It was arguably the finest season ever compiled by a rookie quarterback in the history of the Canadian Football League.
Chuck Ealey arrived in Steeltown two games in to the 1972 season bringing with him a perfect pedigree from The University of Toledo. Ealey had led the Rockets to an unblemished NCAA record of 35 wins and 0 losses over a three year span.
Along the way he had also won three straight Tangerine Bowls and was named MVP in each game. His final year he finished eighth in Heisman Trophy balloting and was named the Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) player of the Year for the third straight season.
Ealey was also undefeated for three years at Notre Dame High School in Portsmouth Ohio as he led the team to a perfect 30-0 record and their first ever Ohio State High School Championship in 1967.
“I never even thought I would play professional football,” says the former Ticat star. “I could have gone to the NFL at another position but wanted to play quarterback. I really only wanted to play five to seven years and that’s what I did.”
After inexplicably being passed over in the NFL draft, Ealey came north in the summer of ’72.
“I was on the Tiger-Cats negotiation list and was just finishing school,” he says. “One of their scouts came to a game at Toledo and talked me in to coming up to Hamilton. So I did.”
After replacing Wally Gabler, Ealey lost his first start against Edmonton 30-27 on August 11.
“It really wasn’t a big deal” he says of his first-ever football loss. “I knew it would come eventually and I was more like ok we lost; now let’s look forward to the next game.”
Ealey lost his next start against Montreal and then proceeded to deliver Ticat fans one of the best seasons in team history. He went on to lead the Tiger-Cats to ten straight victories and a first place finish in the Eastern Conference.
“(Coach) Jerry Williams made it easy for me as a rookie,” says Ealey. “Not having that extra down was a big thing. There wasn’t much room for error. Jerry called some of the plays and that really helped and he got me to look at one side of the field instead of the whole field.”
The Tiger-Cats beat Ottawa in the two game total points Eastern Final to earn a berth in the Grey Cup. “I had seen a little bit about the Grey Cup on TV but not to the extent of what it was all about,” says Ealey.
“There was a big pep rally the week before and a lot of excitement in Hamilton.”
Ealey was named Most Valuable Player of the 60th Grey Cup. He was good on 18 of 29 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown and ran for 63 yards as the Tiger-Cats beat Saskatchewan 13-10. In the final two minutes Ealey put together a 68 yard drive to set up Ian Sunter’s game winning, last second field goal.
“Winning the Grey Cup was exciting and thrilling,” he says. “It means even more after retiring. Both teams put up a lot of yards but the defenses made the big plays at the right time. My best memory was hitting Tony Gabriel with three passes on the winning drive.”
Ealey capped his dream season by being named the inaugural CFL Most Outstanding Rookie and was selected as an Eastern all-star.
In 1974 Ealey was traded to Winnipeg for Don Jonas and later played with Toronto (1975-78) before a collapsed lung hastened his retirement in 1978.
He finished his CFL career with 13,326 passing yards and 82 touchdowns. “After Toronto I had a chance to go back to Hamilton but declined,” he says. “I had accomplished what I set out to do.”
After his playing days Ealey stayed in Canada and continued to live in Mississauga, prior to moving to Brampton a few years ago.
“Canada was like our natural home,” he says. “It wasn’t a major issue going back to the States and I loved the community and loved the area. Toledo was only about four hours away.”
He has been married to wife Sherri for 38 years and has three adult children. Today he keeps busy as a Regional Director for Investors Group Financial and is heavily involved in a variety of charity events in both Mississauga and Brampton.
He is a past Chair of the Mississauga Sports Council and was inducted into the Mississauga Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. He currently serves as co-chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Sports and is a much sought after speaker at sporting events and corporate functions.
As for his days with the Black and Gold, Ealey says, “We had a great bunch of guys and were able to win while having a good time in and outside of the locker room. The people of Hamilton, the fans, were just great. They had an impact of being involved both inside and outside the stadium. They seemed to be the most knowledgeable fans in the league and were very intimate about their city and their team. Playing in Hamilton was one of the most exciting times I ever had playing football.”
Get all the top stories from across the league delivered to your inbox.