This being Grey Cup week, and in the midst of planning to head to Edmonton for Sunday’s showdown between Ottawa and Calgary, I found myself rather vapidly going through the list of former Championship Game MVPs the other day when I came across a name that brought a gigantic smile to my face. Then I came across it again. And then, yet again. He was the first player to thrice be named the best player in the most important game of the Canadian Football League, preceding both Doug Flutie and Damon Allen in that lofty class and yet, inexplicably, he’s still not a member of the CFL Hall Of Fame: Sonny Wade of the Montreal Alouettes, number 14 on your scoresheet and number one in my young heart.
In an era when players were expected to be a lot more versatile than they are today, Sonny Wade not only quarterbacked the Alouettes for ten seasons, he still holds the team record for punts with 852. An All-American at Emory & Henry College in Virginia, Wade joined the Als in 1969 during their worst stretch in history, having posted losing seasons for nine straight years; no small feat in a league of only nine teams. After a rough rookie season in which he threw 30 interceptions, things turned around for both the quarterback and the Als in 1970. With the legendary QB Sam Etcheverry as his head coach, Wade’s cool demeanor under pressure gradually began to pay off and after making the playoffs for the first time in a decade, Montreal went on to beat Calgary in the Championship. Sonny Wade had the first of his three Grey Cup victories, along with that cherished MVP.
Under his next head coach, some guy named Marv Levy, Sonny Wade became one of the CFL’s all-time clutch performers. Sure, he threw a lot of picks (169 times in his career), but when the game was on the line, under any circumstance and in all weather conditions, it was common knowledge that number 14 was going to deliver. He won another title and MVP in ’74 coming off the bench to relieve an ineffective Jimmy Jones and three years later, in the Ice-Bowl at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium in front of over 68 thousand people, Sonny did it all again, crushing the Eskimos 41-6. He would finish his career with 15,014 passing yards and 89 touchdowns tosses, all with the Alouettes, retiring after the 1978 season. He was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1994, but as of yet, the Canadian Football League has not come calling.
Shining a spotlight on Sonny Wade may be the height of self-indulgence for an Alouettes fan like myself when it’s Ottawa and Calgary in the Grey Cup, but in for a dime, in for a dollar. Here’s to some of the other great players that made up some of my best memories during the late ’60s and ’70s….Peter Della Riva, Terry Evanshen, Dickie Harris (who not only was the punter, but the punt returner, as well), Gene Gaines, Junior Ah You, Glen Weir, and Wally Buono (yes – he was a Hall Of Fame player before he was a Hall of Fame coach). And, if I may, a slow-clap for one of my favourite running backs of all time: Moses Denson, whose broken play pass to Ted Alflin in the 1970 Grey Cup remains one of my best sports memories to this very day. Even if you’re not a fan of the Montreal Alouettes, you have to admit; those were helluva good football teams. And if you were ever going to write a movie or TV script about a football team, could you come up with a more perfect name than “Sonny Wade?” It all just fits, doesn’t it?
But I digress. On Sunday, it’s not about the Montreal Alouettes. Not yet, anyhow.
Best of luck to both the Western Champion Calgary Stampeders, who need to win this one to avoid a Buffalo Bills-like aura heading into next year. And to the beasts from the East, the Ottawa REDBLACKS, who have been nothing short of remarkable since rejoining the league just a few years ago. If you’re between Grey Cup parties on Sunday, you can catch it all the action, including pre-game coverage, beginning at 4 pm EST on Canada Talks, channel 167.