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Queen's football in the 1960s

Queen's football in the 1960s

Excerpted, with permission, from Gael ForceA Century of Football at Queen’s.

[footbal game]
Photo: Queen's Tricolor 1965 yearbook.

Heino Lilles (number 34), Jim Young (number 31) and Cal Connor (number 17) of the 1964 Queen's Golden Gaels.

It is always risky to make claims about the "best" of virtually anything, for the term means different things to different people. In the present context, the "best" might refer to the quality of the experience, in which case everyone who ever played football at Queen's might describe that time as the best - and who could quarrel with them? But if one concentrates strictly on team results, if one refers only to the statistical record and assumes that decades are a reasonable time frame over which to categorize things, then it is the 1960s that have been the best decade for football at Queen's over the entire time since 1882 that the university has been playing the game in an organized way.

…It is not clear why Queen's did so well in the sixties. To say that it had a better breed of football player than in the past or than other schools in the same period is to state the obvious. The question is why, and there is no ready answer. There is no doubt that coaching at the lower levels was raising the calibre of player who arrived at the university, but this was true at other colleges too. It may have been because of the better quality of coaching at Queen's, but the record and stability of the other coaches in the league -- for example, Metras at Western -- were equal to or better than Tindall's during the 1950s, and there is no evidence that the Queen's staff came up with any brilliant innovations in the game on a regular basis during the 1960s which others could not or did not copy. Nor is there any evidence that Queen's had adopted different admission or "support'' standards from the rest which might have drawn better players to it on a continuing basis.

There are, however, three factors (besides good coaching) that might help explain what transpired. The first is longevity. For reasons that again are not clear, Queen's seemed to keep more of its good players longer than others in the league did. Many stayed on to do postgraduate study at the university or to work for a degree in medicine or law after their four-year undergraduate degree. Since there was no ceiling on the number of years one could play (unlike the five-year limit today), Queen's could and often did find itself fielding a team with an average number of years of playing experience in excess of five. And given that each player was good and that some were outstanding, it was difficult to beat Queen's with a younger, more inexperienced team, even though that team might have some players who were better than the ones Queen's had to offer at their particular positions.

The second factor is depth, which is related to the first, for the longevity meant that good rookie players,  who were arriving at the university with the ever-increasing flood of students, imply helped augment or deepen the team in way that others could not match. But this still begs the question of why Queen's was able to hold its players longer than the other schools. For that there is no clear answer; it just did so, because of the nature of the players it happened to get.

Thus, the players themselves are an obvious third factor. For they were, for the most part, not only there for a longer time, but they were good and had chosen Queen's. They had done so partly because of vigorous work by alumni, especially ex-football players, high school coaches, and teachers. But other schools, of course, were equally active. So in part it was no doubt the luck of the draw -- at first. And then, as the reputation built, it was because of the desire to play with a winning team.

Merv Daub, Com'66, is Professor Emeritus at the Queen's School of Business. He was the Gaels' middle linebacker, 1962-65; co-captain, 1965; assistant coach, 1976-78 and 1991, and is a member of the Queen's Football Hall of Fame. His book, Gael Force: A Century of Football at Queen's, was published in 1996 by McGill-Queen's Press.


[cover of Queen's Alumni Review 2015 Issue 3]