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Cornered Coach: Pigskin Puck

 

I love watching the Grey Cup – the crowning glory of the Canadian Football League.

But playing hockey against CFL players?

That's a different story.

Watching Sunday's 105th Grey Cup, a dramatic victory for underdog Toronto over favoured Calgary, had me reminiscing about lacing up the skates against the Argonauts and Stampeders.

In the early-90's, I was working as a television sports broadcaster in Calgary at the same time as Doug Flutie arrived on the Stampeders scene. Flutie led the Stamps to the 1992 Grey Cup title but, to be honest, the team was talented enough to lay claim to a few more championship rings. Unfortunately, much like they did in this year's big game against the Argos, Calgary had a bad habit of choking in the crunch. Because of that, the local media often blasted the Stampeders for falling short in the big game; and yours truly was only too happy to pile on.

"Sure, Flutie is a solid quarterback," I opined on our TV station's nightly highlight show, "But if he was that good he'd still be playing in the NFL."

That riled up Flutie and his faithful, as they circled a date on the calendar to get their revenge. Back in those days, the Calgary media and the Stampeders staged an annual charity hockey game that drew a nice crowd. Most years, it was a lot of fun. But, fed up with being labeled as "chokers" by reporters, the Stamps decided to flex their rather large and imposing muscles as they hit the ice. Flutie is obviously a great athlete and, in addition to his football chops, he's also a talented baseball and basketball player. 

But hockey?

Let's just say he's not much of a skater. However, he is a dogged competitor and as I lined up against him for the opening face-off I could tell it was going to be a long and painful night. Flutie was like an angry little Chihuahua, barking at my heels the entire game. Meantime, as every good offensive lineman is supposed to do, "The Big Tuna” Bruce Covernton protected his quarterback. At one point, still upset with my pot shot at Flutie, Covernton nailed me with a huge body check. My left hand took the brunt of it, squished against the boards, and the resulting injury was something straight out of a horror flick. The flesh of my thumb literally burst through the skin and as I sit at my laptop typing these words, I can still see the scar 25 years later.

In the early-2000's, I moved to Toronto to work for Sportsnet. My broadcast buddy, Daren Millard, is an absolute puck nut and got the bright idea of getting a Sportsnet team together to take on the Toronto Argos in a game of hockey. Following my Stampeders experience, you can appreciate why I wanted no part of it. But on the day of the big game the Sportsnet squad was short of bodies and, after some serious arm twisting by Millard, I reluctantly showed up at the rink.

What a mistake.

Towards the end of the second period I spotted an old friend. Paul Clatney was a former Stampeder who was now playing for the Argos. A heckuva hockey player who actually spent some time in minor pro, Clatney was a great guy who I had played with and against a bunch of times during our Calgary days. Knowing his skill level, and playing defence, I knew I had to hustle into the corner to try and keep Clatney at bay. Unfortunately, I lost an edge on my journey and accidentally smashed Paul head first into the boards as both benches emptied and a full-scale brawl broke out.

"Paul!," I yelled at the bottom of a pile of humanity, "It was an accident."

"I know, Mike," he said. "And if we ever get out from under here, I'll make sure and tell the guys that."

We did eventually emerge but, because of the brawl, the referee decided to call the game in the second period. In the dressing room, all I had to do was look at Millard and he knew what I was about to say.

"Hmmm," my pal pondered. "I guess you were right, Tother. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to play the Argos."

Yup.

God bless the Argonauts and Stampeders; and what a great show they put on in Sunday's Grey Cup.

And as it turns out, football players should stick to football and broadcasters should stick to reporting.

If not?

There's a pretty good chance somebody's gonna get hurt.

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