Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Below is a guest article written by Terry Ott
Roughriders Played In First Two Grey Cups Televised in Colour

The 2017 Saskatchewan Roughriders are heading east to play the Ottawa Red Blacks in the CFL East Division crossover playoff game at TD Place Stadium, (for Baby Boomers and older, Lansdowne Park) and those without a ticket may watch the game in 4K HDTV in a broadcast that is stunning in its video and audio quality.

And while those exquisite HDTV broadcasts are quickly becoming old hat and/or just expected to many viewers, things were quite different in 1966 and 1967.

51 years ago, CFL football in colour WAS an event.

So, when '66 football fans lucky enough to have colour sets-they sold for the equivalent of about $2000 in today's bucks- gathered around their TVs on November 26 for the 54th Grey Cup game from venerable Empire Stadium in Vancouver they were greeted by a CTV/CBC Grey Cup broadcast that for the first time appeared in colour.

And that meant that our basement in Stoney Creek, Ontario, a suburb of Hamilton, soon became pretty crowded around 4PM EST as my dad fired up our Zeneith Model 5430-it took several minutes to warm up-and the first images from Empire arrived.

Colour sets back in the mid 60s were mostly tube affairs and they generally needed a whole bunch of TLC to maintain colour saturation, tint, and contrast with adjustment usually having to be made even when changing channels. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTXa109ajXI

We received the broadcast from CFTO channel 9 in Toronto, helped along by a rotor antenna which was essential to get a good signal in the days well before the CN Tower blasted out a very strong, clean UHF stream. Saskatchewan viewers could grab the broadcast via the then newly established CTV affiliate CHBE/CHRE out of Moose Jaw/Regina.

Believe it or not, seeing the images from Vancouver in what could best be described as rudimentary-yet acceptable- colour really lit up our rec room as the game almost became secondary to the format.

And since most of the viewers in our basement were rooting for the western Riders over the hated Ottawa Rough Riders who had blasted the hometown Tiger-Cats in the '66 East final by a score of 72-17, Saskatchewan's first Grey Cup victory was sweet indeed.

But look closely at the broadcast-and it is very good fortune that a colour video tape survived because back in the day, colour tape was expensive and networks routinely recycled it, making this '66 copy a rare one-and you will note that as the game wears on and the cloudy, rainy day adds to the lack of light at Empire,and you will see the "colour" start to turn towards a low  saturation  even with the stadium's lights on. To say nothing of the replays, that were offered only in black and white.

Still, the 1966 Grey Cup broke great new ground for the Canadian Football League which had lagged behind the NFL, AFL and NCAA football in providing colour broadcasts of games, mostly due to cost consideration and stadium lighting.

The Riders returned to the CFL national championship in the Centennial year of 1967 at a refurbished and expanded Lansdowne Park to take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, with the Roughriders a decided favourite on a  cold and blustery December 2 with the playing field frozen solid and snow piled along the sidelines.

However, despite elements there was an abundance of light even though it was slightly overcast-which actually aided the colour broadcast as bright sunlight tended to cause light/vapour trails off player's helmets-and the game was a full colour broadcast, improved upon from the '66 Vancouver debut in both colour quality and picture detail.

Unfortunately,the Riders' 24-1 upset loss telecast by the CBC/CTV has apparently not been preserved on colour videotape-as evidenced by all versions leaked to YouTube so far-and only this package of film highlites captures the game in colour. (Advance to 1 hour, 4 minutes to view:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S43orMLAL0I) Hopefully, a colour 1967 Grey Cup videotape will surface at some point.

So, when on November 12 you  tune into the Riders' quest to take the first step to become the  initial crossover playoff team to advance to the Grey Cup, consider where it all started, in what passed for, in living colour.

Terry Ott is a Hamilton based freelancer who has written on the CFL since 1997.
He can be reached at tjo55@yahoo.com

1 comment:

Skot Kortje said...

Excellent! Thank you for posting. It's nice to relive some memories of our Riders from those glory days. Many things to notice, but a few strike me most: absent the ubiquitous shotgun formation our league now employs, there was then much of the quarterback rolling out on passing plays, which took time to develop the pocket and allowed receivers to run their routes. I miss that element in today's game. The game play moved pretty fast, and the refs made quick decisions about penalties, moving the ball forward, calling the penalty and whistling in time promptly. No delays waiting for referees to huddle to get their story wrong or the command centre to weigh in. And check out Hugh Campbell's important touchdown reception at the beginning of the fourth quarter where he leaps to his feet and then promptly sprints to the sideline, sans endzone celebration mugging a superhero or Ice Capades choreography with his teammates. Loved the way the O-line and QB run to the line of scrimmage from the huddle, and how Jackson calls the play from his knee in the Ottawa huddle. Of course, hard not to appreciate that Reed was an absolute beast. Loved when he hangs his head in shame and kicks the turf in disgust with himself after he is tripped up following a powerful run for a key first down. Next play he breaks into the endzone on a powerful 31-yard run to give us a two touchdown lead over Ottawa late in the fourth quarter. Then he just ambles back to the huddle for the point after. One tough, classy man.