Sunday, 27 March 2016

Fifties Flatland Frenzy

In 1951 the Saskatchewan Roughriders advanced to their first Grey Cup of the modern post war era. The franchise had competed in seven Dominion championships but had lost them all and it was hard to say what was worse - the 54-0 thrashing in their first appearance in 1923 as the Regina Rugby Club, or their string of five straight Grey Cup defeats as the Regina Roughriders from 1928 through 1932. On top of that the 1936 team, that some contemporary observers felt was the strongest in the country, was denied a chance to compete for the championship because of Eastern football governing body rule machinations related to the number of U.S. imports allowed to participate. So when the team finally returned to the big game, the province went into overdrive promoting and supporting their heroes.

On the left is a 1951 Saskatchewan Roughriders game program. These programs were typically very thick for their era because the team depended on community business support and many pages were devoted to sponsor advertisements. On the right is some snappy songwriting promoted by star quarterback Glenn Dobbs. 

From a memorabilia perspective the team produced their standard game programs in 1951 as well as the odd other piece such as the official team song sheet music (actually not 100% sure that this dates to 1951, might be a bit later). It might seem strange that the team quarterback Dobbs would be hosting a radio show while playing but Dobbs was widely regarded as the most popular man in the province and all efforts to promote the team were undertaken.

This colourful pamphlet with team photo inside was listed in Collecting Canadian Football Volume II. A few years back an ebay lot included an actual photograph of this team shot that was used to produce the brochure, which would be considerably rarer than the more mass produced item.

Once the team had qualified for the Grey Cup (by virtue of a nail biting 19-18 best of three rubber match victory at home versus Edmonton) they started producing ephemera that focused attention on the province's three biggest assets - Wheat, the Roughriders and the Mounties.

This broadsheet was mass produced promoting the province's role as a food producer, and just to be absolutely sure the rest of Canada knew about Saskatchewan wheat actual small loaves of bread with an attractive insert were baked and shrink wrapped. The die-cut ribbon-ed decoration reinforces the wheat - football team tie in again. 

One gets the feeling that as jubilant as the province was to be going back to the Cup, they were somewhat guarded about their chances, perhaps with the multiple disappointments of previous attempts still in mind. Thanks to Rider super fan Warren Welte for the loaf of bread image above.

This spectacularly evocative placemat is dated 1951 and clearly was themed for the Grey Cup quest with those three Saskatchewan assets prominently portrayed.

The beautiful placemat above was on ebay just recently and I was somewhat shocked that it did not bring a higher final bid (around $15 I think, the last time I checked it) because it would be rated an extremely rare fairly fragile item to have survived and it is so quintessentially Saskatchewan and Roughrider focused. While their are definitely some Rider super fans/collectors that have impressive team memorabilia shrines, I sometimes wonder if a lot of their huge current fanbase has little affinity or appreciation for the history of the club and the on and off-field struggles they went through during decades of lackluster results.

At left is the 1st edition of the 1951 Grey Cup News and at right is the 4th and final edition. The newsletter was printed on the "Green Train" to Toronto for the big game.

In an earlier post relating to team news publications I noted the existence of the above pictured Saskatchewan Grey Cup News sheets and upon closer examination (although the images above are unfortunately a little too grainy to tell) it appears there were 4 in all produced on-route by the team delegation heading east. What a great historical record of the championship excitement and hoopla a full set of these would make!

The Grey Cup program front cover design was rather unimaginatively the same for each of the
1949 through 1952 cup games. 

Well the big day finally arrived and team supporters from both sides could purchase the 1951 game program at the stadium. Rider fan's (western ones anyway) dreams were destined to be dashed once again as the Ottawa Rough Riders prevailed 21-14.

A nine! record set of 78's (that's the RPM - revolution per minute speed designation for you internet age kiddies...) of the radio broadcast of the team homecoming celebrations

Despite the loss the province was still upbeat about their hometown heroes, so much so that the homecoming celebration at Regina Exhibition Stadium (which is actually an indoor arena, apparently the oldest still standing in use hockey arena in Canada) was recorded and a large record set pressed for posterity. The celebration featured player introductions with roaring crowd and speeches by dignitaries of the day. The set features attractive packaging and era evocative football graphics on the records and the one pictured at right was presented to player Bill Clarke by the premier's office. It is unknown how may sets were pressed and if they were just handed out to team members and officials or if they were made available to the general public as well, possibly both. Either way this is a great memorabilia piece for Roughrider collectors.

Note that the Ottawa Rough Rider 1951 game programs (actually since at least 1948) used the much nicer full coloured more detailed graphics that were the original source for those used for the Grey Cup programs of the era.

On the Ottawa side the number of collectibles from that year is somewhat less expansive (although there is a great 12 item Rough Rider team issue printed picture set catalogued in Collecting Canadian Football Volume II), but they definitely managed to produce the most satisfying piece of football ephemera for 1951 pictured above right.