February 20, 2024

Rob Vanstone: Marvelling at a fantastic football find from 70 years ago

It was a sign of the times — a slip of paper including the autographs of 17 members of the 1954 Saskatchewan Roughriders.

This jaw-dropper of a sports collectible is yellowed, but the signatures (written in pencil) are clear and easily decipherable.

Legendary names pop off the page.

Ken Charlton, Bill Clarke and Martin Ruby are in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and the SaskTel Plaza of Honour.

Also in the Plaza: Ken Carpenter, Mike Cassidy, Larry Isbell, Doug Killoh, Bobby Marlow and Stan Williams.

Gord Sturtridge’s number (73) was retired by the Roughriders after he was killed in a Dec. 9, 1956 plane crash, along with teammates Mel Becket (No. 40), Mario DeMarco (55) and Ray Syrnyk (56).

The piece of paper from 70 years ago also includes the signatures of Ron Adam (quarterback/defensive back, 1954 to 1960), Paul Anderson (defensive lineman, 1953 to 1958), Frank Filchock (Head Coach, 1953 to 1957), Fred Hamilton (halfback, 1952 to 1958), John Harper (halfback/defensive back, 1953 and 1954), Art McEwan (offensive lineman, 1947 to 1954) and Sam Scoccia (offensive lineman, 1952 to 1954).

John Lynch would have been 17 years old, and in high school at Luther College, when he obtained those signatures.

I cannot imagine how much he would have cherished them, considering his lifelong love of the Roughriders.

After John passed away in December, his wife Margie began the process of sorting through her husband’s possessions and keepsakes.

One fine day, not long ago, the autographs from 1954 were discovered.

Margie was quick to contact a great friend — former Roughriders President John Lipp.

John then reached out to me, asking if we could connect for a few minutes.

“What could this be?” I wondered.

We made arrangements to meet the following day at 2 p.m.

John was punctual, as always, as he emerged from the elevator and entered the Roughriders’ business office.

After we sat down, John reached for his wallet and pulled out a piece of paper.

On one side, there was a Roughriders roster. The autographs were on the back.

Honestly, I nearly fainted.

As the Roughriders’ resident historian, it fell within my purview to examine such a treasure, but I still felt uncomfortable.

“I shouldn’t even be touching this,” I told myself while gingerly holding on to a corner of this unexpected treasure. “This should be in a case somewhere.”

I put it down on the table, relieved to have not applied any creases, and stared at it some more.

Sadly, all the players who took a few seconds to sign an autograph for a presumably awestruck John Lynch are gone now. Williams was the last to pass away, in 2015.

Williams arrived in Saskatchewan in 1954, at a time when two-way players were commonplace.

In addition to intercepting eight passes for the 1954 Roughriders, Williams was a skilled receiver.

Ruby set the standard for two-way play. In three different seasons, he was named a Western Interprovincial Football Union All-Star as an offensive and defensive lineman.

Carpenter’s good name is still etched in the Roughriders record book. The 18 touchdowns he scored in 1955 remain a Club single-season standard.

Marlow’s path to the Roughriders is unimaginable now. He signed with Saskatchewan in 1953 despite being drafted eighth overall by the New York Giants.

He is the only Roughrider to register a touchdown three different ways in one game. On Oct. 26, 1957 against the visiting Calgary Stampeders, he scored on a run, a fumble return and an interception return.

Isbell’s versatility extended beyond the football field. A one-time Boston Red Sox prospect, he joined the Roughriders in 1954 and contributed as a receiver, defensive back, quarterback and punter.

Charlton was a threat as a running back and receiver. In the event that a possession was unproductive, he could get the team out of trouble by launching a towering punt.

Cassidy, Clarke and McEwan were indestructible linemen.

Adam, who was born in Saskatoon, was the last Saskatchewan-born player to quarterback the Roughriders to a victory (Aug. 21, 1958; Saskatchewan 21, Winnipeg 13).

Anderson’s son, Mike, emulated his father by becoming a long-time Roughrider. After making his debut with the Green and White in 1984, Mike played in every regular-season game — typically as the starting centre — from 1985 to 1995.

Before joining the Roughriders, Harper helped the Montreal Alouettes win a Grey Cup title in 1949.

Fred Hamilton was the second post-Second World War Roughrider to score three touchdowns in a game. He ran for two majors and caught a touchdown pass during a 31-28 victory in Edmonton on Oct. 18, 1952. (Charlton had rushed for three TDs in Edmonton on Oct. 24, 1949.)

Scoccia played in 42 games over three seasons after joining the Roughriders in 1952.

And Filchock? He set a record that will never be broken.

On Oct. 15, 1939, he threw the NFL’s first 99-yard touchdown pass, connecting with Andy Farkas for a Washington major against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Twelve 99-yard scoring connections, the equivalent of a 109-yarder in the CFL, have ensued.

Tangentially, we point out that the Roughriders have erupted for only one 99-yard gain on offence — a scoring pass from Kent Austin to Jeff Fairholm against the host Ottawa Rough Riders on Oct. 6, 1991.

One day earlier, John and Margie Lynch had exchanged wedding vows.