The first Grey Cup game I ever watched was in 1957 (in my grandparents den). I was 11-years-old. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 32-7. Cookie Gilchrist scored two touchdowns.
It turned out to be the first of many Tiger-Cats vs. Blue Bombers Grey Cups over the next six years; they met five times in that span. Only an Edmonton vs. Ottawa game in 1960 spoiled a six-games-in-six-years scenario.
There were few bigger names in the CFL than Carlton Chester Cookie Gilchrist, who died earlier this week from cancer at the age of 75.
Names of the late 50's included Jackie Parker, Hal Patterson, Kenny Ploen, the late Sam Etcheverry, and a few others.
It wasn't called the CFL back then but was instead referred to as "Big 4" football. And what is now known as the West Division was eloquently called the Western Interprovincial Football Union. Some mouthful, eh?
Living in Quebec City, on a Saturday afternoon we got, on one TV channel (in French), the "Football de Big 4". Yep, the Als (with Sam and Hal and Red O'Quinn) were on TV every Saturday afternoon.
Everything took place on Saturday afternoon. The regular season, the playoffs, and of course the Grey Cup.
We never saw Western teams as there was no interlocking schedule, and my TV station took the feed from Montreal, so we got to see the Als and what is now the East Division.
We only saw the Western teams in the playoffs, and what weird playoffs they were. The Western final was a best two-out-of-three series, and the Eastern final was a two games, total points affair, which produced some weird endings.
Early names from that era - the first real television era - in addition to those mentioned above, were the quarterbacks and running backs.
In addition to Etcheverry, Hamilton had Bernie Faloney, Ottawa had the likes of Frank Tripucka, and the Argos had the likes of Ronnie Knox and NFLer Tobin Rote.
Running backs included Pat Abruzzi of Montreal, Gerry MacDougall of Hamilton and Dave Thelen of Ottawa.
I can even remember their numbers - they were high - with Abruzzi wearing #83 and McDougall in the high 90's.
Then there was Cookie.
Cookie Gilchrist was in that elite bunch and, for whatever reason, there seemed to be more controversy surrounding him than anyone else.
Mind you, Howard Cosell hadn't arrived yet and sports journalism was not what it has turned into today - with a million cameras and reporters everywhere - so we didn't really know what was going on. At least it wasn't reported.
Gilchrist played in Hamilton, Saskatchewan, and Toronto. I don't recall him in Saskatchewan; back in the late 50's I don't think I even knew where it was.
Before there was Cassius Clay fighting for rights and the black man, there was Cookie.
He fought for everything and owners had to listen because he was so good. At 6-3, 250 pounds, he was a demolition truck ready to rumble. He played fullback - a ball-carrying position in those days. He also played linebacker for a while, and was a CFL all-star at the position, and place kicker.
He also truly wanted to be paid for all three positions.
"I fulfill three roles on your team so I want three salaries," he used to say, and when he didn't get it he was vocal about it.
Cookie Gilchrist didn't drink, do drugs, or smoke, but may have had a touch eccentricity within him as he drove a car with the words: "Lookie Lookie Here Comes Cookie" on it.
He was born in 1935 in Pennsylvania and in high school he was taken by the Cleveland Browns. That didn't go well and he ended up with the Sarnia Imperials and the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen of the Ontario Rugby Football Union. In 1956, at 21, he joined the Ti-Cats.
His CFL career shows him with nearly 5000 yards (4911) in five seasons. And let's not forget, they were 12-game seasons.
He also had 12 interceptions in his time on defence. Oh, in addition to linebacker he played cornerback. Imagine a 250 pound cornerback? The 12 interceptions prove he was no slouch.
He played for Hamilton in 1957; Saskatchewan in '58 and with the Argos from '59-'62.
In 1960 he was a finalist for the CFL's Most Outstanding Player award, losing to Edmonton's Jackie Parker.
"Possibly, for his age, he may have been as good as Jim Brown," said former Ti-Cat Angelo Mosca.
Larry Fesler, who covered the Buffalo Bills from the AFL beginnings up until 2007, called Gilchrist the best all-around football player that he ever saw. And he's seen the likes of Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas.
Gilchrist still holds the Argos single-game scoring record at 27 points. It was a game in 1960 against Montreal.
That was the year the Argos finished first with the likes of Rote, Dave Mann, Dick Shatto and Cookie.
Why is he not in the CFL Hall of Fame? He was voted in but refused, saying the Argos took advantage of him. It appeared however, that he softened his stance on that in the last 15-20 years.
He joined the fledging AFL in 1962 and played for the Bills. He became the league's first 1000-yard rusher and took home the MVP. And, in 1964, led the Bills to their only title, beating the San Diego Chargers 20-7. He also took three AFL rushing titles.
In 1963 he wore the #32, becoming one of four sports people wearing number 32 that year to capture MVP awards. (Sandy Koufax, Elston Howard, and Jim Brown in addition to Gilchrist.)
Although he only played for the Bills for three years (62-64), he is still the third leading rusher in Bills history.
One of the biggest things he did was in 1965. In 1965, the AFL all-star game was held in New Orleans, were segregation was rampant.
The players were told it would stop; it didn't. Gilchrist and his teammates had a hard time getting cabs, eating in restaurants, and sleeping in good motels.
Some players called a meeting, and it was Cookie Gilchrist who spoke out saying it's "got to stop."
He forced the movement of the game to Houston. Meanwhile, New Orleans, which was in the running for an NFL franchise, was stunned that the AFL had pulled out. They started de-segregating a short time later; they got their franchise a few years later.
Many say the moving of that AFL game was a turning point, and that move was sparked by Gilchrist.
Gilchrist loved Canada, and especially Toronto. His three children, two sons and a daughter, live there.
He played for the Denver Broncos in 1965 and 1967, and for Miami in 1966. He was selected as fullback for the all-time AFL team.
He died this week at an assisted living centre near Pittsburgh.
For TSN.ca I'm Alex J.Walling
Alex J can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org