Friday, 22 January 2021

Canada's Least Known Early Football Unions

 If you have any interest in early Canadian football history you are probably aware of entities like the Ontario Rugby Football Union and the Quebec Rugby Football Union and their roles in the genesis of the game. Since many of the teams and cities from these unions were in effect the founding fathers of the sport that evolved to become the CFL, their legacy is relatively well known.

But on the west coast, a long way away from the primary population centers of eastern Canada in the early parts of the last century, and somewhat removed even from the much smaller western prairie population centers, a different Canadian Football Union operated. 

This regional history is poorly documented, confusing and convoluted. Not least because the relatively mild climate and the popularity of other sports resulted in the B.C. Canadian Rugby season being played in the winter across two calendar years whereas it was a fall sport in the rest of the country. Adding to the complexity teams would often switch back and forth with American football rules because games with US teams to the south were so much easier to organize than games with teams from other provinces.

Vancouver Meralomas versus Victoria Capitals Sept. 28, 1929
season opener at Athletic Stadium in Vancouver 

While they had been playing British rugby in the province since at least the 1890's it wasn't until about 1923-24 that the British Columbia Canadian Rugby Union was formed. Only in B.C. was the distinction between British / English rugby and the Canadian form of rugby that evolved into Canadian football usually explicitly stated whenever the sport was pictured or reported on.

This activity encompassed junior, intermediate and senior level teams with the University of British Columbia varsity squad participating in most levels. By 1926 the governing body of the sport in B.C. must have become a member of the Canadian Rugby Union as post season interprovincial playoffs with other union's teams began.

1926-27 Meralomas Intermediate English Rugby commemorative composite photograph &
1928-29 Meralomas Senior English Rugby team photograph

Over the course of 11 seasons from 1926 through 1936 the senior tier of the B.C. Union hosted from three to five clubs and participated in post season matchups eight times losing in the western semi-finals 5 times and the finals three times. These teams were just as eligible to play in the Grey Cup as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers or the Toronto Argonauts but they never managed to advance that far.

Luckily some of this history is pictorially documented in various government archives where collections such as the Stuart Thompson fonds were the source of most of the vintage pics shown in this blog post. Naturally surviving physical artifacts outside of these official repositories are a lot harder to come by which is why the fate of the following item is so infuriating.

1930 Meralomas Senior Canadian Rugby championship composite photograph

The item shown above came out of an estate sale in B.C. and ended up on ebay a few years ago where appreciating its historical importance I snapped it up for $50 CAD. I was the only bidder. Subsequently it was trusted to Canada Post as a tracked package which they reported was delivered but it was never delivered to me and despite a claim and investigation it never turned up and was probably discarded. 

Survived almost 90 years until the pathetically incompetent imbeciles at Canada Post managed to destroy this probably irreplaceable part of Canadian sport history. Nice going dipshits.

The name of the B.C. Union was somewhat fluid eventually transitioning to the British Columbia Rugby Football Union and concurrently known as the B.C. version of the Big Four. The Lipton Cup was created in 1927 for the formation of the "Big Four" and the Seaforth Cup was donated by one of the first senior teams, the Seaforth Highlanders in 1924-ish, with the distinction of which trophy being for which title somewhat obscure. 

1931 Vancouver Athletic Club Senior Canadian Rugby championship team photograph

Besides the Meralomas, V.A.C. and the UBC Varsity club various other teams from Victoria, New Westminster and Vancouver North Shore also participated in the league. 

After 1936 and the consolidation of the individual provincial rugby football unions into the Western Interprovincial Football Union for the rest of western Canada, the B.C. Union continued play but did not participate in any post season matchups. Whether this was over a rules or union membership dispute or cost of the travel for the games is unknown. 

Calgary Bronks versus Vancouver Bulldogs November 23, 1940 at Athletic Park
Photo from the Stampeder Story Magazine published 1962

This situation remained the same through 1940 although there were occasional exhibition matches against the WIFU as shown in the above photo. This game was very well attended in Vancouver and perhaps help set the stage for the Calgary Bronks franchise to become the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1941 for their one and only WIFU season.


1929 U.B.C. Canadian Rugby Western Canada Intercollegiate championship team photograph

The University of British Columbia Varsity Canadian football team played within the senior league throughout this period as well as competing for the western Canada intercollegiate championship Hardy Cup on an intermittent basis.

An interesting facet of the history of Canadian football is that the game initially became established on university campuses in a manner similar to its direct ancestor, British rugby which evolved on English college sporting fields. This necessarily meant that most of the participants were from the upper classes that could afford to attend the institutions in the first place.

Indeed the rosters of early Canadian football teams, whether collegiate or not, tended to reflect this societal class structure in the makeup of their players. At the senior levels of competition working class people who needed to put food on the table really could rarely afford to risk serious injury that would incapacitate them from making a living.      
So it is quite unusual to encounter the story of one Ranji Mattu who as a member of the lower mainland Indo-Canadian community, starred for the UBC British rugby team from 1936-1941. From 1939-1941 Mattu also played Canadian rugby for UBC helping them secure the 1939 Intercollegiate Hardy Cup championship.    

Ranji Mattu in 1939 with the UBC British Rugby team &
Ranji Mattu (#14) in 1942 playing American Football rules for the UBC Alumni team

In 1944 Mattu became the coach of the newly founded Vancouver Blue Bombers junior team, but lost the Western Canadian junior final in 1946 to the Calgary Tornadoes by one point. They returned to obliterate the Tornadoes in 1947, then crushed the Winnipeg Rods before defeating the Hamilton Junior Tigers to claim the first national Canadian Rugby title for a British Columbia team at any level.       

Mattu was a rugged player and a fiery coach once serving a suspension for assaulting a referee during a game. Three members of his Blue Bomber championship team (plus one from the Meralomas juniors) went on to play with the undefeated Calgary Stampeders in their 1948 Grey Cup season.

Ranji Mattu is carried off the field after his team's Canadian Junior Title in January 1948

I know what you are thinking, exactly where can you see an actual collectible with Mattu's image on it? Thought you'd never ask...

1949 Western Canada Junior Finals Playoff Program versus Saskatoon Hilltops

Mattu also coached the Vancouver Blue Bombers to the Junior title games in 1949 and 1950 but they lost both of those matchups. The newspapers liked to call Mattu "The only Hindu Football Mentor on the Continent" and indeed he was undoubtedly the only Hindu Canadian Football Mentor in the world, although he was actually a Sikh.

Incidentally while researching this post I came across information that in 1946 there was a resumption of the B.C. Big Four league (except with just 3 teams) that seems to have been completely overlooked by the football historical record. While it isn't known which level of play this league might have been considered, Orville Burke who had quarterbacked the Ottawa Rough Riders for seven years including for one game in 1946, came out west to coach and play in the league and other players who went on to CFL careers also participated. So there are still things unresearched about Canadian football in the province farthest west.

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

How In Hell Did these Guys Not Win Anything? - Early to Mid 60's Stamps (Volume 2 Addition)

Occasionally a franchise will experience a period of prolonged success with a roster of exemplary star players and yet ultimate post season success will elude them. I wrote about a similar team, the Early 60's Argos in this post earlier this year, although that was more a case of failing to peak with superb athletes over a shorter time span. This month I'll examine a parallel case in the west, along with associated memorabilia of course.

The Calgary Stampeders had a rough decade in the fifties to put it mildly, finishing dead last five times, 2nd last 4 times and only qualifying for the playoffs in two of those ten seasons. But while it may not have been evident at the outset, as the team started to turn the corner back to respectability in the sixties their roster was stacked with talent.

In fact by 1961 no less than eight (!) of their current roster would eventually end up in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame with three (!!) of these players being Canadians. Their HOF bound lineup evenly distributed across all phases of the game boasted Wayne Harris (inducted 1976), Earl Lunsford (1983), Don Luzzi (1986), Jerry Keeling (1989), Larry Robinson (1998), Tony Pajaczkowski (1988), Harvey Wylie (1980) and star quarterback Joe Kapp (1984). 

Add to that powerhouse group such stalwarts as Ernie Warlick (who would end up a perennial AFL All-Star and 2 time AFL Champion with the Buffalo Bills) and a player that really should be in the HOF, Lovell Coleman. Coleman played eight seasons with the Stamps, and as was the custom with superstars of the era he was all over the field, rushing, receiving, returning kicks and playing defence. Coleman was a divisional All-Star 3 times, All Canadian All-Star 3* times, the team's nominee for Most Outstanding Player 3 times and was named Most Outstanding Player in the CFL in 1964. He also led the league in rushing in both 1963 and 1964. 

* The All-Canadian All-Star designation did not begin until 1962, so for some of the players discussed a lot of their careers were played before this was achievable.

1960 Stampeder Newsletter announcing the signing of Lovell Coleman & May 1961 Newspaper Advertisement for Union Packing Wiener Card promotion with Lovell Coleman card pictured

Definitely among the absolute rarest CFL team specific trading card sets are the 1962 and 1963 Union Packing Calgary Stampeder Wiener Cards. Now it has been determined that a previously unknown  1961 set was also issued, which is so rare that no examples are known but advertisements in the newspapers prove that they were issued. Lovell Coleman is therefore the only player known in the set and in fact that makes him the only player currently known to be in more than one of the Union Packing sets.

Union Packing was a Calgary based company but they had a processing plant in Edmonton as well, and very strangely they advertised, produced and sold their Stampeder cards in Edmonton too. I can't imagine there was much demand for the cards there.

But unfortunately the team could not come to terms with Joe Kapp and he was traded to the B.C. Lions in August after playing in only one game. This trade would alter the destiny of both franchises, B.C's for the absolute better, Calgary's not so much even though they received 4 players in return. The best of these was Ed O'Bradovich who only played 8 games in Calgary then went on to a long career with the Chicago Bears. Bill Crawford and Bruce Claridge put in a few serviceable years each and Jim Walden was a bust at QB.

Interestingly since the Union Packing promotion was prepared well in advance of the season, this means that there is almost certainly an uncatalogued 1961 Joe Kapp Stampeder Wiener card out there somewhere waiting to be added to my collection one day.   

While the team made the playoffs in 1961 and upset the second place Eskimos, they weren't ready to challenge for a trip to the Grey Cup and were thrashed by the eventual champion Blue Bombers in the Western final series. 

1962 Templeton Action Media Photo of Wayne Harris &
recently discovered 1963 Union Packing Wiener card of Wayne Harris  

Wayne Harris is of course, the penultimate Stampeder player of all time, a position he will never relinquish. Harris played 12 seasons as the heart of the Calgary defence and was a divisional All-Star an incredible 11 times, missing out only in his final injury plagued season that was reduced to 6 game appearances. He was also almost unbelievably an All Canadian All Star 8 times out of the ten years between 1962 and 1971.

Harris was the team's Most Outstanding Player nominee twice, and Most Outstanding Lineman nominee nine times, the Western Division MOL five times and the CFL MOL an unprecedented 4 times. Tackles made were not recorded during Harris' career, but had they been, it would be a pretty safe bet that he would have easily owned that career total statistic, then and probably even now. He still owns the most tackles in a season record for the Arkansas Razorbacks and was a member of their All-Century team. 

Only six of the 24 1963 Union Packing cards had been identified until six more uncatalogued players were offered on ebay a while ago, including the sweet Harris example shown above in all of its wiener juice stained glory.  

1962 Stampeders Team Issue Paper Football Earl Lunsford &
1962 Crystal Ice Cream Stampeder Paper Sticker of Earl Lunsford pasted into the Media Guide 

Earl "The Earthquake" Lunsford was the primary ground weapon for the Stampeders for six seasons beginning in 1956 with a couple of years off serving in the US military. Lunsford was the first player to rush for over a mile in one season as he led the league in rushing in 1961. He still owns many Stampeder career and game rushing records almost 60 years after this playing days. Lunsford was a divisional All-Star 3 times and an All-Canadian All-Star once. He was the Stampeder's Most Outstanding Player nominee 3 times. 

It is still unknown what the promotion or event or distribution method was for the Stampeder paper football collectibles from 1962, but they are really attractive pieces and super hard to find. Also very difficult to acquire are the small paper stickers that were intended to be pasted into the team media guide the same year. 

With Joe Kapp gone the team was down to "only" seven future Hall of Famers + Lovell Coleman (which I will abbreviate as 7fHOF+lc from here on in) but after a slow start in 1962 they finished second and dispatched Saskatchewan easily in the semi-finals. They then shocked the first place Bombers in game one of the finals at home, dropped a tight game two in Winnipeg setting the stage for a definitive game three in the Manitoba capital.

Another ferociously fought battle came down to one of those crazy heartbreak game deciding kicking plays so common in Canadian football history. With 11 seconds left in the game the Stampeders led 7-6, the Bombers 24 yard field goal attempt was partially blocked, but the ball bounded into the end-zone. Where Harvey Wylie, who had played a phenomenal game on defence, was on for all special team plays and from mid 2nd quarter played offensive end as an emergency injury replacement, was under orders not to concede the point. 

Wylie attempted to kick the ball off the ground out of the end-zone but it hit Bomber Farrell Funston who fell on it for the touchdown and crushed the Stampeders hopes of an upset. Sportswriters from several cities noted that a lot of things had gone just right for the Bombers in the final few minutes (including a few questionable referee calls and non-calls) to secure them the result.   

Early 1960's Reverse Photo Negative Image of uncatalogued Harvey Wylie Portrait Photo &
1963 Game Program Union Packing Advertisement with 1962 Harvey Wylie card pictured   

Harvey Wylie patrolled the defensive backfield, covered and returned kicks and filled in on offence occasionally for the Stampeders for 9 seasons. Wylie led his team in either punt returns, kickoff returns or interceptions (sometime in more than one category) for 7 of his 9 year career. He led the CFL in kickoff returns for three consecutive seasons and tied for interception leader once. He was a Divisional All-Star for 5 consecutive years and All-Canadian All-Star twice and was the teams Most Outstanding Canadian nominee twice, winning the Schenley as MOC once.

Wylie's Union Packing card from 1962 is only known to exist from the advertisement.


Portion of 1963 Stampeders Matthews Action Photo of Don Luzzi &
Portion of 1959 Stampeders De Lorme Action Group Photo with Don Luzzi
(Yes, he is pointing a six-shooter at you)

Don Luzzi was a two way terror on the line of scrimmage in Calgary for 12 seasons, his impact was immediate upon arrival in 1958 winning pretty much every accolade available to him. He was a Divisional All-Star twice at Offensive Tackle and 5 times at Defensive Tackle (on both sides of the ball in 1958). He was All-Canadian 3 times on Defense. He was Calgary's Most Outstanding Player nominee twice (once in 1958) and Most Outstanding Lineman nominee twice, winning the Schenley as MOL in his rookie season of 1958.

No wiener cards of Luzzi are confirmed (but for sure he was one of the players featured) and he does appear in the paper footballs issue as well. A series of Western themed group photos were taken on media day in 1959 at Mewata Stadium which explains why Don is packing heat in the photo above.

Expectations were high in 1963 and the team powered their way to a respectable 10-4-2 season but unfortunately for them the B.C. Lions (in no small measure because of Joe Kapp) dominated the division and took top place. In fact three of the Stamps four losses came at the hands of B.C. and as it turned out they never got a chance to see whether or not they could force a different result in the playoffs.

After thumping the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the first game of the western semi-finals 35-9 at home, they took their 26 point cushion into Taylor Field for game two, two days later (yes, crazy) and promptly crapped the bed. The Roughriders piled up 39 points, while the Stampeders failed to score on four separate drives inside the Rider 20. Predictably with the Riders up by 27 points the last play came down to a kicking duel. Larry Robinson missed a 35 year field goal, Gene Wlasiuk retrieved the ball in the end zone and kicked it back out, where Robinson picked it up again and tried to punt it through but it sailed out of bounds. The Stamps were eliminated again.     

1965 Stampeder Team Issue Portrait Photo of Larry Robinson &
1966 Uncatalogued Schedule that uses Robinson's 1965 Stampeders Team Issue Action Photo

Larry Robinson was a local Calgary product who led the Mount Royal Cougars in the Alberta Junior Football League at QB to a 25 point come from behind victory for the league title in 1960. From there he jumped directly to the CFL Stampeders at first as QB but eventually he settled in at defensive back and kicker and won the Western Division Rookie of the Year Award on the way to a 14 year career in red & white.

Robinson led the league in scoring in 1964 and 1965, was a Divisional All-Star 3 times and was the team's nominee for Most Outstanding Canadian 4 times, finishing as Runner-up and Western MOC twice. Robinson still owns the career interception mark for the Stampeders, and 14 year careers with one club being somewhat of a rarity today, he probably always will. 

In my experience it is not very often that you come across a vintage CFL Schedule personalized with a player's picture but the Robinson Credit Union item above is exactly that. In fact it wouldn't surprise me if there might be a couple of different variations of the schedule, with Wayne Harris being the most likely additional spokesman.

1962 Templeton Action Group Photo portion with Jerry Keeling &
1963 Union Packing Wiener card of Jerry Keeling  

Jerry Keeling also joined the Stamps in 1961 and became the team's backup QB (and eventually the starter later in the decade) as well as patrolling the defensive backfield for 12 seasons. Keeling was a Divisional All-Star at Defensive back for five consecutive seasons and All-Canadian All-Star at the same position for 3 consecutive seasons. He was the Stampeders Most Outstanding Player nominee once.

The majority of the head shots used for the Union Packing photos seem to be randomly selected from various sources that pre-date the 1962 Templeton Media Action or Portrait Photos.

For the 1964 campaign Earl Lunsford had retired but in stepped Herm Harrison (inducted 1993) to keep the teams count at 7fHOF+lc and they responded with a 12-4 season, the most wins of any team in the CFL that year. Except the Lions finished 11-2-3 including 2-1 against the Stamps to capture first place. After dropping a 9 point decision in the first game of the semi-finals in Saskatchewan the team again found themselves facing questions about their post-season desire and heart. Two days later (yes, crazy) this time at least they answered definitively with a 51-6 demolition of the Riders at McMahon.

B.C. brought them back to earth taking the first game of the finals at McMahon convincingly, but the Stampeders responded with a surprising win in Vancouver in game 2 evening the series. In the end the Lions demonstrated they were the superior team with a fine aerial performance from Joe Kapp and a convincing 33-14 win that sent the eventual grey Cup winner Lions to Toronto. Kapp's replacement at starting QB in Calgary throughout these years was Eagle Day, and he was a good quarterback but was not at the same level as Joe Kapp.

The Stamps had played 5 intensely physical playoff games in 15 days, they were a different breed in those days in CFL football.

1964 Game Program du Maurier Advertising Profile of Tony Pajackowski &
1964 Stampeders Team Photo of Tony Pajaczkowski rocking the team's gold pants look

 Tony Pajaczkowski was one of the toughest players to ever suit up for the Stamps over the course of an 11 year career in Calgary, half of which was spent in the barren fifties. He was a Divisional All-Star 6 times offensively and one time defensively, never missing a selection for 7 consecutive years. He was All Canadian 4 of those years consecutively as well. Tony was the team's Most Outstanding Canadian nominee 3 times winning the Western MOC once and the League MOC once.  

No wiener cards of Pajaczkowski are known either but undoubtedly he was featured on at least one over the three year history of the promotion. He does appear in the 1962 paper footballs issue. As of December 2020 Pajaczkowski and Joe Kapp are the only two players featured in this post that are still living.  

1969 Stampeder Program Advertisement that uses 1964 Team Issue Action Photo of Herm Harrison &
1964 Stampeder Team Issue Portrait Photo of Herm Harrison

Herm Harrison only arrived in Calgary in 1964 so he missed the first half of this period but he would taste his share of dispiriting post season defeats as well over the course of his 9 year career. That career included 6 Divisional All-Star nods, 3 All Canadian All-Star placements and one year as the Stampeder's Most Outstanding Player nominee. He would go on to lead the league in Receiving yards in 1968 and 1970.    

By the time Harrison was in town the Union Packing contests were over and there doesn't seem to have been any more of the extra curricular collectible promotions that characterized the early 60's in Calgary. So advanced collectors will have to make do with searching out his media photos from those years. The Program advertisement at left is a good example of how the dates of the images used don't necessarily correspond with the year of issue at all.

Another strong regular season led the Stamps to a first place western finish (the first since 1949) with a CFL leading 12 wins in 1965. Their old nemesis the Blue Bombers were back to contest the final and Calgary won game #1 at home easily but dropped game #2 in Winnipeg to set up the winner take all finale. The play most remembered from this game was a 109 yard touchdown catch and run play from Kenny Ploen to Ken Nielsen (often blamed on Harvey Wylie, except Wylie had retired leaving the Stamps at 6fHOF+lc and it was Pete Manning that got beat).

A significant play yes, but it happened at the start of the 2nd half so there was more than ample time for the Stampeders to respond but in the end it was the Blue Bomber poise and playoff experience (a lot of their roster had won 3 or 4 Grey Cups) and the Stampeders lack of ability to overcome adversity under post season high pressure situations that cemented a 19-12 Winnipeg victory. 

Portion of 1961 Stampeder Training Camp Media Photo showing QB contenders Larry Robinson and Jerry Keeling with their then teammate and future nemesis Joe Kapp &
1962 Union Packing Wiener card of Ed O'Bradovich 

Its impossible to say what would have happened had the Stampeders not traded Joe Kapp away in 1961, or had they not ended up with almost nothing to show for the trade. Ed O'Bradovich was long gone by the time kids were slicing open wiener packs in 1962 to find his card inside, with his name misspelled and not even in uniform. But it is still one of only 6 known 1962 Union Packing cards out of a probable 12.

As it was the Stampeders posted 43 wins during the 1962-1965 four season regular season span, the most in the CFL, but they just couldn't get over the hump.
B.C. posted 36 wins over that span and made 2 Grey Cup trips with 1 championship.
Winnipeg had 30 wins, 2 Grey Cup trips, 1 championship. 
Hamilton had 39 wins, 4 trips, 2 championships.
Both Rider teams had 30 wins, Montreal 21, Edmonton 17 and Toronto 14.

The Stamps missed the playoffs in 1966, but would go on to be competitive for the remainder of the decade even making two unsuccessful trips to the Grey Cup in 1968 and 1970. Finally in 1971 the football gods had tormented them enough, and the four surviving long suffering greats;  Harris, Robinson, Keeling and Harrison tasted Grey Cup victory that had to have been very sweet indeed.

Thanks to Darryl Slade, Bob Blaine and John Henderson for a couple of the photos used in this post.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

More Fakes, Fabrications and Fan Made Items

 Way back in 2015 I first did a blog post on unlicensed privately created CFL player themed collectibles and you can review it and the details about these sorts of memorabilia items here.

Since it has been almost 5 years I thought that I had accumulated enough additional examples of these unofficial fantasy items to run another blog post on them. While technically it is illegal to produce and sell artifacts that use the copyrighted team or player images without their consent, many people still do it and the scale is small enough such that the CFL couldn't be bothered trying to prevent it legally.

I am unsure of the source of the first two examples shown below, but I do think that these sorts of Hall of Fame entry collectibles were privately produced and typically signed by the honoree at the ceremony or banquet held for the induction. It is also possible that they were somehow officially produced but there is currently no evidence for this.    

During the sports-card boom of the early nineties making Raghib Ismail unlicensed cards was a cottage industry. Here are three examples (its possible the third card was made by some company in the actual business of producing cards) all linking the phenom to Toronto but careful to not show any Argo logos or wordmarks. 

A long-gone company out of Winnipeg was creating these 4X6 composite photos (some had city or landmark backdrops) around 2010 and having the players sign them when they were in town. They would then market them on their website as "custom photos". 

These particular cards all seem to feature former Oklahoma players that ended up in the CFL, and there are quite a few from the Eskimos. These are made by C.T.N.W. or the Cards That Never Were and you can look them up to see their considerable offerings from all sports on their blog and website.


Star players (or star personalities in the case of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson who tried out for the Stampeders in 1995 but never played any games) are common subjects for fan made cards. Bo Levi Mitchell has dozens of legitimate cards but Chris Streveler had none. All the more reason to make a "Topps Super Rookie" fake to commemorate his time in Winnipeg.   

Vintage players get their fabricated due on these cards as well. Here we see all-time great Jackie Parker shown in his Toronto jersey on a card that otherwise has no issuer identification. Also all-time bust Vince Ferragamo is featured on a larger format blank backed custom card.   

Now the reasoning for these cards is hard to fathom. They are basically NFL greats (except Joe Kapp and Biletnikoff who finished his career in the CFL, and Paul Crewe from the Longest Yard movie) yet each card back has a "Canadian Football Checklist" design poached from the Topps 1965 CFL issue. The company that makes these goes to a lot of trouble with the ink, the graphics, the card paper and the distressing of the cards to make them unique, but its still weird as they have pretty much nothing to do with Canadian Football.

Naturally one of the largest targets for the makers of fantasy cards is the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Some of these cards are made by enthusiasts just for fun and are not necessarily being sold or produced for profit. The Willis card below is the back as I did not have a decent resolution view of the front.


And to nobodies surprise members of the 1966 Grey Cup team feature prominently on these types of cards, in some cases they were made available at reunion get togethers for autographing. The Dobbs card below is part of a large group of card art made by members of the Regina Leader-Post's Sports and Art departments. I am not sure if that actually makes them an official product but I have included them here as privately produced for the time being.

The recent long-awaited success of the Blue Bombers has also generated much interest in fan produced cards of their players. The Matthews card was probably created after he almost won a Superbowl with the Seahawks and before he won a Grey Cup with the Stampeders. The Bryant card (with purple overmark from the auction image) is part of a large set of commemoratives of the Bombers breaking their 29 year Grey Cup drought, and is as illegal as it gets, nice tho.

Cards aren't the only collectibles enterprising fans are making these days. A Winnipeg fan recently took considerable time and effort to make the two pinbacks on the right among many more including lots of Bombers. I am unsure where the Calvillo comes from but I think it is private as well.


As a collector whether you like these sorts of unlicensed items or not, they are out there and it is always good to be well informed as to what you might potentially be buying.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Colourization Catastrophe - Topps CFL Cards Part 1

  When Topps entered the Canadian market with their CFL cards in 1958, the trading card industry routinely colourized black and white photos of the athletes that were supplied by the teams themselves, in order to produce colour trading cards. Topps was an old hand at this process but attention to detail, at least for a marginal product line such as CFL cards, was apparently not their strong suit because they botched the job terribly.

I'm going to assess this chromatic disaster team by team and year by year for 1958, 1959 & 1960 starting with the West. I will compare the card colours with mostly readily available colour images of each team from those seasons and assign a generalized rating number where the player is featured in uniform on the following scale

3 - Accurate representation of the team uniform colours

2 - Mostly Accurate representation of the team uniform colours  

1 - Partially Accurate representation of the team uniform colours

0 - Totally Inaccurate representation of the team uniform colours

Cards that show a player out of uniform will not be rated.  In some cases I might not have a real colour reference photo to refer to so an educated conclusion will have to suffice. Also keep in mind that uniforms were not 100% standardized in those days, not everybody wore the exact same helmet stripes or socks, players would wear older style jerseys during photo shoots and even sometimes during games, and occasionally teams would wear the opposite of their road/home outfits on a particular night, so this is going to be a "near as can be determined" result. 

The scores for these cards per team will then be added up and divided by the number of cards to generate an aggregate average number for each team that will represent just how well or how poorly the Topps card design personnel performed.

1958 B.C. Lions
Home Darks (Ted Hunt, Tom Hinton), Road Lights (Ted Hunt, By Bailey)

There are 11 B.C. Lions cards in the 1958 set.

2 Home Darks are close but have incorrect helmet, shoulder and sock striping colours, the 1958 helmets had 3 stripes and numbers on the sides but many players probably still wore the single stripe helmets as well. Weird single number on Hinton`s game action helmet. Rating (2)

2 Road Lights are also close with the same striping errors as well as the wrong jersey number colours. Rating (2)

4 players are shown in head shot portraits where the Road Light jerseys can be seen to have similar issues as above. Rating (2)

2 players are shown in head shot portraits where the Road Lights are cropped to not show any wrong colours. Rating (3)

1 player is portrait in Home Dark with oddly the correct black interior shoulder stripe. rating (3)

1958 Rating : 4 + 4 + 8 + 6 + 3 = 25 / 11    =    Average Rating of  2.27

1959 B.C. Lions 
Home Lights (Randy Duncan), Road Top Dark Bottom Light (Bruce Claridge, Willie Fleming)

There are 12 B.C. Lions cards in the 1959 set.

10 Home Lights are the same uniforms worn on the road the prior season, with a selection of older helmet styles, with some cards having proper striping colours and others not as well as some cards having accurate black numbers and others brown. The Lions wore their flashy Michigan style helmets in 1959 both at home and on the road but none of the card images show this. Rating (2)

There are no cards with the Lions road uniforms which were switched to black tops with orange numbers, arms stripes and numbers above the stripes. Bill Jessup is shown in his San Francisco 49'ers uniform with their red and gold colours and Bruce Claridge is also shown in these arbitrary colours in what looks like his college uniform. Rating (0)

1959 Rating : 20 + 0 = 20 / 12    =    Average Rating of  1.67

1960 B.C. Lions 
Home Lights (Bill Herron), Road Top Dark Bottom Light (Norm Fieldgate)

There are 10 B.C. Lions cards in the 1960 set, with 2 players shown in portrait street clothes.

The Lions swapped their white home jerseys for a style similar to their road jerseys with arms stripes and numbers, and continued to wear their Michigan style helmets. However the 5 cards showing the players in their home uniforms are the same outdated images from the previous season with the same characteristics. Rating (2) 

One player's portrait is cropped tightly and the uniform colour is correct. Rating (3)

Jessup and Claridge are again featured in the same wrong colours as the previous year. Rating (0)

1960 Rating : 10 + 3 + 0 = 13 / 8    =    Average Rating of  1.63

BC 1958 - 1960    58 / 31   =   Aggregate Rating of 1.87

1958 Calgary Stampeders 
Home Darks (Ernie Warlick, Dick Washington), Road Lights (Chuck Holloway, Dean Renfro, Chuck Holloway)

There are 11 Calgary Stampeder cards in the 1958 set but 7 are portraits in street clothes.

4 of the cards were taken in a prior season training camp in Nelson B.C. The same jerseys were worn at home in 1958. Unfortunately the Stampeders red got mixed with the Roughriders green resulting in every card being dead wrong. Unknown if Warlick's nifty three stripe helmet design ever saw the field. Rating (0)

There were no cards with the Road Lights. A stripe and numbers were added to the helmets for seasonal play.

1958 Rating : 0 = 0 / 4    =    Average Rating of  0.00

1959 Calgary Stampeders 
Home Lights (Porky Brown), Road Top Dark Bottom Light (Jerry Sturm, Tony Pajaczkowski, Art Scullion)

There are 10 Calgary Stampeder cards in the 1959 set.

This year the Stampeders are in their proper uniforms for the season with 9 Home Lights being the same uniforms worn on the road the prior season, again all cards coloured green incorrectly. Rating (0)

1 card still shows Earl Lunsford in his Nelson training camp uniform picture, in green. Rating (0)

1959 Rating : 0 + 0 = 0 / 10    =    Average Rating of  0.00

1960 Calgary Stampeders 
Home Lights (Gene Filipski), Road Top Dark Bottom Light (Harvey Wylie, Clare Exelby)

There are 10 Calgary Stampeder cards in the 1960 set.

The Stampeders swapped their white home jerseys for a style with two red shoulder stripes and adopted the Horseshoe helmet for this year only (with no rivet holes). The road uniforms remained the same except for the helmets.

Eight cards showing the players in their home uniforms are the same outdated images from the previous season, Lunsford remains in the even older uniform and Joe Kapp is shown in his college uniform, all green. Rating (0) 

1960 Rating : 0 = 0 / 10    =    Average Rating of  0.00

CAL 1958 - 1960    0 / 24   =   Aggregate Rating of 0.00

1958 Edmonton Eskimos
Home Darks - gold pants (Johnny Bright, Bill Smith) Road Lights - gold pants (Don Stiller)

There are 11 Edmonton Eskimos cards in the 1958 set but all were studio shots in shirts, so no ratings will apply for this season. But the uniforms are illustrated above.

1959 Edmonton Eskimos
Home Lights - gold pants (Rollie Miles, Joe-Bob Smith), Road Darks - gold pants (Don Getty, Howie Schumm)

There are 11 Edmonton Eskimos cards in the 1959 set and here things start to get complicated.

1 card shows Mike Volcan in his 1958 Road Light Top, pants and helmet a reasonable shade of gold, numbers and socks wrong colour brown. Rating (2)

5 of the cards show the Eskimos in their 1958 Home Dark Tops (with gold pants) but coloured brown instead of green, and with red or orange numbers. Rating (1)

4 cards show players in their college jerseys or are just a head or upper body shot with colourized jersey (including Jackie Parker), and are coloured brown and orange incorrectly. Rating (0)

1 card shows a player in college uniform but at least the pants are the right colour. Rating (1) 

None of the cards show any player in their actual 1959 uniforms.

1959 Rating : 2 + 5 + 0 + 1 = 8 / 11    =    Average Rating of  0.73

1960 Edmonton Eskimos
Home Lights- gold pants (Jackie Parker), Road Darks - gold pants (Johnny Bright, Mike Volcan)

There are 10 Edmonton Eskimos cards in the 1960 set but six are studio shots in shirts.

The Eskimo Home and Road colour scheme was unchanged in 1960. Similarly Topps used the same 1958 photos for 3 of the cards as they did the prior season so Volcan Rating (2) and Fracas and Walker Rating (1), same as last year.

The last card Vic Chapman is a shoulders up shot with white jersey but without the proper striping. Rating (2)

1960 Rating : 2 + 2 + 2 = 6 / 4    =    Average Rating of  1.50

EDM 1958 - 1960    14 / 15   =   Aggregate Rating of 0.93

1958 Saskatchewan Roughriders 
Home Darks (Cookie Gilchrist, Jerry Cornelison), Road Lights (Reg Whitehouse, Len Legault)

There are 11 Saskatchewan Roughrider cards in the 1958 set but 6 were studio shots in shirts.

The remaining 5 all show the players in dark jerseys and light pants which does not align with their actual all-dark or all-light uniforms scheme. In any case since the Roughrider green was used for Calgary, all of the Riders were rendered in Stampeder red, dead wrong again. Rating (0)

1958 Rating : 0 = 0 / 5    =    Average Rating of  0.00

1959 Saskatchewan Roughriders 
Home Top Light Bottom Dark (Neil Habig), Road Darks (Jack Hill, Bud Curtis)

For 1959 the Riders matched the white jerseys with their green pants at home and the full green on the road. No style changes were made to the uniforms.

There are 10 Saskatchewan Roughrider cards in the 1959 set but all were studio shots in shirts so none are rated.

1960 Saskatchewan Roughriders 
Home Top Light Bottom Dark (Galen Wahlmeier, J.T. Frankenberger), Road Darks (Gene Wlasiuk)

There are 9 Saskatchewan Roughrider cards in the 1960 set but 7 are studio shots in shirts.

The remaining two feature the same numberless practice jersey photos as 1958, both in red. The Riders added numbers to their helmets and sleeves for 1960. Rating (0)

1960 Rating : 0 = 0 / 2    =    Average Rating of  0.00

SSK 1958 - 1960    0 / 7   =   Aggregate Rating of 0.00

1958 Winnipeg Blue Bombers 
Home Darks - gold pants (Kenny Ploen, Nick Miller), Road Lights - gold pants (Gord Rowland, Gerry James)

There are 11 Winnipeg Blue Bombers cards in the 1958 set.

All of the cards feature the players in their 1957 Bomber uniforms with no stripes or numbers on the sleeves and are tight portrait shots. 

8 of the cards show Home Darks but with red or orange numbers which is incorrect. Rating (2)

3 of the cards are also Home Darks but don't show the numbers so although the blue is a little too dark or too light they are technically right. Rating (3)

1958 Rating : 16 + 9 = 25 / 11    =    Average Rating of  2.27

1959 Winnipeg Blue Bombers 
Road Darks - gold pants (Ron Latourelle, Carver Shannon), Home Lights - gold pants (Ed Kotowich, Leo Lewis, Ernie Pitts)

There are 7 Winnipeg Blue Bombers cards in the 1959 set.

4 of the cards again show the players in their 1957 uniforms with the improper number colours. Rating (2)

3 of the cards show the players in their 1958 Home Darks with a little more of the uniforms visible so more area to get it wrong as the pants are also incorrect. Rating (1)

1959 Rating : 8 + 3 = 11 / 7    =    Average Rating of  1.57

1960 Winnipeg Blue Bombers 
Home Lights - gold pants (Ernie Pitts), Road Darks - gold pants (Herb Gray, George Druxman)

There are 10 Winnipeg Blue Bombers cards in the 1959 set. 

6 of the cards for the most part use the same images from previous issues, but are cropped so tight to the head that only the proper Road Dark blue shows. The Bombers changed their jerseys this year to feature shoulder stripes and somewhat ornate numbers. Rating (3)

3 of the cards are also the same images but you can see the improper number colours. Rating (2)

1 player was traded from Ottawa and is in a red jersey. Rating (0)

1960 Rating : 18 + 6 + 0 = 24 / 10    =    Average Rating of  2.40

WPG 1958 - 1960    60 / 28   =   Aggregate Rating of 2.14

So to summarize Topp's performance with a ranking out of 3 points ranging from Pretty Decent to Absolute Garbage : (and keep in mind I was just assessing the colour accuracy, the fact they hardly ever got the players in the current uniforms is a different failure altogether).

WPG  2.14      B.C.  1.87        EDM  0.93        SSK    0.00        CAL   0.00

In an era where TV and news publications were almost all in B&W, unless you lived in a CFL city and attended the games, generations of young collectors were deceived by Topps into thinking that teams wore uniforms that were drastically different from reality. 

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Steeltown Pennant Parade

One of the harder types of memorabilia to catalogue is pennants, because so many of them were manufactured over the decades it is hard to quantify what exists, and inevitably more are discovered as soon as you think you might have gotten a handle on it. To demonstrate this months post will illustrate a plethora of Hamilton Tiger-Cats pennants, many of which I organized into listings a few years ago but also others that have surfaced since. 

The exact same exercise could be done for any of the CFL cities but I believe Hamilton has been somewhat underrepresented in my blog posts to date so this should partially address that oversight.

November 29, 1952 Star Weekly & November 24, 1956 Star Weekly
Grey Cup & Team Pennants cover issues  

As with any CFL memorabilia pre-1950 material is quite rarely encountered but as you move up through the decades you tend to find more and more items with greater frequency. In this particular case I have never seen a pennant for the Hamilton Wildcats or the Hamilton Tigers (although both almost certainly should have existed) so the review begins with 1952.

During the early to mid fifties Star Weekly Magazine published several yearly Grey Cup issues that illustrated team pennants on the cover. Some of these pennants have survived from certain years as they have been available on Ebay recently (although the 3 rightmost pennants from the 1952 cover were possibly just graphic paste-ups as they are otherwise upside-down).

Interestingly the Tiger-Cats pennant from 1952 is the only one with a team graphic incorporated into the design. This and an older version of the Tiger's head logo were concurrently used in the early fifties. Other Star Weekly Hamilton pennants have different lettering font thickness from the 1956 example. 

1953 Hamilton Grey Cup Pennant & 1957 Hamilton Action Player Pennant 

By 1953 Official Souvenir pennants were issued for the Grey Cup, both the Tiger-Cats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have the same design pennant shown above. They also both have the same action player design pennants that date from 1957, again possibly issued for the Grey Cup but at least one other style 1957 Tiger-Cat Grey Cup pennant is also known.

Note that I have laid out these pennants to fit the image space available but that does not mean that these pennants are all the same size, their relative dimensions can not be determined from these pictures. While definitely desirable, all of the pennants illustrated so far are a little plain. 

Mid 1950's Hamilton Pennants

Luckily the Hamilton team nickname also absolutely lends itself to dynamic attractive graphic designs such as the two probably mid fifties pennants shown above. There is a well known set of representative (meaning an image that relates to each teams identity but not necessarily their official logo) pennants from the mid fifties and I thought it possible that the top pennant was part of this set, but the lettering style does not match (and all of the other teams do match), so maybe not. 

The bottom pennant tiger image also exists with the same lettering as the top pennant instead of the unusual accented g text. More variations might also exist. I would expect a price level of around $100 depending on condition for vintage pennants with this much visual appeal.

Mid 1950's? & Early 1960's?  Hamilton Pennants


Of course as the fifties progressed into the sixties there were plenty of opportunities to get Tiger-Cat pennants with less refined graphics and a seemingly unending number of different font renderings for the city and team names.

More standardized logo pennants were also on offer in the early sixties with two examples below. Some teams had different colour combination variations and so far Hamilton is known to have the two mirror images of black on yellow and yellow on black. These pennants came in longer and shorter styles.   

Early 1960's Unknown Issuer Team Logo Hamilton Pennants


The logo pennants were sold for at least a couple of years through various Canadian football magazines, including Touchdown and probably through other channels as well.

Besides your traditional felt pennants, occasionally unique designs are encountered like the plastic lenticular cats head affixed to the example below. The rare and desirable mid sixties plastic pennants are thought to have been issued by at least some of the same potato chip companies that participated in the 1963 plastic cap promotion.

Early 1960's? Lenticular Hamilton Pennant &
Mid 1960's Multiple Brand Plastic Team Logo Hamilton Pennant

By 1970 CFL properties were issuing branded Logo pennants and then from the early to at least the mid part of the seventies a large number of helmet pennants. Two rare combined divisional pennants were part of these issues and of course Hamilton is part of the CFL East item as shown on the very much worse for wear copy below. The 1970 CFL properties pennants have been selling in the $50 range lately.      

1970 CFL Properties Team Logo Hamilton pennant &
Early 1970's - Mid 1970's CFL Properties Helmet East Division Pennant

Among the most common of vintage pennants, the initial styles of the helmet pennants with the single bar facemasks have been categorized into seven (so far) different types depending on the characteristics of the facemasks and the presence or absence of the CFL logo and or the trademark notations. Occasional differences in the colour of the felt bar at the left edge of the pennant can also be considered variations.

Early 1970's - Mid 1970's CFL Properties Helmet Hamilton Type I & Type III Pennants

CFL properties also went on to issue more current Team Logo pennants from the mid 1970's to at least the late 1970's. These have also been categorized into six (so far) different types but there is only one Hamilton style currently identified.

1983 Spectator & 1986 Grey Cup Champions Helmet Hamilton Pennants

Beginning in the eighties and carrying on into the nineties helmet pennant designs were upgraded to 3 dimensional images and facemasks of differing types. The nineties ones tended to incorporate colourful graphic elements of many different shapes. 

Numerous Hamilton pennants of different categorized types from this era are known, some of the more interesting being special occasion or special sponsor variants that added text elements to the existing layouts.

1995 AMK 125th Anniversary Hamilton Pennant &
1999 Hunter Grey Cup Champions Hamilton Pennant

The more modern pennants from the nineties are definitely more appealing than the eighties blank white backgrounds. Any items issued pre-2005 still contain the classic more realistically lifelike leaping tiger logo. 

In the 21st century pennants are still being produced although probably not with the variety and frequency of decades past. Of course modern items come with the updated Tiger-Cat more cartoony logo.


Early 2010's Hunter Hamilton Pennant &
2010s? Hamilton Helmet Pennant

Pennant manufacturers come and go (or change their company names) and sometimes the same designs are then produced by the next CFL corporate partner. The pennant with the label still attached above may have been produced by Hunter, Wincraft and TSV over the last decade. 

So 22 Hamilton pennants have been highlighted in this months blog post which is about half of the currently known Tiger-Cat pennants issued. I would guesstimate that there are probably another 20 or so that have yet to be rediscovered so that they can be properly categorized. 

A wide choice of items, produced over the better part of a century, with every chance of uncovering something rare and uncatalogued makes this a fertile and rewarding area for Canadian Football collector activity.