers 40-0 in the East final propelling him to his showdown with Spaith in the Grey Cup. Hapes was injured in 1950 but would return to the Tiger-Cats in 1953 and 1954 when he was eligible as a naturalized import.
|The Pacific Coast Professional Football League's Hawaiian Warriors 1947 Program and roster|
The limited number of program artists meant many covers were reused from league to league
Rewind back to 1947 and the Hawaiian Warriors of the Pacific Coast League were the westernmost and southernmost based professional football team in history. The little known Pacific Coast League operated on the west coast for nine seasons and boasted some pretty fair integrated talent, particularly during the war years and before the NFL and AAFC established franchises in the region in 1946.
Quarterbacking the Warriors was Keith Spaith out of USC who tried out with the Los Angeles Rams but was cut just before the season started. He led the team during their second year of existence into a season defining first place two game showdown with the Los Angeles Bulldogs. The Bulldogs took the first game 35-34 but on December 7th the Warriors took the second game 7-6 to win the league title by finishing with the best record (7-2).
Six days later 15 members of the Warriors were charged with illegally betting on their own team to win, however the bets they placed did not pay off as they failed to win by enough points. The four ringleaders were suspended "for life" but Spaith got away with just being suspended "indefinitely". One of Spaith's teammates, tackle Johnny Aguirre was not implicated in the scandal.
|Honolulu Star-Bulletin 1947 Newspaper Clipping & 1949 Calgary Retail Grocery Magazine |
Player Photos (in the Stampeders pre-1948 Blue and Gold uniforms)
1948 saw Spaith and Aguirre land in Calgary and while there was some discussion surrounding the circumstances of Spaith's betting scandal, the earlier precedent of Filchock making good in Canada after his little indiscretion softened any opposition. Spaith promptly quarterbacked the Stampeders to a Western Interprovincial Football Union title and then capped off an undefeated season with one of the most famous Grey Cup Dominion championships of all time.
More of the same followed into 1949 as the Stampeders set a record of consecutive wins (22) that still stands today (both Spaith and Aguirre were All-Stars in both '48 and '49). The Stampeders outlasted the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the playoffs to get back to the Grey Cup where Filchock and his Alouettes were waiting.
The contest was expected to be a "Keen Aerial Duel" according to Toronto's Globe and Mail and anticipation for the match was high. Several days before the game scalpers were asking (and getting!) up to $30 a pair for tickets, four times their face value, with expectation that the price was only going up nearer the game.
|Globe & Mail, Thursday November 24, 1949|
Because these events generally predated the production of CFL trading card collectibles, memorabilia items featuring Spaith and Filchock are mostly of the B&W team and individual media photos varieties (many of which are illustrated in Collecting Canadian Football V2). The exceptions would be Filchock's 1956 Nabisco card as Coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and these two great colour shots from the 1953 Northern Photo Postcards.
|1953 Northern Photo Filchock on Saskatchewan & Spaith on Calgary Postcards|
Filchock is listed as a coach on the back but he was a playing coach
So on November 27th the two most successful quarterbacks in Canada squared off to determine who would claim the bragging rights for the 1949 Grey Cup. Spaith was riding a championship streak of one PCPFL, one WIFU, one Grey Cup and a second WIFU title in a row. Filchock had played for the NFL championship and then won one ORFU and one IRFU title. Both players would lead their offenses as well as play regular shifts on defence.
As it turned out the game was not as hotly contested as had been anticipated. The snowy day on a terrible field belonged to Filchock and the Alouettes as they prevailed in a relatively lopsided 28-15 victory. Spaith threw for 180 yards but also 4 interceptions, 2 of which were picked off by Filchock himself. Filchock threw for 204 yards while Montreal fumbled 4 times, two of which were recovered by Spaith himself.
Filchock would remain with the Alouettes in 1950 (with a quick 1 game stop back in Baltimore after the CFL season ended as he had been reinstated by the NFL) before heading to Edmonton as player/coach for 1951 & 1952. The Eskimos went to but lost the 1952 Grey Cup and Filchock finished his playing career in Saskatchewan in 1953.
Spaith continued his career in Calgary from 1950 through 1954 but the team made the playoffs only once over that span. Aguirre played a single game in 1950 before calling it quits. Merle Hapes would complete the Canadian championship 4 of a kind hand for these players, winning the Grey Cup in 1953 with the Tiger-Cats.
|1950 The Standard Magazine Filchock cover and a variety of colour 16mm Film images|
Colour pictures of this time period in Canadian football are pretty rare but here is a great magazine photo of Frank Filchock in 1950 as well as a few low resolution shots of interest:
Clockwise from top left
- Keith Spaith warming up before the day of the 1949 Grey Cup game
- Frank Filchock behind center in the 1949 Grey Cup game
- Merle Hapes during a regular season Tiger-Cats game in 1954
- Johnny Aguirre on the line in the 1949 Grey Cup game
If it hadn't been for a few players with an inclination to scratch a betting itch on opposite sides of the continent in US leagues, the history of this fascinating era in the struggle for Canadian football supremacy would have likely been something altogether different. The penalties imposed by the NFL and the PCPFL in these cases definitely resulted in a winning wager for the Canadian game.