May 15, 2011
The Saskatchewan Roughriders' 43-40 win over Hamilton at Toronto's SkyDome in 1989 remains one of the most memorable Grey Cup games ever. It was a spectacular offensive shootout, with Saskatchewan quarterback Kent Austin and Hamilton quarterback Mike Kerrigan both piling up the stats and legendary receivers like the Roughriders' Ray Elgaard and Don Narcisse and the Tiger-Cats' Tony Champion and Derrick McAdoo hauling in catch after catch. The kickers wound up having a huge impact too, with both Saskatchewan's Dave "Robokicker" Ridgway and Hamilton's Paul Osbaldiston hitting four field goals. Ridgway's final field goal to win the game with no time left has passed into the realm of legend all on its own, and it's frequently still referred to as just "The Kick". Now, after 22 years, there's a tremendous new view of The Kick, and it's got a story to match.
Most of the published angles of that field goal, like the great photo at right below taken by Ryan Remiorz of The Canadian Press or the famous photo by Bill Dubecky, are tightly-cropped vertical shots that give you a close look at Ridgway and defensive back and holder Glen Suitor (now a famed TSN analyst, of course), but of necessity, they can't quite capture the complete struggle that was going on in the trenches with the Tiger-Cats' attempt to block the kick. The photo at the top of this post does, though, and it's not from a professional photographer. In fact, as The Regina Leader-Post's Rob Vanstone (who literally wrote the book on the 1989 game) relates, it's a photo that was only recently passed on to him by Regina pediatric dentist Dan Avram, who happened to be sitting in the stands behind the uprights with a camera on that day:
"I just held up the camera and hoped for the best,'' said the Regina-born Avram, who had a second-level end-zone seat at SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre) on Nov. 26, 1989. "I knew it was a pivotal moment in the game and I gave it a shot.''
Avram was at the game with his brother, Darrell, who is a Regina eye surgeon. Darrell had purchased two Grey Cup tickets and flown to Toronto for the game. At the time, Dan Avram was taking post-graduate studies at the University of Toronto, which he attended from 1986 to 1990 before returning to the Queen City. During the '89 Grey Cup, he took a variety of images with his Canon Sure Shot point-and-shoot.
"I didn't know what I had until I developed the photo,'' Avram said.
Perhaps the most interesting element of Avram's photo is just how many Tiger-Cats are close to blocking the kick. The best chance may be for #61, who this 1989 roster tells me is Mike Walker; it looks like the ball isn't all that far from his hand at the specific moment of the photo. However, plenty of other players weren't all that far from breaking through either, including #62 (Ronnie Glanton) and #64 (Tim Lorenz). If any of those guys had broken through the line and blocked the kick, CFL history as we know it could be very different.
Keep in mind that Saskatchewan's triumph capped off an unbelievable year in the CFL that saw the John Gregory-coached Roughriders go 9-9 in the regular season, but roll past the 10-8 Calgary Stampeders, 16-2 Edmonton Eskimos and 12-6 Hamilton Tiger-Cats to claim their first Grey Cup since 1966. It was a surprising breakthrough after a long history of being good but not quite good enough; in the Ron Lancaster era from 1966 to 1976, the team made the West Final for a still-standing CFL record 11-straight years, but they only went to the Grey Cup five times and only won it once in that span. Rider fandom generally remained strong over the years despite some lean seasons, but would the Riders be the economic force they are today without that 1989 championship? It's impossible to tell, and for that, Saskatchewan has Ridgway's kick to thank.
That makes it particularly notable that Ridgway's a big fan of this photo, too. Avram gave him a framed copy after a few years, and Ridgway told Vanstone it captures the moment perfectly.
"Isn't that a fabulous picture?'' Ridgway continued. "It's one of those shots that's a lifetime picture. So many people have seen Bill Dubecky's great photo, showing my follow-through and Glen after he pinned the ball, with Tim McCray blocking on the right outside (of the frame).
"One thing about Dan's photo is that he caught everybody - not only the lines for both teams, but the ball as it was in flight. It's a nanosecond - a millisecond - of good fortune.
"Think about it. A lot of people don't understand that the ball is travelling 80 to 100 feet per second right after it is kicked. That is a really tough shot to get. It really is a spectacular picture, especially for someone who has never seen it before.''
Avram's shot is indeed a spectacular picture of an unforgettable kick. It illustrates that even decades after the fact, the CFL's history is still valuable and important. Moreover, the past isn't written in stone; as Vanstone's book and Avram's photo illustrate, it's still quite possible to find new elements and angles on events decades later. This photo's a particularly interesting new angle, perfectly capturing the emotion, the closeness and the significance of one of the CFL's most legendary moments.
*Correction: This post originally referred to Glen Suitor as a quarterback. He spent his CFL career as a defensive back.