Special to CFL.ca
The 1977 Grey Cup game in Montreal was hit with a double whammy.
First, there was the transit strike that shut down the city’s subway and buses. Then, there was a massive blizzard that made travel by taxis and personal vehicles all but impossible. Snowmobiles, skis, snowshoes and, possibly, dog sleds were the more viable modes of transportation as the hometown Alouettes prepared to take on the Edmonton Eskimos in the 65th tussle for Early Grey’s chalice.
Compounding the problem for the game itself was the fact that Olympic Stadium was still exposed to nature’s nastiness as the retractable Kevlar roof, which was originally supposed to be in place for the 1976 Olympic Games, was still in storage in Paris, France while city politicians and the stadium’s builder fought legal battles.
So when the 68,000 Grey Cup ticket holders, most of them who had trudged through the snow on foot, arrived at the Big O they found the field looking more like the surface of the old Montreal Forum, the home of the NHL’s Canadiens, than the venue for the CFL’s championship game.
Both Alouette and Eskimo players were out on the field hours before game time trying out different types of footwear as they desperately sought to find something that would give them some traction on the slippery surface.
Broomball shoes, which players sometimes used on similarly icy turf, didn’t work. Others tried metal cleats, which were rarely used now that most stadiums had switched from natural grass to artificial turf. They proved useless as well.
While you might think that a team from winter aware Edmonton, especially one nicknamed the Eskimos, would have a better idea of the appropriate footwear for manoeuvring in icy conditions that didn’t prove to be the case.
It was left to Tony Proudfoot, a Canadian defensive back from Montreal, to find the solution that would prove to be the right answer – at least for the Alouettes.
Just before the pre-game warm-up, Proudfoot spotted an electrician walking by in the tunnel outside the dressing rooms with a staple gun in hand.
The proverbial light bulb when on in Proudfoot’s head.
He talked the electrician – a Montrealer who was obviously an Alouettes’ fan – into lending him the tool and he fired a number staples into the tip of the rubber cleats on the soles of his shoes.
Other teammates did the same thing. When the game started about half the Als had put staples in their shoes as well and by halftime most of the team had followed suit.
The Eskimos, of course, were unaware of the ploy the Als had used and they were easy pickings.
“With that little bit of grip it gave you extra confidence, Proudfoot recalled years later. “We really knew we had something when Gerry Dattilio caught a short pass from Sonny Wade and ran right past (Eskimos defensive back) Larry Highbaugh for a big gain. Normally, Dattilio would never have outrun the speedy Highbaugh.
“That’s when we knew we had something. It was a big factor in our win.”
Marv Levy, who was the Als’ head coach at the time, said he didn’t know about the staples until after the game when the media, who had spoken to Proudfoot and other players, questioned him.
“But I got calls the following week from two of my friends, one a coach and the other a general manager in the NFL and they asked me what we did, how we did it,” said Levy. “I became the expert on staples in football shoes.”
With their altered footwear, the Als had little trouble handling the bewildered Eskimos. Montreal jumped into a 10-0 first quarter lead as Don Sweet booted three consecutive field goals before he missed a fourth that went for a single.
The Eskimos’ Dave Cutler got one of those field goals back for the only score of the second quarter.
But with most of their remaining players also taking the staple gun in hand during the halftime break, the Alouettes ran away from the Eskimos in the second half.
Sweet added two more field goals in the third quarter and Peter Dalla Riva and John O’Leary caught touchdown passes from quarterback Sonny Wade for a 20-point outburst. The Eskimos’ only reply was another Cutler field goal.
Montreal quarterback Sonny Wade said after the game that his team won because they were able to adjusts to the conditions, not only employing the staples in their shoes, but by deciding to pass the ball.
“We didn’t plan to throw the ball that much, but the field conditions dictated it,” said Wade, who finished with 340 passing yards and three touchdowns and was named the game’s MVP. “When it’s slippery like it was the receivers had an advantage over the defenders and we took it.”
Wade connected with Bob Gaddis for a third touchdown early in the fourth quarter before Sweet concluded his scoring binge with his sixth field goal and another single that gave the Als a lopsided 41-6 victory.
Sweet’s 23 points, which also include converts on all three Montreal touchdowns, still remains stapled into the CFL’s Grey Cup record book.