Editor's note: With the NFL's Super Bowl coming to the Bay Area in February, CSNBayArea.com Senior Insider Ray Ratto is in Canada to cover the Grey Cup and see how the other half lives. Bookmark Ray Ratto's Grey Cup blog for complete coverage leading up to Sunday's game.
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- The weather arrived here today, Wednesday, a gentle but noticeable snowfall (natives would call it a dusting, or more likely, "Oh, this is nothing"). The wind at Portage and Main, called “the windiest intersection in Canada,” was in midseason form, and the ground at Investors Group Field had hints of white in both end zones and on the warning track that surrounds the playing field.
It is not expected to last, though. Cold, it will be. Picturesque, probably not.
But the truth is even if the week were afflicted with hip-deep snow, which can be Winnipeg’s wont, the Grey Cup kicked the Super Bowl’s ass today, and did so before 9:30 am local time.
There was the bus driver who introduced himself as a former radio announcer at a local station, and laid down the conditions for the week: “Drinking is permitted, puking is not, and nudity, while not expressly permitted, is not prohibited.”
Tepid enough stuff, I grant, but it served as the perfect lead-in to the best question asked of either coach -- Rick Campbell of the Ottawa Redblacks and Chris Jones of the Edmonton Eskimos.
It is known as the Jim Hunt Memorial Question, named after the idiosyncratic squeaky-voiced bloviator of Toronto media fame Jim (Shaky) Hunt, who asked a version of the question every year from the early ‘70s until his passing in 2006: “What is your position on your players having sex during Grey Cup Week?” The question has since been inherited by Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun and is reserved for the end of the coaches’ press conference just as the late Helen Thomas of UPI traditionally asked the first question at a Presidential press conference, and is as much a staple of the week as the Spirit Of Edmonton Room and Riderville, which we will deal with forthwith.
Campbell, who has never coached in the Grey Cup and has a second-year franchise worth of players to guide to one of the least probable happy endings in North American sports history, rose to the occasion. Pun not intended, you vile-minded reprobates.
“It’s my job to put guys in the best position to have success, whether that’s on or off the field, so I guess I’m going to give advice more than a policy,” he said, his face creasing into a slight satyr’s grin. “And this would probably apply to most of our players and coaches, and it mirrors our football team this year, is that the odds aren’t good, and no one gave you much of a chance, but if you pay attention to detail and you execute and you do it with zest and enthusiasm, anything can happen.”
To which Jones, who was born in South Pittsburg, TN, and still clings publicly to the accent even though he has coached in Canada for 13 years, declared uncle, dropping his head and laughing, saying only, “How can I top that?”
Campbell’s response, especially given that his father Hugh was the coach in Edmonton for 10 Grey Cup titles, including five in succession in the early ‘80s, showed a level of preparation and deftness his father would appreciate. Elegantly worded, brilliantly constructed, and with the well-disguised big close. It was immediately rated by veterans of the Canadian typing art as superior to the other great responses of the era, including that of Calgary coach John Hufnagel a year ago.
“Well, Terry, the recurring theme or words that have come out of my players’ mouths from the start of training camp is to finish. I would hope they would have that same directive if they happen to have whatever you’re talking about.”
Or Saskatchewan coach Corey Chamblin in 2013, who was more succinct and motivational.
“It’s all about football,” he said. “It’s championship week and the guys are focused on football. If they win a championship, they’ll get a lot of it.”
Then there was the triumphant clubhouse leader until Wednesday, from Toronto’s Mike (Pinball) Clemons in 2004.
“Personally speaking, this game is of such great magnitude that, far be it for me to interrupt what may be a player’s normal course of action for readying himself for a game. If it has worked thus far, please indulge. If it has not benefited you to this point, please abstain.”
Now spend the next few moments making a list of the 32 NFL coaches, and try to determine the ratio of those who would embrace the question in the spirit in which it is given against those who would stammer-snarl a non-responsive response.
Done? If your answer is one of 32, you win.
The one, of course, is Buffalo’s Rex Ryan, and neither the magnitude nor the pomposity of the setting would stop him from expounding fully, confidently and maybe even disturbingly on the subject.
Indeed, there would likely be horrified and angry stares from most of the NFL’s army of herders and minders, all of whom would probably snigger secretly about it later -- because the Super Bowl is SERIOUS BUSINESS, damn your eyes, and those who engage in whimsy will die on the sword of public opprobrium. Yes, even on the much-reviled Tuesday Media Day, when they meet our stupid with their diffidence and fight to a nil-nil draw.
This, too, is part of what separates the Grey Cup from the Super Bowl. While the coaches are here being coachly and guarded as is the way of their people (Jones uses Bill Parcells as an occasional resource, if that helps you), all around them are viewing things entirely differently. In fact, Tuesday’s practices at Investor Group Field were open to any and all media members, none of who seemed particularly interested in what either the Rouge Et Noir or Esks were actually practicing. Not even the piped-in crowd noise could distract the assembled typists and videographers from their duties, or more compellingly, how quickly they could cease performing them.
Not necessarily because they were pursuing their own answer to the Shaky Hunt Memorial Question, mind you. At events like this, we tend to churn out stories to our capabilities, but more often drink to our capacities -- as is the way of OUR people.