Articles

THE ROUGHRIDING MAYOR OF DOBBERVILLE

In a city formerly known as Regina, a lanky and amiable American quarterback named Glen Dobbs has set an entire province on its ear and pushed Hopalong Cassidy into the shadows as a kids’ hero

TRENT FRAYNE September 1 1952
Articles

THE ROUGHRIDING MAYOR OF DOBBERVILLE

In a city formerly known as Regina, a lanky and amiable American quarterback named Glen Dobbs has set an entire province on its ear and pushed Hopalong Cassidy into the shadows as a kids’ hero

TRENT FRAYNE September 1 1952

THE ROUGHRIDING MAYOR OF DOBBERVILLE

Articles

In a city formerly known as Regina, a lanky and amiable American quarterback named Glen Dobbs has set an entire province on its ear and pushed Hopalong Cassidy into the shadows as a kids’ hero

TRENT FRAYNE

THE ROUGHRIDERS, Saskatchewan’s professional football team based in Regina, have brought with them a new way of life to the wheat province.

Converts living in Prince Albert, two hundred and ninety miles north of the capital, buy season tickets and drive the pot-holed round trip nine times each fall.

Enthusiasts queue up in blizzards and thirtybelow-zero weather in February to look at movies of Roughrider games and to listen to Roughrider players speak. Businessmen will risk almost three hundred thousand dollars this fall in a gamble they wouldn’t even consider in their own businesses. Football itself is responsible for most of these intemperances but one man alone is responsible for the stark extremes.

This man is Glenn Dobbs, a wavy-haired, dimple-chinned, modest, almost overwhelmingly charming American quarterback who can conceivably make twenty-five thousand dollars in less than six months in Canada this year. He is a man whose remarkable quality of making others feel important contributed largely toward saving the Roughriders from internal chaos when trouble brewed frequently last season and came close to open mutiny against the 1951 coach, Harry (Blackjack) Smith. Largely, it was Dobbs’ force of personality and quality of leadership that propelled the team into the Grey Cup final last November when for a week Saskatchewan received such unrestrained favorable nationwide publicity that Premier Tommy Douglas proclaimed it “one of the greatest things that ever happened to this province.”

When lean and lanky Dobbs ambles down Eleventh Avenue, Regina’s main street, it is a good bet that three out of every six people he meets will speak to him and two others will turn to watch him when he passes. On the three who greet him Dobbs will bestow an open boyish grin, a big friendly handshake and the distinct impression that he had been spending the entire morning waiting for this moment. He will show in the ensuing brief conversation an apparently genuine concern for the other fellow’s housing problem, job and impacted wisdom tooth. In answer to almost any question Dobbs has an absorbed rapt manner of speaking, in an earthy Oklahoma twang, that leaves the listener an impression he alone has just shared something close to sacred with Glenn Dobbs.

Last June 27, when he arrived in Regina for his second season in Canada and his first as coach

of the Roughriders— for it was, indeed, Dobbs who succeeded Harry Smith—the Leader-Post recognized the event with this eight-column line across the top of the first sports page: Yippee! The

Dobber is Back in Regina; Football Drills Start July 14. In June many automobiles owned by avid fans were flashing unofficial front license plates with DOBBERVILLE in heavy white letters on a green background and the words, Win in ’52, in smaller letters above it. Other plates said SASKATCHEWAN in block letters and The Football Province in smaller ones. The provincial plates, ivory on black this year, will become white on green, the Roughrider colors, in 1953. There’s a possibility the province’s slogan, The Wheat Province, will be replaced on the official plates next year by The Football Province. Roy Malone, sales manager of radio station CKCK, received a letter from a friend in Winnipeg last fall addressed to Dobberville. Scotty Melville, sports editor of the Leader-Post, received a telephone call from a woman whose son refused to drink his milk. “Would you mind asking Glenn Dobbs to phone us and speak to Tommy?” the woman asked Melville. Dobbs phoned the youngster, told him the calcium in milk builds strong bones and advised him to drink all the milk his Mommie gave him. Preston Balmer, who confesses he wasn’t much of a football fan when he lived in Saskatoon, says he hasn’t missed a game since his firm transferred him to Regina. “That Dobbs,” he remarked recently with a certain reverence. “Our five-yearold boy, Lynn, wouldn’t eat cereal. I told him Glenn Dobbs eats lots of Brex for his breakfast and now our little guy really gulps it.”

Dobbs signed a two-year contract calling for twenty-five thousand dollars when he went to Regina for the 1951 season. It is believed his 1952 salary was raised to fifteen thousand dollars when he became coach. In addition he has given his name to a line of children’s clothes that will net him at least ten thousand dollars more this year. William Chadwick, general manager of the Army and Navy department store in Regina, conceived the idea last winter of putting out cotton shirts for boys and girls and three ranges of blue jeans —kiddies’, boys’ and girls’. They’re called Dobber

jeans and Dobber shirts, range from two dollars to four dollars and bear the silhouette of a football player stamped on them. Dobbs collects two and a half percent of gross sales.

Henry McGuire, an advertising account executive, bought two pairs of the jeans for his sevenyear-old son. “If both pairs happen to be in the wash at the same time, there’s hell to pay,” he observes seriously. “The boy won’t wear anything else.” In Saskatchewan, Glenn Dobbs is supplanting Hopalong Cassidy and Buck Rogers.

But regardless of what he takes out of Regina, Dobbs puts a tremendous amount into it as well. When the football club asked for volunteers to paint the fence surrounding Taylor Field, Dobbs was among the first to be sloshing green paint onto the boards. He canvassed for the Community Chest and he refused to take payment for his tremendously popular weekly half-hour radio program. He insisted the fee (believed to be fifty dollars a week) go to Roughrider club funds. Last spring nineteen club executives signed pledges for one thousand dollars each for a reserve fund in the event the Roughriders lose money this season. Dobbs, as the new coach, attended the meeting and as one man passed the paper past Dobbs to another man Dobbs took it and signed his name. Over their protests he remarked that twenty thousand dollars was a little more insurance than nineteen thousand.

It is not too difficult to understand the apparent phenomenon of Dobbs when all the factors relating to the adulation that surrounds him are considered. When he arrived in Regina the Roughriders had not won a Western championship since 1936. Regina has always been a fervid football town. As far back as 1906 there was a rugby team there. And the Roughriders were the most powerful team in the west until Winnipeg began importing U. S. players in the mid-Thirties.

When the long reign of Winnipeg was halted it was Calgary, not Regina, that halted it. Then in 1950 Edmonton came along to shove Regina aside and play Winnipeg in the Western final.

By the time Dobbs arrived for the 1951 season Regina was a city starved for victory. When he provided it by sparking three straight triumphs as the season opened, the third a smashing 30-1 victory over Winnipeg, he had to be nothing more than a normal human to become Regina’s hero. As it turned out, Dobbs was considerably more than a normal human; he was a big clean-cut grinning quarterback

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The Roughriding Mayor

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who returned twofold every accolade accorded him. ‘T never did play for such wonderful people,” he’d say, a lock of hair falling across a forehead wrinkled with sincerity. “Why, in the States a football player is just another fella go in’ about his chores but up here, why, man. you just can’t let down those ol’ fans with their wonderful enthusiasm.” On his radio program Dobbs rarely would employ the singular personal pronoun: “We had a little luck with those passes against Calgary for a change and our Canadian boys were really in there driving. We were kickin' a little better and ol’ Jack Russell was really grabbin’ onto those passes.”

And he never forgot the kids. Where some athletes would fight their way through autograph seekers, he'd stand signing every program, scrap of paper, abandoned cigarette box or autograph book handed him.

Dobbs’ winning ways, on the field as well as off. culminated in the 1951 Western championship for the Roughriders. It’s probable that no football game ever so completely gripped a community as the final play-off in which Regina eliminated Edmonton. 19-18, before a crowd of 12,463 jammed into Taylor Field. (It has a normal capacity of 8,700.)

Bill McDougall, a radio advertising salesman, felt he ought to be working that day so he reluctantly pointed his car away from Taylor Field and into the country. He drove down the main street of Fillmore and found every store on it closed, including cafés and drugstores. He moved on to Creelman and found the same thing. He went into a phone booth and called customers at Stoughton and Areola and couldn’t raise one of them. Finally, unable to conclude any business, he returned to Taylor Field and stood with customers lined eight-deep in an end zone. 'When

that game ended delirious fans flooded onto the field and some of them knocked down the goalposts and undertook a downtown parade with them. They stood in front of the Saskatchewan Hotel, jamming the street, hollering, shouting, singing and then they crossed Victoria Park which faces the hotel and headed for Eleventh Avenue to stop traffic in the main street. By now the posts were decorated with such signs as “Thanks Dobber” and “Hi Dobber,” which probably gave the paraders the idea of moving on to Dobbs’ house. They got there in the dark and shouted noisily for Dobbs to appear. He wasn’t there and neither was his wife, June, nor the two boys, seven-year-old Glenn and four-year-old Johnny, so the fans placed the goalposts on the front lawn and waited for the family to come home. Finally the lights of a car poked down the dark street and Dobbs climbed out to be greeted by the wildest cheer to rock Regina since the final gun had ended the afternoon’s tingling game. The exuberant fans refused to leave until Dobbs had made a speech and once more he thanked them and told them that Saskatchewan owned the most wonderful fans in the world.

For that game fifteen carloads of fans drove one hundred and thirty-five miles from Estevan. At least twenty-five carloads drove one hundred and eighty miles from Saskatoon and all planes, trains and buses were sold out to capacity. Saskatoon, once Regina’s bitter rival, follows the Roughriders avidly. Last month, in fact, the team went there to play an intra-squad

CKCK officials regard Dobbs’ halfhour weekly broadcasts as their mostlistened-to presentation. He does the show with Lloyd Saunders, the station’s sports announcer, and when he first undertook it he worked on his scripts right up to air time. “Then one day,” Saunders recalls, “he said to me, ‘Look here, Lloyd, why don’t you just go ahead and pop some questions at me?’ So I did and now he

does the whole thing himself, ,-id lib.”

Dobbs, who turned thirty-two last July, was bom in the little town of McKinney, Texas, and moved with his family to Frederick, Okla., in his early teens. His father, Glenn, a big earthy man like his son, is a grocer at Frederick and he once pointed across the street to a young high-school boy who was an outstanding football player. “That fella,” he said to his skinny, rangy son, “probably ain’t ever gonna amount to much. He pays too much attention to the nice things people say about him and not enough attention to becomin’

„ man.” Young Glenn didn’t become a good football player until his senior I year in high school when beef began ! to fill his frame. Then he was good enough to receive several offers of football scholarships. He chose Tulsa University. In the Sun Bowl game of 1942 he helped beat Texas Tech by completing twenty-one of twenty-nine passes and he helped the College AllStars whip the professional Washington Redskins 27-7 in the annual AllStar game at Chicago by completing nine of fifteen passes. In 1943 he was voted the outstanding player of the All-Star game after completing twentyseven of thirty-two passes and accom| plishing an eighty-five-yard quick kick j that sent the pros back to their twoyard line.

After two years in the United States 1 Army Air Forces in the South Pacific Dobbs turned professional with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the new AllAmerica Conference in 1946. He was named the league’s most valuable player. In one game, with twentyone stitches in his scalp, he set two Conference records—threw forty passes and completed twenty-three of them. Another time he entered the game in the fourth quarter, with a broken finger. Trailing by two touchdowns, Dobbs wedged sponge around his finger and threw three passes for touchdowns. The following year he went to the Los Angeles Dons and at the end of the season Dick Hyland, noted Los Angeles ’Limes football expert, printed his allstar team. It ran: “First team

-Glenn Dobbs.” The second team listed eleven players.

When the All-America Conference folded after the 1949 season Dobbs was drafted by the Chicago Bears but he informed George Halas, Bear coach and owner, that he was retiring to build a home and business in Tulsa. The business was a golf driving range and a job as play-by-play announcer of Oklahoma A and M football games.

He was contacted, meanwhile, by Charlie Hay, a Regina man in Tulsa on oil business. “I liked him right off.” Dobbs recalls. “He mentioned the possibility of playing football in Canada but there was no high-pressure stuff about it.”

Hay returned to Regina and mentioned Dobbs as a Roughrider prospect. The word leaked out and became a city-wide rumor. Dobbs finally declined the offer but next winter Bob Kramer, the new club president, invited him to visit Regina. Dobbs agreed, although he still was being pestered by George Halas, the papa Bear, to sign with the Chicago professionals. “The last time he phoned,” Dobbs reveals, j “he guaranteed me a four-year contract at seventeen thousand five hundred a

Why didn't he grab that guaranteed seventy thousand dollars? Well. Dobbs insists that he’d never seen anything in football to match his welcome in Regina that February night a year and a half ago. There’d been an all-day ' blizzard which piled four inches of 1 fresh snow on the already snow-packed streets and the temperature had dropped to thirty below. Yet a block!

long queue of football fans was standing in front of the downtown theatre at which Dobbs was to appear on the stage as part of the midwinter gridiron gathering. When he entered the theatre Dobbs got another shock; it was jam-packed, which indicated that those people outside hadn’t a chance of getting in. So the big fellow started winning friends right away. He went back outside to talk to the people lined up out there. “I hadn’t seen such enthusiasm since my college days,” Dobbs says now. "Football really is a game of fun and companionship and,

if you don’t get that out of it there's no sense being in it. That was one of the reasons I quit the pros. It was the major reason I decided to stay in Regina.”

Dobbs continued to impress people all season right up to the Grey Cup game. In Toronto, where the Roughriders trained for a week at the Swansea public school grounds, he was stampeded by a hundred youngsters who came charging down the hill from school at recess to the practice field. Two little fellows fell behind Dobbs and as the mob surged toward him he

started to back away a few steps. But his heels caught against one of the boys and he toppled over backwards as the sea of shouting schoolboys hit him. Horrified team officials feared their quarterback had broken at least a leg but as kids were unpiled Dobbs was seen with his arm around the little fellow he’d fallen over. The boy was crying but when he saw who was holding him he let out a startled shout and thrust a scribbler in front of Dobbs for an autograph. Glenn climbed to his feet and stood there signing his name for the milling mob of youngsters

until the school bell ended the recess.

Injuries hurt the Roughriders in the Grey Cup final against Ottawa but it was Harry Smith's decision to scramble his players (against Dobbs’ adrice) and play them in unfamiliar positions for the big game that sealed his fate.

Not many people know that the Roughriders who sailed on a richly sentimental wave into that Grey Cup final actually were strife-ridden through most of the season, or that the coach. Smith, was earmarked for the ash can even before the team played the Ottawa Rough Riders for the national cham-

pionship. The truth is that Smith, a witty extemporaneous speaker and a good football salesman away from the field, incensed the Roughriders’ Canadian players by constantly carping at them, upbraiding their shortcomings, minimizing their talents and. at the same time, overlooking any indiscretions by the seven American imports.

Smith occasionally would keep the Canadians sweating on the practice field ten to fifteen minutes after he had permitted the Americans to take their showers. One lineman recalls frequent practices at which the better part of

an hour would be wasted in idleness while Smith and Red Ettinger, import centre, loudly discussed defensive tactics. Ettinger. now with Toronto Argonauts, and Jack Wedley, Roughrider end. quarreled openly and on one occasion, during dinner, Wedley invited Ettinger to fight. They didn’t. At least five of the Americans wanted no part of Smith’s favoritism. One night Martin Ruby, tackle, and Jack Russell, end. both imports, loafed in practice to see if Smith would discipline them. But if the coach observed it he gave no indication.

Dissension never precipitated an open breach because of Dobbs’ personality and ability as much as any other factor. Coolly and calmly he spoke his encouragement in the huddles and by his very example as a passer, kicker and runner he set a brisk pace for everybody. Off the field he countered the coach’s derision of the Canadians by continually praising them in his frequent speeches throughout the province. On his radio program he never failed to mention that the American players merely supplemented “our fine Canadian boys on this ol’ Roughrider gang.” Ol’, by the way, was and is one of Dobbs’ favorite expressions and the way he uses it, it has an ingratiating ring. When Dobbs and other players were sitting on the theatre platform at the Sunday-afternoon quarterback club meetings which always drew capacity attendances, he’d stand up and remark that the Western Conference was “plain chuck full” of Canadians who were good enough to be playing in the National Professional Football league in the United States. Then he'd look across at, say, Ken Charlton, Canadian halfback, and he’d grin at the audience and say, “Why, that ol’ Kenny there; he never did have such a year as he’s havin’, did he?"

The closest thing to an explosion came the week after the team lost four straight games near mid-season when Smith called a meeting in the dressing room. Bob Kramer, the club president, arrived as a dangerous split threatened between a heavy majority of the players and Smith and his small minority of followers. His intervention and subsequent plea for unity at the lockeddoors session probably prevented open rebellion. “After that, we just ignored the Bull,” a lineman recalled recently, employing the players’ favorite appellation for the coach. “We knew Dobbs knew his business.’' Dobbs’ playing ability and force of personality made him a natural leader.

In a fervent football atmosphere unmatched anywhere in Canada, in which the sprains and pulls and blisters of the players are vital news topics, none of this internal strife found its way to the public. And the Grey Cup defeat didn’t dampen the western fans for long. The Leader-Post front-paged the story of the game with an eightcolumn line in green ink and in twohundred-and-eighty point Jumbo type: TOUGH LUCK! A delegation met the homecoming train at Indian Head and presented the players with a giant cake with green-and-white icing and the inscription, “To the Roughriders. You're Still Our Champions.” The rink in Regina was filled with fifty-five hundred people to whom the players were introduced from a platform. Many of them cried, others were unable to speak to the loyal fans.

Dobbs went home with his wife and two boys to Tulsa, where he bought a cattle ranch (“It’s really just a beef farm so far”) on which he plans to live when his football is finished (“We love everything ’bout Saskatchewan ’ceptin’ those winters”) and he was there when he learned he’d been appointed coach. Bob Kramer, the club president, had a private plane in Wichita" and invited Dobbs to use it to talk things over with the executive in Regina. Hundreds of people crowded the airport to greet him, and the pilot’s wife and his five-year-old daughter were at the airport, too. As the plane hove into view, the pilot’s wife lifted her little girl so she could see it and said to her, “Look, honey, here comes daddy’s plane.” The little girl scanned the sky, found the airplane and clapped her hands together excitedly. “Ooo-h-h-h, Mommie,” the little girl cried. “Here comes Glenn Dobbs!” it