Twenty-one years ago today, I did something I’d never done before (or since) – I produced the Grey Cup on CBC.
The 9-9 Saskatchewan Roughriders, under John Gregory, were going up against the 12-6 Hamilton Tiger-Cats, under Al Bruno. It was the first Grey Cup game played in Toronto’s brand-new SkyDome. And it’s generally regarded as the greatest Grey Cup game ever played. You remember…Saskatchewan’s Dave Ridgway kicked a 35-yard field goal as the game ended, giving the green Riders their first Grey Cup in forever. Final score – SASK 43 HAM 40. And producing it was an experience unlike any other.
At that time, producing the Grey Cup was the biggest plum on CBC Sports’ annual fruit plate. This was before the network produced Hockey Night in Canada (that was done by Molstar Communications).One of the challenges of producing the big game was that we would incorporate many more components than CBC used during its regular-season CFL telecasts. More cameras. More camera positions. More tape machines. More announcers. More, more, more of everything.
And every time our oh-so-wise executive producer agreed to “more” of something, that meant another meeting. I tried to keep track of the number of organized sit-downs we had starting on the Monday before the Sunday game, and I lost count around 75. Have you ever had 75 meetings in one week? Neither had I. And everyone had a million questions. How are we doing this? What do we do if this happens? And the director, Ron “Stumpy” Harrison, and I had to have all the answers.
The pre-game show was called “Countdown to Kick-off” and was so big, it required an entirely different mobile control room and crew to air it. That was not something that was commonly done in those days. We had a camera mounted in the SkyDome roof. We choreographed the player introductions to the point of walking them through on the field – repeatedly.
We had 17 cameras (up from our usual eight or nine). On Sunday, TSN will have 34 HD cameras. We had eight replay machines (up from four). TSN will have 28 – all digital. The biggest challenge with our telecast (because the Grey Cup has to be perfect, dontcha know) was the amount of scoring. It was like a madhouse. There was only one TD in the first quarter, but FIVE in the second. In the mobile, we could barely catch our breath. A CFL telecast moves extremely quickly anyway, but this was insane!
And, with all the camera options, we tried to cover everything. Players and coaches yelling. Fans going crazy. In fact, in the fourth quarter, PK Paul Osbaldiston HAM kicked a 47-yard field goal…and we missed it. We were too busy showing Al Bruno screaming at referee Dave Yule. We showed the field goal via replay coming out of our next commercial. Don Wittman and the late Ron Lancaster handled it well from the broadcast booth.
But, when the end of the game came, we were all over it. A great iso replay of John Gregory’s reaction. Everything a Grey Cup-starved Riders’ fan would have wanted. It was a great show! Then, an hour after the game, I was in St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
Not because I was sick, but because our on-field host, Steve Armitage, had a huge abscess on his back. He was fine during the game but, in the Riders’ dressing room afterwards, too many players slapped him on the back and it ruptured. Extreme pain. Trip to hospital with me and host Scott Oake.
Now you know what it’s like to produce the Grey Cup.