Articles

Halfbacks, Greenbacks And Red Ink

A team’s got a Grey Cup chance today when it lays $100,000 on the 50-yard line. Ledgers not linemen rule big league rugby

TRENT FRAYNE October 15 1949
Articles

Halfbacks, Greenbacks And Red Ink

A team’s got a Grey Cup chance today when it lays $100,000 on the 50-yard line. Ledgers not linemen rule big league rugby

TRENT FRAYNE October 15 1949

Halfbacks, Greenbacks And Red Ink

A team’s got a Grey Cup chance today when it lays $100,000 on the 50-yard line. Ledgers not linemen rule big league rugby

TRENT FRAYNE

A THIN MAN from Montreal named Joe Ryan concluded 1949’s biggest piece of football business on a dreary day last February. By employing a whispering, confidential tone to express such sentimental phrases as “$25,000 for two years” and “a shot at the coaching job in 1951,” Ryan induced Frank Filchock, an American who had played two seasons of football at Hamilton, to join the Montreal Alouettes.

In addition to emphasizing that football in Canada, which, say, two decades ago served largely to fill the gap between the baseball and the hockey seasons, has developed into a yearround proposition, the Ryan coup illustrated pointedly that the game has become big business.

While it is true that only Filchock is receiving such lofty remuneration for bird-dogging a pigskin it is also true that no football team in this country can operate within punting distance of the Grey Cup for less than $75,000 annually. In the case of at least two Eastern foundries, the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Montreal Alouettes, the outlay exceeds $100,000. The Calgary Stampeders, 1948 national champions, and the Toronto Argonauts, their predecessors on the lofty perch through the preceding three seasons, operate on a budget that barely misses six figures. These aren’t the kind of potatoes mother used to peel.

In the early 1930’s and earlier, men played for pure, wholesome love. Between 1935 and 1940 most of them were infatuated but a few accepted coarse currency. In the immediate wake of the war, when more people had more money and a burning determination to get rid of it, the game quietly and irrevocably developed into an out-and-out professional proposition in which only the most inept oaf performing for the most inept team received only lumps for his labors.

The occasional American, seeking to assure a business future by playing a little football in the fall, was invited to Canada in the early ’30’s. He came because business pickings were lean in the States and because he wasn’t good enough or because salaries weren’t high enough in professional ball.

Warren Stevens was one of the first of these, moving to Montreal in 1930 when the Winged Wheelers went in search of someone who could handle that new-fangled aspect of the Canadian game—the forward pass. The following year he went to the University of Toronto as a football coach and brought along a youngster with the seat out of his pants to help him, a youngster named Lew Hayman, late of the University of Syracuse. Hayman also helped teach passing to the Toronto Argonauts and, a year later, when the Argos were looking around for a coach, they decided to give young Hayman an opportunity.

Hayman did pretty well for himself. Today he is general manager and coach of the Montreal Alouettes at $10,000 a year; he owns part of the club’s stock.

About the same time as Stevens and Hayman were becoming acquainted with Eastern Canadians, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were importing players from the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin. They got Carl Cronin from Notre Dame and, later, Russ Rebholz and Greg Rabat from Wisconsin.

Yet at no time were Canadian teams compelled to mortgage their locker rooms to afford their visitors. The most celebrated import of the ’30’s, a frisky scatterlegs from North Dakota named Fritz Hanson, got $1,200 and a job as a candy salesman by Winnipeg. Art Stevenson, a quarterback from Nebraska, moved north in exchange for his tuition at medical school. Bert Oja, a great Minnesota lineman, used his ability to learn to operate a dentist’s drill.

To compete with the standard of play the imports gave to Winnipeg the Calgary and Regina teams were compelled to call upon Americans like Ralph Pierce, Dean Grilling, Al Hoptowit and Paul Rowe.

Outcast Hits the Jackpot

In the East, Toronto, because of its large population, was always able to produce enough good natives to maintain a high-playing standard, but Hamilton, Ottawa and Sarnia could keep pace only by giving employment to Americans who could play football. Abe Eliowitz and Johnny Ferraro came to Canada that way.

That’s the way football went in this country until the war. Two things, formation of the All America Conference in the States and the founding of the Montreal Alouettes, changed the picture completely in Eastern Canada.

The new professional league, competing in the open market with the long - established National League, forced a financial war in the States in which both leagues offered and paid fantastic prices for college graduates. Pro football, once an outcast, became a lucrative profession and to attract good players Canadian teams had to offer vastly increased wages.

The Alouettes, starting from scratch, offered lofty rates to good Canadians, as well as to good Americans. Other Canadian teams had to boost their wages.

Because they were paying well, teams like Ottawa and Montreal were getting good players. Slowly the standard of play reached the point where the Argonauts, who never had employed an American, were overtaken. This year, paying about $4,000 per man, they have hired five imports.

Filchock gets more money in return

for his muscles because his employer gets more football player in return for his money. Frank was a highly paid halfback for the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants until 1946 when he became involved in a $100,000 gambling charge at the time of the National League final between the Giants and the Chicago Bears. The Giants were pasted in that one, but Filchock played a magnificent game, figuring in both of the Giants’ two touchdowns with his strike passing and exhaustive running. But the league suspended Filchock indefinitely, though it has yet to prove a case against him.

When he couldn’t make a living in his own country Filchock moved to Hamilton. He coached the Tigers unofficially that 1947 season and the following year the Tiger players agreed to play for nothing just so long as Filchock was paid $7,500 and given a job in Hamilton to return as coach and quarterback of the club, which transferred to the weaker and less prosperous ORFU.

Whispering Joe Moves In

Filchock accepted. The position, with a cement and concrete block company, was worth an additional $3,000 a year and offered a good opportunity for advancement. As a player and coach Frank escorted the peagreen Tigers to the ORFU championship without loss of a game and the club narrowly lost to Ottawa in the Eastern final in a game in which a hand injury on the second play prevented the master from firing his fearsome passes.

He was named quarterback on everybody’s All-Canadian and it was conceded that any experienced club could buy itself the Grey Cup if it could buy Filchock. But later, when the Ottawa Rough Riders lured him to the Capitol for a chat and reportedly offered him everything but William Lyon Mackenzie King’s weskit only to win his refusal, it was assumed by football dealers that he was doing a life term in Hamilton as a rising businessman and permanent football coach.

It was at this stage that Ryan, business manager of the Alouettes, moved in. Whispering Joe, who had served the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as a recruiter of talent for 10 years before moving to Toronto to work for Eric Cradock, Toronto broker who owns a heavy piece of the Alouettes, was convinced at the time that Filchock could not be had. But one day late in January he happened to meet an old acquaintance from Hamilton who must, for reasons of his health, remain anonymous.

“Why don’t you have a chat with Filchock?” asked the Hamilton man.

“Drop dead,” replied Ryan (this was last January, remember).

“No, seriously, I understand the Filchoeks would be interested in living in Montreal,” the Hamilton man said.

Ryan relayed this intelligence to Cradock in Florida and asked how high he could go when discussing vulgar dough with Frankie.

“Do not offer him the Sun Life Building as I do not own it,” replied Cradock. “However, anything else would be reasonable.”

So a couple of slushy Sundays later Ryan and Filchock came to terms. By them Frank was to receive $8,500 for the 1949 season and $9,500 for the 1950 season, a total of $18,000. In addition he was to receive $300 a month for a job, amounting to $7,200 for two years, for an over-all total of $25,200.

The big point in the arrangement, though, was the discussion of the coaching job in 1951. Ryan said he understood Lew Hayman, currently the resident brain on the Als’ bench, was considering retiring to the front office. Filchock probably will succeed J Hayman, a large shareholder, as coach if and when Lew decides to devote more time to clipping coupons from his bonds.

Just as forward passers were vital in the early ’30’s so, today, are accomplished linemen. So many good backs were imported by all teams that it became necessary to import key linemen to plug the gaps gouged by the good backs. And the flashy back, if he happens to be a Canadian, ¡san important cog, too, in augmenting a baekfield built around imported stars.

Canadian backs today are receiving anywhere from $3,000, which the Alouettes pay Bob Cunningham, to $5,000, which the Toronto Argonauts pay Joe Krol and Royal Copeland.

Canadian linemen, at least those employed by the Argonauts, come at $100 a game for each starting assignment; $50 a game if they dress but do not start.

Imports’ salaries in this high competition have inflated accordingly. Herb Trawyek, Montreal’s outstanding Negro lineman, is in the $3,500 bracket and teammate halfback Virgil Wagner runs through the holes bulldozed by Trawyek for $5,000.

These prices are general in the Big Four, where the Alouettes, Argos, Rough Riders and Hamilton Wildcats perform, and are slightly lower in the Western Conference, comprised of the Blue Bombers, the Stampeders, the Regina Roughriders and the newly formed Edmonton Eskimos.

$700,000 for Four Months

The eight teams employ about 40 Americans and 200 Canadians on whom they spend about $700,000 through four months each fall. Big business, indeed.

Football is operated like few other businesses in this country. In most if salaries increase it’s normal to assume profits are up. Not in football where at least three teams, Winnipeg, Regina and the Hamilton Wildcats, operated at a loss last season; where one, Calgary, barely broke even; and where three, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto made money. And none of the three made anything like a profit commensurate with the risk and cash involved.

The new entry, Edmonton, will show a loss of at least $10,000 on its $75,000 investment in coach Annis Stukus’ i team this season but Edmonton, because of its great rivalry with Calgary, is prepared to lose twice that amount if it can build a team which eventually will crucify the Stampeders. Public I subscriptions alone can keep Edmonton j solvent because the team will play its games in a park accommodating barely ! 4,000.

None of the stadiums in the West, in fact, have accommodation capable of providing a profit and that’s why the teams lose money. Salaries don’t come as high (for example, standout halfback Bob Sandberg, of Winnipeg, received $3,200 last season; Calgary stars like Woody Strode and Keith Spaith, $3,000 to $3,500; the rest around $2,000 and the natives $1,000 to $1,500) and consequently Eastern teams can pay about twice as much because their stadiums seat three to four times as many.

Distances between Western cities are so great that Joe Ryan, when he managed the Blue Bombers, once remarked: “We play this game for the railroads.” Each club pays between $15,000 and $16,000 annually for traveling expenses while no Eastern club exceeds $5,000.

Calgary, in winning the national

championship last fall, got narrowly out of the red because it participated in a final that attracted 21,000 people to Toronto’s Varsity Stadium. Its share of the receipts was enough to wipe out the deficit of Western Conference operations. Hamilton, a poor fourth in the Big Four, drew poorly at home and did not participate in league playoffs.

But crowds don’t mean much in the West, except that without them the teams would go a little deeper into debt. What keeps football going in Western Canada is civic pride, gol darn it, and the merchants kicking in with outlandish sums for advertisements in club programs.

“If the ads in the program and the gate receipts fail to cover expenses we ask for an out-and-out donation,” says Eddie Armstrong, president of the Blue Bombers. “Have we missed yet? Of course not. We’re playing, aren’t we?”

The chain of events which has turned football into a highly competitive business isn’t viewed pleasantly by most executives.

Says A. U. Chipman, past president of the Winnipeg Rugby Club (to give the Blue Bombers their square name); “The club was formed originally for the promotion of amateur sports. It’s getting so far away from that objective that I question very much if we can carry on much longer. Either we should get back to real amateurism or turn completely professional, in name as well as in practice. That way, there would be no raiding of players by other clubs with the resulting jockeying for more money by players who, 10 years ago, couldn’t have made the club.”

Comments Clair Warner, past president of the Regina Roughriders: “I

don’t think this high-pressure football is worth the money our citizens lavish on it. Money would be better spent, I feel, if it were turned over to kids’ organizations to provide playground facilities. As long as we’re going to have good football that can’t happen because we need every cent we can

raise to compete with the high standard of ball in the East.”

By the East, Warner means only the rich clubs, the Alouettes, the Argonauts and the Ottawa Rough Riders. Teams in the ORFU have budgets of about $20,000 and, of course, the standard of competition is correspondingly lower.

Teams like Balmy Beach, Sarnia and Windsor are comprised of home brews whose only remuneration is a split of profits, if any, at the end of the season.

The Hamilton Tigers, ORFU kingpins, spend more money on players than their rivals, consequently rule the group. But they spend considerably less than the Big Four clubs and so they are always walloped in the Eastern final. The Tigers had Filchock last year, turned to an American star named Merle Hapes this year when Filchock departed. Hapes was a teammate of Filchock’s on the New York Giants and was suspended along with Frank in connection with the gambling investigation.

A Greater Grey Cup Gate

The question of how a group of grown men dressed in short pants chasing a chunk of leather can cost their backers, let us say, $90,000 in four months is an intriguing one. I put it to Bob Masterson, the hulking coach of the University of Toronto Blues, the 1948 intercollegiate champions, because Masterson knows football from 10 years as a player until the Washington Redskins (whom he captained in 1942 and 1943), the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Boston Yanks and the New York Yankees.

“If you had an unlimited supply of money and were instructed to win the Grey Cup, how would you go about it?” I asked him. His reply:

“I’d get seven American imports, concentrating on linemen, because Canadian linemen are lacking in fundamentals of blocking and tackling and Canadian backs are easy to teach. If I really wanted the Grey Cup I’d pay Continued on page 32 Continued from page 30 $6,000 a man but it isn’t necessary to go that high to get players who are adequate so let’s say I’d average $4,000. I’d pay keymen a little more, others a little less.

“Presumably I’d have seen other Canadian teams in action before I set about building this dream outfit so I’d want to import at least eight Canadians. They’d come around $2,500 each. These 15 men would be my backbone. On a 28-man squad I’d get the other 13 from my town. The local kids would get $1,000 each. What have I spent now?”

He’d spent $61,000.

“Okay, to coach my Grey Cup winner I’m going to Minnesota or New York for my man and I’ll get him for $7,500. He’ll be a bright young man who can make speeches, do a lot of good public relations work and he’ll be a guy who played good ball and then proved he knew how to coach. I won’t get him for less than $7,500.

“I want good equipment for my 28 men. It’ll cost around $150 per man. It’ll cost another $1,000 for the expenses involved in tryouts for players who don’t make the team. I’ll spend $375 for a charging sled so the linemen can learn to charge and trackle properly. That’s not a hanging tackling dummy, although I’ll need one of those, too, for $200. Another $600 for blocking dummies, 12 of ’em, so the linemen can work on their shoulder blocking. Now what have I spent?”

Coach, equipment, training properties: another $13,875.

“Fine, now I want a good trainer; a locker-room man is important both in the work he does and in the spirit he keeps in the dressing room. He’ll have the usual supply of bandages, tape, cotton, oranges, iodine and so on. Put him down at $2,000. The medical retainer for a club physician can be

almost anything. Lots of doctors are fans and do their work for practically nothing. If you run into a flock of injuries, though, you need a good man not a fan. Give the club doctor a retainer of $1,500.

“There’ll be traveling expenses. Let’s say $5,000 for the railroads. And publicity, let us not forget publicity. If we don’t sell this club to the fans we’ll never fill our ball park. Radio and Press advertising and, what do you call it? good will? That’ll cost us $5,000.

“My final item is optional though I, personally, am in favor of it. That’s the training table. A daily meal for the squad after practice, a steak or roast-beef dinner. Some clubs feel the players are paid enough money to buy their own meals. I like the idea for the spirit it engenders. A meal a day for 30 men (the coach and trainer eat, too, you know) can he had for around $1.15 because of the volume of business you provide so, for six days, that’s $6.90 per man per week. Operate your training table for 10 weeks and each man costs $69. Thirty men, $2,070. How does that add up?”

Trainer, doctor, traveling, publicity, training table: $15,570, or a grand total of $90,445.

“Okay, I’ll win you the Grey Cup for $90,445.”

“You will,” provided Joe Ryan, who had heard the question posed, “provided you aren’t required to pay a park rental fee. We play in the ball park at Montreal for $20,000 a year. We have a year-round office staff too, of course, which you haven’t considered. Costs us $4,000. By and large, though, you’ve a pretty good team assembled.

“You could win the Grey Cup— providing none of your keymen fell belów last year’s form, didn’t break a leg, got along well with the other guys, didn’t fumble the ball on the one-yard line, didn’t miss a block that cost the winning touchdown, didn’t . . .”