The image lingers in mind’s-eye for a generation. Nov. 28th, 1971. The long-ago demolished Empire Stadium. A driving rain pelting down on the 34,000 hardy souls in attendance.
Just over two-minutes remaining. Score: 14-11, Calgary Stampeders leading. But a Dick Thornton interception has put the Toronto Argonauts in business on the 11-yard-line with a chance to take the lead and, quite probably, the Grey Cup.
The end zone beckons. Until, that is, tailback Leon McQuay – a runner so quicksilver, so gifted, so bordering-on ethereal that his nickname was X-Ray – accepts the handoff from Argo QB Joe Theismann.
Veering to his left, McQuay then slipped on the slick 3M-manufactured Tartan Turf, a spray of water shooting up on the skid and the ball squirming loose.
“Oh, it’s still a pretty vivid memory,’’ says 74-year-old Basil Bark. “For me, anyway.
“Our offensive guys were standing on the sidelines. It’s really wet.
“We were exhausted. We’d already played three playoff games, in the semi-final and a best-of-three West final.
“Making it worse, the field that day in Vancouver was so spongy. It was like putting your living-room carpet down, soaking it right through and then trying to play on it. Just awful.
“It’s right near the end of the game. We’re just trying to hang on. After the interception, they’re on the 11, and you’re figuring they’re going to at least be 14-14, right? And who knows from there.
“I don’t care if Larry Robinson caused the fumble, the ground caused the fumble, the rain caused the fumble or Donald Duck caused the fumble.
“He fumbled the ball. And we recovered it.
“That’s all I care about.”
Fast forward 48 years: Bark, the offensive centre on that title team, was honoured on Legacy Night at McMahon Stadium on August 17, 2019 when the Stampeders played host to the Montreal Alouettes.
Fitting, because that victory he was a part of nearly a half-century ago remains singularly important in franchise history, ending as it did a 28-year Grey Cup drought for the white horse.
“I just remember this rush of adrenalin on our bench after the fumble,’’ says Bark, an all-star centre for 13 seasons with the Als and Stamps. “We were just pumped heading back onto the field.
“We just had to hold onto the ball and let the clock run out. Try and make a couple plays.
“And it just … happened.”
The Stamps that year had something to make amends for, having lost 23-10 to the Alouettes (the field at CNE in toronto was so chopped up, Montreal quarterback picked up a large chunk of turf and tossed it before taking thesnap on one play) at the previous Grey Cup.
“After coming off ’70 and losing quite dramatically, that really knocked the spirit out of us,’’ admits Bark. “But we got together after that and vowed that if we ever got in the situation again, we wouldn’t let it get away.
“We had guys like Wayne Harris, who didn’t say a lot. Larry Robinson. Herm Harrison. Jerry Keeling. Veteran guys, a couple years from retiring. And our leaders stood up. We had pretty much the same nucleus in ’71 that we had the year before.
“In our game, if you have a couple shots at it you’d better make at least one good. No guarantee you’re gonna get a third.”
Bark continues to follow the Stamps closely.
“Two or three times a year I go and sit in Hufnagel’s box during a game and watch him work his magic, talking to the boys down below, and on his laptop,’’ says the two-time CFL West Division all-star.
“I know Dickie quite well. I wish the boys nothing but the best.