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Pigskin spectacle.



He's a die-hard football fan. Diamond remembers the first Grey Cup game he attended when the Bombers won. It was in 1959 in Toronto against the Hamilton Tiger Cats. The score was 21 to 7 in favor of the Bombers.

"Winnipeg went crazy," he recalls. "We couldn't land at the Winnipeg airport because the crowd had pushed the fence down and they were all over the run way. We had to land at the air force base (on the other side of the field)."

Diamond, who has missed only three Blue Bomber home games since 1947, may well be exhausted after four days in which Winnipeg becomes the nation's party headquarters for the 79th Grey Cup. Almost 53,000 other fans will be shoehorned into Winnipeg Stadium along with 300 media people and hundreds of sellers and hawkers.

And, in accordance with the CFL agreement, 100 uniformed officers will be in the stadium on game day. For a regular Bomber game there are usually only 15 officers. "Our worst case scenario would be to have Winnipeg playing Regina with the Blue Bombers winning," says Inspector Menno Zacharias, executive assistant to the chief and the organizer of the $100,000 Grey Cup policing effort. "If the Bombers are not involved it probably means a lot less work for us."

The Grey Cup bash starts on Wednesday, November 20 with a City Kick-Off luncheon for 500 people at the Westin Hotel. Following that is a Family Kick-Off at City Hall, a Festival evening party for 5,000 at the Convention Centre, pin trading, a Jets game and a VIP reception at Crystal Casino. That's just Wednesday's schedule.

There are six more events on Thursday and 10 on Friday including the Miss Grey Cup '91 contest at the Convention Centre. Eight young women ages 18 and 19 will be after the title, but chairman of Miss Grey Cup '91, Dr. Ross Brown, warns: "It's not a beauty contest." According to Brown, the women had better do their homework on their sponsors because pretty faces and bathing suits are no longer the winning combination. Instead, contestants must prove their knowledge of the CFL, their hometown teams and will be asked to talk about football in general.

At press time Brown was still working out details of what he hopes will be a $50,000 prize package for the winner. Tickets to the contest, which includes entertainment and an eight-course dinner, are $75 each; 900 are available.

On Saturday, November 23, Winnipeg has a chance to dazzle Canada with a 90-minute national telecast of the Grey Cup parade.

"It will be the largest exposure the city will get -- other than the game," says Daye Irving, volunteer vice-chairman of the parade committee. "It's a big window to the rest of the country."

Irving is hoping to fill that 'window' with clowns, bands and 60 floats. The theme of the parade is "Heroes" and the interpretation is left open. A community centre plans to have a float honoring Robin Hood. Louis Riel may also make an appearance.

The Football Reporters of Canada have been asked to nominate past greats from each CFL team, including the former Montreal Alouettes, who will ride with their respective Miss Grey Cup candidates in open carriages.

The parade committee has a mandate to break-even on costs. Thus, corporations will be charged $800 to enter a float and $400 for a walking or motorized entry. The non-profit rate is 75 per cent less. Irving says it is "pretty cheap advertising" for corporations, considering the television coverage and the 60,000 to 100,000 people expected to line the parade route. And she has a clear idea of the excitement, imagination and variety needed to make the parade a success. Irving has attended 15 Grey Cups and she believes "the parades are getting progressively worse." She wants Winnipeg to prove it can do a better job.

Worries about how Winnipeg could handle the Grey Cup was one of the reasons it has never been held here before. After all, goes the reckoning in the East, the 'Peg is small, cold and isolated.

Those are not words Mayor Bill Norrie likes to hear about his town. He accompanied the bid delegation in February, 1989, when it sold the CFL commissioners on Winnipeg in '91.

"We hit the weather issue head-on," says Norrie. "We had a weatherman on the (video) screen and did an interview with him."

Environment Canada weather records for November 24th in Winnipeg, Grey Cup day, are optimistic. The mean temperature over the past decade for Grey Cup Day is -8.1 C. Average snowfall for the day is a little more than half a centimeter. In fact, the last time it got really chilly was in 1903 when the mercury slipped to -32.2 C. Yet in 1907 it was a balmy 7.2 C.

Regina's Bill Baker, a former Regina Roughriders lineman, was the chief commissioner of the CFL two years ago and saw Winnipeg's winning bid. "There was absolutely no choice but Winnipeg," he says. "It was a great presentation and that's not just rhetoric. Theirs was the best (bid) of all the years."

Baker, who is now president and CEO of SaskEnergy in Regina, says there were "some ugly scenes" among commissioners who did not want the Grey Cup in Winnipeg. The main argument was over weather. But Baker doesn't buy that excuse. He figures since he survived the western final in Regina in 1969 -- "... it was absolutely paralyzing, we almost died out there" -- the Grey Cup can survive a turn in Winnipeg. Furthermore, he adds, it is overdue since "the strength of the League is here in the West."

Getting the game took more than proving Winnipeg in November has humane weather. The CFL has a 39-point list of "shalls" and "wills" that must be agreed to by the host city. For example: "... the League shall have the first right to any private boxes for the Grey Cup Game that are not sold as part of any existing lease agreement with the stadium." And "The League will require convention/ballroom space at no additional cost for four consecutive nights prior to the Grey Cup Game, capable of accommodating 4,000 persons." The League also wants to see "... a supportive letter from the Provincial Government pledging the support of the Province towards the bid."

In fact, the province gave $750,000 towards building 17,000 extra seats in the Winnipeg Stadium's north end-zone and the construction of a permanent press box on the east side. And the City of Winnipeg contributed $1.5 million.

Another CFL requirement was a territorial claim on marketing souvenirs. The Cup contract expects an "...exclusive street vending licence for all team, League and Grey Cup trademarks 10 days prior and 72 hours after for the entire downtown area and one-mile radius around the stadium."

The selling frenzy is being directed by Terry Hopkinson, general merchandise manager for P.M. Associates Ltd. The company oversees sales of Bomber paraphernalia, which topped $1 million last year. Now it is handling the expected $3- to $4-million bonanza of Grey Cup knick-knacks on behalf of the Winnipeg Football Club which bought the merchandising rights from the League -- a CFL first.

In early September, 21 suppliers -- 60 per cent of them from Winnipeg -- had snapped up merchandising licences to sell 150 different items, including fridge calendars, jackets, jerseys, pins, shooter glasses, pennants and standard peaked hats.

Hopkinson says he even had one request for permission to sell condoms monogrammed with the Grey Cup logo, although he admits the idea is unlikely to get through the tough screening process. Hopkinson says he and Blue Bomber general manager Cal Murphy pull, stretch and test every proposed item of merchandise in a general quality test before it is sanctioned. In addition to this stringent process, suppliers must deposit $1,000 as a guarantee against royalties which range from eight to 12 per cent. For the street vendor, specific locations are available for a price -- Hopkinson wouldn't say how much -- plus a piece of the volume. The normal cut is 20 per cent. And Hopkinson says his people will be on the lookout for non-sanctioned goods.

The potential pot of gold is not limited to souvenirs. Tourism Winnipeg estimates the game will bring 20,000 visitors to town who will contribute to an estimated $25 to $30 million in overall revenues from game spinoffs. All those visitors are good news for hotels, but fans who procrastinated will be stuck.

The Sheraton Winnipeg has been fully booked since September, 1990. That's not just for the Saturday night before the game. The hotel has imposed a three-day minimum stay, with full payment due 45 days in advance. Other major hotels in the downtown area are similarly booked and stringent.

While Winnipeg will get an infusion of visitor dollars from the game being here, Art Mauro, chairman of the Grey Cup Festival Committee, says the Grey Cup is more than money.

"If that were the only benefit my interest would have been more limited," says Mauro, president of Investors Group Inc. "I think it's the ideal vehicle to kick-off the new spirit of Winnipeg and Manitoba. We'll be able to demonstrate to Canada and the U.S. this city has potential and a future. And that's worth untold numbers of dollars."

The man who has the day-to-day task of fine-tuning Winnipeg's public image for Grey Cup week is Leo Ezerins. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Ezerins played for 12 years in the CFL, first as a Blue Bomber, then traded to Hamilton where he was again a standout as an Eastern Conference all-star linebacker with the Tigers Cats.

As a former player Ezerins knows what it's like to be the centre of attention on Grey Cup day. In 1986 he was part of the Cats' Grey Cup victory. Now Ezerins is taking part in a different kind of Grey Cup countdown as the general manager of the Festival Committee.

It is Ezerins who is quarterbacking the cat's-cradle complexities of the 38 events of Grey Cup week. As well, he is dealing with city and provincial politicians, 110 committee members, 14 board members, an office staff of four and up to 1,000 volunteers. It can be one big ball of knots.

"The details keep me awake at night," he reluctantly admits. "The biggest task is to try to stay focused on events and to keep totally informed."

Ezerins was parachuted into the job, replacing former Manitoba Sports Directorate executive director Bill Crook, who resigned to follow a special opportunity in Europe.

Ezerins' team consists of Danita Schmidtke, manager of corporate sponsorship and public relations, and Mark Freedman, in charge of volunteers, protocol and operations.

"There is no doubt this is a team project," says Ezerins. "It was that from the start. It couldn't have succeeded any other way."

Of the mammoth organizational task, Ezerins says he wants to keep a tight rein on the number of things going on. "There are so many people wanting a piece of the action. We don't want to dilute the festival with too many events going on."

Ezerins' committee has a life of one year and will disband December 31 after all ends are tied off. The Festival Committee is spending about $2.5 million to ensure the premier national sports party goes off with a bang. The end result should be a financial success with any net profit accruing to amateur sport.

Says Ezerins: "In 78 years Winnipeg has never had the Grey Cup game. What we're really looking at is pent-up demand." And Ezerins, an obvious hometowner, says he believes the Bombers will be on the turf on the big day, repeating their 1990 gritty victory against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Vancouver.

For Scott Taylor, sports writer for the Winnipeg Free Press, there is no doubt. "Winnipeg will win it, I said it from day one."

For most Winnipeggers the sweetest thing would be to see the Blue Bombers playing at home for the silver Cup. Art Mauro, who also headed-up the bid committee presentation, has an agreement with the general manager of the home team, which he expects to be fulfilled.

"Cal Murphy said to me, 'If you get the Grey Cup in Winnipeg in '91, I'll get the Bombers there.' Well, I've lived up to my end of the deal," Mauro laughs. "Now Murphy better bloody well keep his."
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Title Annotation:the 79th Grey Cup
Author:Ryan, Bramwell
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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