Time will pass, lives will go on, but nothing will take away the bond shared between members of a team. The ties are strengthened even more when you’re a part of a journey from training camp all the way to a cold day in November when you hoist the Grey Cup.
It can only be described as a brotherhood, or simply, a family. Some are fortunate enough to be a part of several different championships, but regardless of how many rings you own, people will share a different connection with each team. As time goes by you often lose contact with many of your teammates and co-workers, making any sort of reunion that much more special when it happens.
I was lucky enough to experienced this virtually on a call we had last month with the 1991 Grey Cup team. For many of us, the last time we saw each other in person was 10 years ago at a reunion at the Rogers Centre, but for others it was 30 years ago.
The call began just like any other virtual meeting these days with people popping up without volume and others shouting, “You’re on mute,” or, “We can hear you but we can’t see you.” Then as people slowly appeared it was like a scene from “Romper Room” (for those of you too young to know what that is, look it up!). Basically, we were making vocal notes of who had joined in.
You could still see that many of us hadn’t changed too much except for the added grey hair, or lack of it. Once we had around 40 players and staff joining in from places like, California, Oregon, B.C., Tennessee and Kentucky, we sat in silence as Brian Warren, our resident pastor and defensive end, led us in a prayer to remember those teammates we’ve lost.
John Candy, Harold Hallman, Doran Major, Keith Kelly, Darrell K. Smith and our assistant trainer Ralph Manning have all passed away. We remembered their presence during the ‘91 season and then began to talk about the memories surrounding them.
We talked about the many memories and rituals that brought us so close together that year, like our team breakdown led by linebacker Chris Gaines. We recalled the positive attitude our defense exuded during the introductions in the playoffs that year. Instead of the usual sprint onto the field, they saluted the crowd of over 50,000 at the SkyDome by holding their helmets high over their heads as they walked out.
The virtual gathering became an outpouring of memories. Wide receiver and Hall of Famer, David Williams talked about being traded to the team midway through the season and seeing right away how he was part of something special. Personally, the memories brought me back to a more reckless and nimbler me, and I realized that it’s likely my body won’t allow me to continue those activities now, but I figured we all felt a little older listening to all the stories.
Then, as though he just stepped out of a time machine from that year, we were joined by the excitable and jubilant defensive back Don Wilson. His entrance and excitement had the sound of laughter filling the screen. A lot of people on the call took the floor, starting with Head Coach Adam Rita. Several others also shared their perspective on that team and what it meant to be a part of it.
After nearly two and half hours the call wrapped up with everyone stressing to take care of themselves. I don’t think there was a dry eye on the call. Coach Rita and General Manager Mike McCarthy both noted how Michael “Pinball” Clemons, our current G.M., is working hard with his team to bring back the glory of the Double Blue, and that’s when everyone began eagerly anticipating a live reunion of the team at BMO Field in 2021. It would be something to look forward to, something to celebrate together.
However, just three weeks after the call we received some extremely sad news that affected us all. Another member of our ’91 family left us prematurely. Our offensive tackle Chris Schultz, also known for his superb analysis of football on radio and TV, died suddenly and left us with a big hole in our hearts. The “Big Man” impacted each of us in our own way as we saw the many responses via our group email. I cannot do justice saying what he meant to everyone, but at his memorial, Pinball, Mike Hogan, Rod Smith, Randy Ambrosie, James Duthie, and Paul Masotti did a great job sharing what we all felt and what we all lost.