The 100th Grey Cup is over and Ivor Wynne is closed for business, but there is one more thing we could mark before the year ends: the 100th anniversary of Hamilton’s first Grey Cup championship. The facts surrounding the game are a little murky after all this time, but here are some of the stories about the team and the game ...
On 30 November 1912, the Hamilton Alerts defeated the Toronto A*&^s 11– 4 at the H.A.A.A. grounds. It was the fourth championship game, and the University of Toronto had won the first three (in 1909, 1910, and 1911).
The Alerts were Hamilton’s second team during this time period. The more famous Tigers had a strong team after 1900. The black and gold won the Senior Rugby Championship in 1906 and again in 1908 (the last one before Lord Grey donated the Grey Cup), and they returned to the big game two years later only to lose to U of T. It fell to the Alerts to win the city’s first Grey Cup. The Alerts formed some time around 1909 and managed to take the Tigers’ place in the Ontario Rugby Football Union. Led by coach Liz Marriott, they won the Union title in 1911 and 1912, but fell in the playoffs in 1911.
Even before it began, the 1912 game involved some controversy. The Cup was held by the Canadian Rugby Union (a precursor to the CFL), and the game was generally played between the reigning university champions and the reigning senior league champions. The story goes that McGill, who had won the 1912 university championship, decided not to play the Cup game because the date interfered with the players’ exams. (Some believed that McGill’s coach was actually fearful for his players, believing that they would be no match for professionals). Instead of McGill, the University of Toronto played a one-off game against the A*&^s, and it was the Double Blue who won the right to play the Alerts. A recent set of football cards celebrating the history of the Cup gets this story wrong, claiming that it was the Alerts and not the A*&^s who were the pretenders in the Cup game.
At game time, another problem erupted: there was no ball. The one ball that was supposed to be used was locked in a dressing room at the grounds, and the caretaker responsible for the facilities could not be found. An unknown person kicked in the door and retrieved the ball. Reportedly, the Rugby Union had to pay for damages after the game.
Given the era, rugby rules, and a very muddy field, the game itself was dominated by running and kicking. Each team traded two safeties. The only touchdown of the game came in the third quarter. On third down, deep in his own end, A*&^ punter Crossen Clarke was tackled for a loss at the five yard line. Three plays later, the Alerts’ barged into the end zone. Some accounts say that was scored by Red Harper, the team’s quarterback. Others suggest it was Ross Craig, the team’s powerful running back. Whoever it was, by that point the game seemed out of reach for Toronto.
The Alerts could not avoid future controversies. Football historian Gordon Currie writes that the team and its fans were rough and ready to intimidate any player who dared to enter the field of play. Or even the city, for that matter. The team was unapologetic about the antics that surrounded their games, and the Ontario Rugby Union was not amused. Despite the fact that the Alerts were the reigning Grey Cup champions, they were expelled from the Ontario Union the following season. The team did not fold immediately, but life in a lesser league did not interest some of its champions. The Tigers managed to lure Coach Marriott and several of the players to play for them. Among them was Ross Craig. Jake Gaudaur, in a history of the Tigers, called this recruiting a "merger."
And so it was, just months later, that the Tigers were restored to their former glory in the Ontario Union and the national championship game. The Tigers earned a berth in the Grey Cup and pounded Toronto Parkdale 44-2, with Craig scoring three touchdowns. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1964.
A recent story on another player, Leeming Carr, can be found here:
Today, the Tiger-Cats include the Alerts’ 1912 championship among their own. Here’s to them, and a century of Grey Cup champions!