Friday morning, the sun stayed hidden behind a veil of clouds waiting for its moment. And then on cue it pushed aside the grey curtains, creating a natural spotlight for the natural talent it bathed in the courtyard of Hamilton’s City Hall.
Five individuals stood before a gathering of family, friends, celebrating school children, and curious onlookers. While the fanfare was much more subdued than the roars of approval that formed part of their lives, the moment itself spoke volumes.
The Canadian Football Hall of Fame was welcoming the quintet – four players and one builder – into its sanctuary of immortality as the inductees for 2006.
Former stars Matt Dunigan, Bobby Jurasin, Allen Pitts, and Henry “Gizmo” Williams joined builder Victor Spencer for the unveiling of their busts which will be added to the gallery at the hall of fame. The busts are sculpted by Hamilton artist Gino Cavicchioli.
Sitting in the audience were previously inducted CFL greats Angelo Mosca (1987), Ellison Kelly (’92), Don Sutherin (’92), Ralph Sazio (’88), Less Browne (2002), Herm Harrison (’93), and Peter Dalla Riva (’93).
Speaking for the newest group of inductees, Dunigan said it was “truly an honour to be standing here. We are being recognized for a team sport, yet we stand here as individuals. It’s different and goes against everything we were brought up to think.”
The annual induction event is the focal point of a week-long celebration that included school visits, a golf tournament, a formal induction dinner and concludes with the Hall of Fame game today with Hamilton Tiger-cats the host to British Columbia Lions.
Which was apropos for Victor Spencer who was instrumental in bringing Vancouver into professional Canadian football starting in 1947. It would take six years before the Western Interprovincial Football Union would award Vancouver a franchise. Regina, Calgary, Edmonton supported the bid with Winnipeg choosing not to vote.
A former player with the Hamilton Tigers of the Ontario Rugby Football Union, Spencer remained a die-hard believer and saviour of the Lions. He was one of the driving forces behind a rescue mission in 1976 when the Lions found themselves in financial troubles.
Now 81 years old (he turns 82 in November), the numerous honors bestowed upon him in B.C, include his induction into the Lions Wall of Fame in 2002.
Dunigan came into the CFL in 1983 with the Edmonton Eskimos and was tutored by hall of famer Warren Moon. He proved to be an exceptional student. In 194 regular season games, spanning 14 seasons, the now 46-year-old native of Lakewood, Ohio, would play for six CFL teams – the Esks, the Lions, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Toronto Argonauts, the Tiger-Cats, and the Birmingham Barracudas. When he hung up his cleats, he was the only CFL quarterback to lead five CFL teams to winning records.
Besides his regular season efforts, the divisional and league allstar played in 19 postseason contests and has three Grey Cup rings. He even had a brief stint as a head coach and general manager, in 2004 with the Calgary Stampeders, one of the few teams he didn’t play for. These days, in addition to numerous charitable endeavours, Dunigan forms part of TSN’s Friday Night Football panel.
If ever there was a player who could bring a crowd to its collective feet the moment he caught a kicked ball, it was the Gizmo. An electrifying dynamo, all 5-6 and 183 pounds, Henry Williams was a game-breaker during his 14 CFL seasons, all with the Eskimos. He also played one campaign with the USFL’s Memphis (Tenn.) Showboats and one term with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. In 149 regular season CFL games, the fleet-footed native of Memphis, ran back 26 punts for touchdowns, including five in one season to get his name into the record book.
His signature end-zone flips to finalize a touchdown could be the asterisk beside his name for being the league’s all-time leader in punt returns (1,003), punt-return yards (11,177), kickoff returns (335) and kick-off return yards (7,354). In the 1987 Grey Cup – one of five he appeared in – Williams had another entry in the league record book with a 115-yard touchdown runback of a missed field goal. He finished his career with 23, 927 all-purpose yards, which explains why he was a seven-time West allstar and a five-time CFL allstar. Two Grey Cup rings found homes on his fingers.
Allen Pitts played his entire 11-year career with the Calgary Stampeders who gave him perhaps the highest compliment – they retired his jersey No. 18. Sure-handed only understates the Tucson, Arizona., native’s talents as a receiver. When he called it quits at the end of the 2000 season, Pitts had snared 966 passes that accounted for 14,891 yards and 117 touchdowns. The two-time Grey Cup champion caught 103 passes for 1,654 yards and 10 majors in 19 postseason games.
Pitts, a slotback, played in 176 regular season games and his best year came in 1994 when he pulled in 126 tosses and racked up 2.,036 yards with 10 touchdowns.
His abilities were hard to go unnoticed and six times he was a CFL allstar and seven-time West division allstar. For four seasons he led the CFL in yardage and receptions.
Bobby Jurasin’s name may not have the same household currency as the other inductees, but if you were an opposing quarterback you knew who he was. In 1987, his second of 12 seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, he chalked up a team-record 22 QB sacks and had 45 defensive tackles in 18 games.
His defensive toughness became apparent in his first year when in only eight games he earned the team’s nomination as outstanding league rookie.
Primarily a defensive end, the Wakefield, Michigan native, played in 199 regular season games. He played in two league championship games – 1989 and 1997 – winning a Grey Cup ring in 1989 when the Roughriders beat the Tiger-Cats 43-40. He was one of only three Roughies to play in both those Grey Cup games – receiver Don Narcisse and linebacker Dan Rashovich were the others.
He was a West allstar in 1987-88-89-92-94-97 and a CFL allstar in 1987-88-92-97. When he retired Jurasin was third among CFL sack leaders with 142.