It’s Grey Cup week in Toronto. In the midst of an NHL lockout, there’s no sense of whining and complaining that we can’t watch our favourite athletes compete. There was a time where even if the NHL had it’s doors shut, you could watch your favourite player in a different spot—football.
Introducing Gerry James, a Canadian Football League Hall of Famer, the youngest player to ever play in the CFL at the age of 17, and a former Toronto Maple Leaf.
James played 149 games with the Leafs as a forward between 1954 and 1960. He wasn’t ever a prolific scorer, fighting more than he score (257 penalty minutes versus 14 career goals). At a 5’11”, 185-lb giant in those days, perhaps it isn’t too shocking that James took on a secondary career during the summer months:
James helped the Blue Bombers to Grey Cup titles in 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962. He missed the 1963 CFL campaign, and played his last season of professional football with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1964. He holds the CFL record for most post-season games played with thirty-six. Beginning in 1951, James played four seasons of junior hockey with the Toronto Marlboros, winning the 1955 Memorial Cup championship over the Regina Pats.
He earned a spot on the roster of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1955 to 1957, but split the following year between Toronto and the Rochester Americans minor league team before returning to the Blue Bombers. Although he missed the entire 1958-59 NHL season due to an injury sustained in a September 1958 CFL game, James won the 1959 Grey Cup with the Bombers and later helped the Maple Leafs reach the Stanley Cup final in April 1960. He became the only player in history to participate in the Grey Cup and Stanley Cup championships in the same season.
There aren’t too many images on the Internet of Gerry James, but his nickname, Kid Dynamite, inspired a biography by a writer named Ron Smith published last year. He has a posting summarizing James’ career:
In hockey, after winning the Memorial Cup with the Toronto Marlboros in 1955—by which time he was a teenage father—James played for four seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, epitomizing King Clancy’s aphorism, “If you can’t beat ’em in the alley, you can’t beat ’em on the ice.”
James was born in Regina during the Depression, and was frequently picked on by his asthmatic brother Don. By age 14, Gerry learned how to fight back and could crush his brother four years his senior. He was offered a contract by the New York Giants, but back during the 50s, the CFL paid its players more so he stayed with in Winnipeg, where his family moved when he was a year old. When the sport of hockey came calling, it seems natural that he’d morph into pugilism.
There are some good images on that site from the Hockey hall of Fame. Here’s one of James in a verbal confrontation with Jean-Guy Talbot and the Montreal Canadiens:
Here he is in a confrontation with Jack Evans of the Chicago Blackhawks:
And falling over Pierre Pilote:
James is the last player to ever play for both the Stanley Cup and the Grey Cup in the same season, and the last two-sport star to compete for both Cups.