A victory for the ages
Coach Pat Sheahan’s “Cardiac Kids”, as they became known, saved one little touch of magic for the last game of the 2009 season. And use it they did, coming home the victors of the Vanier Cup, emblematic of Canadian college football supremacy. The Gaels won the hard way on a cold Saturday afternoon in Quebec City with more than 18,000 fans looking on. It was late in November and they went directly into a ferocious wind out of the north in the final quarter. Coming from 18 points behind at the half to pull out a 33-31 win over a U of Calgary Dinos team that were heavy favorites going in.
“The verdict was never in doubt,” one observer noted, and therein lay the Tricolour magic. Two weeks earlier they had beaten a high-powered Western squad by four points with only a few brief moments left to win the Ontario University Athletics championship and the Yates Cup. They then followed up one week later in the Mitchell Bowl taking the universally favoured Laval Rouge et Or at “rickety” and “ramshackle” – to quote The Globe and Mail description – Richardson Stadium by three points. So four, three, and two-point margins of victory on successive Saturdays. Add in a few others during the season, 52-49 (Guelph), 27-26 (Western) and 8-7 (McMaster), for example, and one gets the idea. A team of destiny, indeed.
The 2009 Gaels squad thus became the fourth Queen’s team to win a Vanier Cup (’68, ’78, and ’92 being the others). If one looks back past the “modern era,” they are the latest “Dominion” champions in Queen’s football history, the first being Guy Curtis and the boys back in 1893. In between there have been three Grey Cups (1924, 1925, and 1926) and 23 Yates Cup victories when winning that trophy really meant you were the best university football team in the country.
So this year’s lads join the long, yellow-jacketed line of outstanding Golden Gaels teams of the past. And like those teams, they are distinctive in their way. A veteran ball club, by far physically the biggest Queen’s team ever, fearless, with a small pocket passer possessed of a cobra-like release (Dan Brannagan, MVP of the Cup game), a defence that played a lot and never gave in (anchored by several CFL prospects), and a special teams squad (led by a bandit named Jimmy Allin) that frankly scared the blazes out of opponents. Yes, sir, you can put them right in there with Curtis, Batstone, Leadley, Stewart, Young, Bayne, Lilles, Rutka, Bakker and the Gold Rush, Boone, Elberg and all the rest, and not go wrong at all.
As a result, while it has always been a wonderful thing to be from Queen’s, it was never more so the case than on that magical day in Quebec City. Paraphrasing the old “Moaner” of the 1930s, coach Ted Reeves, writing in the now defunct Toronto Telegram many seasons ago, “There will always be a lot of happy days at Queen’s when the trees are turning gold and red … the smell of burning leaves hangs in the air … and the Gaels are whooping it up: coaching and playing and watching will be all right like that.”
Congratulations to Coach Pat Sheahan, all his assistant coaches, the players and all those associated with the team for adding another glorious chapter to the Gaels’ football history and formaking football once more the talk of the town. May it continue to be ever thus. Cha gheill!
Football historian Merv Daub, Emeritus Professor (Business), is a former Golden Gael football player and the author of the 1996 book Gael Force: A Century of Queen’s Football.
Four members of the Vanier Cup-winning football team earned all-Canadian honours for their play in 2009. They include inside receiver Scott Valberg, Artsci’09, of Kingston, ON, offensive tackle Matthew O’Donnell, Artsci’11, Kingston, ON, defensive end Osie Ukwuoma, Com’09, of Mississauga, ON, and cornerback Jimmy Allin, Artsci’09, of Belleville, ON.
An average of 706,000 football fans watched the 2009 Desjardins Vanier Cup on TSN and Radio-Canada, while 1,021,000 viewers witnessed the final 30 minutes of the thrilling 33-31 Queen’s victory over Calgary, setting a pair of all-time combined audience records for a CIS event. In the last half hour of the broadcasts, with the Gaels holding onto a slim lead en route to their first Vanier Cup title in 17 years, an average of 690,000 fans were watching on TSN and 331,000 on Radio-Canada