By Brian Snelgrove
A number of former CFL greats were on hand recently for the unveiling of the new Jake Gaudaur Veteran’s Trophy.
Zeke O’Connor, Russ Jackson, Angelo Mosca, Matt Dunigan, Granville Liggins, Mike Eben, Brad Elberg, Stace Coray, Bob Bronk and Leo Ezerins were among those in attendance for the historic announcement.
The winner of the inaugural award – to be given each year to a CFL player who best demonstrates the attributes shared by Canada’s veterans – will be announced for the first time this November.
The trophy was announced on behalf of Veterans Affairs Canada and the CFL.at the Moss Park Armouries in Toronto. Members of the Gaudaur family, veterans, as well as representatives from the Canadian Armed Forces were also part of the ceremony.
“Number one, the purpose of the award is to honour a great person in Jake Gaudaur who gave a big chunk of his life to the CFL,” says Commissioner Mark Cohon. “There is also an unbelievable bond between our players and the military. This is a great way of honouring our players as well as the veterans.” The winner will be selected by a five-member panel. “Discipline, comraderie and community involvement,” Cohon says. “We are looking for someone who shows the same characteristics as the veterans.”
Zeke O’Connor (1952-53), who scored the game-winning touchdown for the Toronto Argonauts in the 1952 Grey Cup, first met Jake Gaudaur in “1953 or ’54.” “He was a terrific person,” says O’Connor. “We had some wonderful times together. He had a great love for the Canadian game and he worked hard to grow and preserve the wonderful heritage of the Canadian game. He would be so happy about this trophy. He was a very proud Canadian and was very proud of his service. We should be hanging on to these traditions we should all be proud of.”
“He was a great guy,” says former Ottawa Rough Rider quarterback Russ Jackson (1958-69), who also knew Gaudaur for more than 50 years. “He was always up front and was always a CFL supporter. All the positions he held, that was his life. It was something he loved doing.”
“I think the trophy in his honour is great,” adds Jackson, a Hall of Famer and three-time Schenley Award winner as the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player. “With Jake’s background there is a natural tie-in and with what is going on in the world today there is a natural connection between the players and the veterans.”
“He was the commisioner my first two years in the league,” says Hall of Fame quarterback Matt Dunigan (1983-96). “I was just a young player trying to make my way. I look back now and this whole process has been very enlightening in establishing this honour for Jake and how much he meant to the league. It is a tribute to the man and his dedication to the league and to the service. When I look at that photo of the 1942 Grey Cup team I see the same joy, happiness and enthusiasm in their faces as a Grey Cup photo taken today. To be involved in the ceremony was very moving. It is a great tribute to Jake Gaudaur and a trophy that I think will become more and more prestigious over time.”
“I didn’t know him personally but when I played he was the guy in the CFL,” says Granny Liggins (1968-78) former Argo and Stampeder lineman. “He was just the guy. When I hear about the things that Jake Gaudaur has done, it is mind-boggling and astonishing. He was, is, and always will be, the Canadian Football League. In my estimation he was the king. I will never forget Jake Gaudaur. The trophy is a great tribute to him. He made the CFL prosper.”
“Jake was a very docile, easy going guy,” says former Tiger-Cat and Ottawa Rough Rider Hall of Fame lineman Angelo Mosca (1958-72) who knew Gaudaur for close to half a century. “He made sure the Tiger-Cats were well-known. He made this league survie when he was commissioner. The announcement was very nice, I was honoured to be there. It was a pleasure to see some of the guys.”
Gaudaur was a cornerstone of the CFL for more than 40 years and was a player, an adminstrator and a builder. Born in Orillia, Ontario he was an outstanding athlete who excelled in football and lacrosse and was a national rowing champion. Gaudaur was a veteran who served with the RCAF as a pilot and instructor from 1942-46. He played football for the Hamilton Tigers, the Toronto Argonauts, the Toronto RCAF Hurricanes, the Toronto Indians (ORFU), the Hamilton-Tiger Cats and the Montreal Alouettes during his career. He was President of the Tiger-Cats from 1954-67 and served a 16 year term as CFL Commissioner from 1968-84.
“We are extremely pleased to see so many of our members at such an important event,” said Leo Ezerins, Executive Director of the CFL Alumni Association. “As an Association we are proud to support the CFL and this prestigious award. Jake Gaudaur was an outstanding Canadian both on and off the field and the CFLAA is committed to its ongoing support of the CFL and the community it serves. He was a Canadian kid who was a player, coach/manager, owner and finally the commissioner. He was inspiration to all of us but especially to those Canadian kids like me who grew up playing with a J5V.”