August 4, 2011

Mullin: Gearing up for Vanier in Vancouver

Jim Mullin

VANCOUVER — It may be the best kept secret in British Columbia, but it won’t stay that way for long.

The first championship in the new BC Place Stadium will be the Vanier Cup, just two days before the Grey Cup.

The deal to pair the two national championships was engineered by MRX, the sports marketing company operated by Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young. MRX bought the rights to the Vanier Cup from the CIS along with the TV and radio rights.

The BC Lions are responsible for selling tickets through the apparatus of the Grey Cup Festival office. Now that the Grey Cup is sold out, the attention has shifted to making this year’s Vanier a truly groundbreaking event for Canadian amateur sport. 

Vanier has only been paired in the same weekend with the Grey Cup on two occasions. It was last staged on Grey Cup Weekend in 2007 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, where over 27,000 witnessed the Manitoba Bisons defeat the St. Mary’s Huskies. The game was also played the day before the Grey Cup in 1973.

It’s a new experience for the CIS to bring the national championship to the west coast. The game is well known in central Canada, with Toronto hosting the game 40 of 46 times, along with Hamilton hosting in 2004, ’05 and ’08.

The game has been played outside of Southern Ontario only three times: Saskatoon in 2006 and Quebec City in 2009 and ’10 with all games as standing room only audiences. 

Grey Cup ticket buyers have a unique opportunity to witness the first ever national championship played west of the Rockies. They have the first shot at tickets at up to 80 per cent off the regular game day ticket price. The site has all the details on getting your seat before the deadline.

Even with the ticket deal that amounts to a service charge, there is still plenty of educating to do in BC regarding Canadian University Football.

It has not helped that the UBC Thunderbirds haven’t won the big game since 1997, when their current coach Shawn Olson quarterbacked them to victory in Toronto. The T-Birds program went into a downward spiral in the early aughts. However, this season they will challenge in the Canada West behind the quarterbacking of fourth year senior Billy Greene.

It’s hoped by those who support the football program on Point Grey that the Birds can rebound to the levels achieved under the direction of legendary coach Frank Smith, who won the Vanier in 1982 and 1986.

After eight seasons in the CIS, Simon Fraser University elected to go back to their roots and play American college teams in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference last season. That resulted in a team falling off the media radar in the Lower Mainland.

CIS Countdown will help with the education process. Football fans looking to see the next crop of CFL talent can tune in to SHAW Direct 299, or on a local SHAW affiliate to see the latest highlights and previews every Wednesday, starting after Labour Day.

To further that learning curve, I’ll post columns here on the five former CIS players who are nominated for entry into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, based on their outstanding contributions to the game in their amateur career.

We’ll also look back at the greatest Vanier Cup games of all-time, of which there are many to choose from.

If you have any suggestions for which Vanier Cup game was the greatest of all time, drop me a line at