50TH VANIER CUP INTERVIEW SERIES: Bill Robinson, Saint Mary’s (1973)

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50TH VANIER CUP INTERVIEW SERIES: 1973

A conversation with…

Bill Robinson, quarterback, Saint Mary’s University Huskies

In Vanier Cup IX, the first of three straight CIAU football finals played at CNE Stadium in Toronto, the Saint Mary’s Huskies captured their first national title thanks to a 14-6 win over the McGill Redmen. In challenging weather conditions, defence prevailed and the two teams combined for only 346 yards of net offence, with a slight 175-171 edge for the winners. Bill Robinson quarterbacked the Huskies on that day.

What is your major memory of the entire Vanier Cup week and the overall experience?

The major memory is the fact our team was representing our conference, the AUAA, and had gained so much respect by winning the national championship. The year before, we had lost 50-17 to Waterloo Lutheran in the national semifinal Bowl game. So to beat the same opponent in the 1973 Bowl game and then McGill in the Vanier Cup brought a lot of respect to our conference.

(Note: Waterloo Lutheran had been renamed Wilfrid Laurier University by the time the 1973 Atlantic Bowl was played)

What is your one major lasting memory of the actual game?

Besides winning against a tough McGill team, my lasting memory is that we persevered through unbelievable monsoon rain conditions and kept the turnovers to a minimum.

What do you remember as the key play of the game?

It came in the second half when our star receiver-kicker Ken Clark had an 80-yard punt with a water-logged ball, which drastically changed field position and, ultimately, the outcome of the game.

(Note: Clark averaged 40.5 yards per punt in the game compared to 30.5 yards for his McGill rival; he was named MVP of the 1973 Vanier Cup and went on to play in the 1980 Super Bowl with the LA Rams)

Did anything unusual or out of the ordinary happen during the game or during Vanier week?

The CIAU had supplied only three game balls (J5-V) and they were so heavy by the second quarter you could not throw them more than 10 yards.

Did the coaches do anything different from normal routine in the preparation for the game?

In preparing for the game, realizing that there would be very inclement weather conditions, we decided to use the same count on every play to limit penalties and fumbles. It worked due to the weather.

How did you or the team react to the stadium, the crowd, the weather?

Because of the bad weather, the number of fans who actually attended the game was extremely modest compared to the record crowd the next year when I played for Western against Toronto. Our team was very disciplined, with limited penalties and our mindset was to play mistake-free ball in some very harsh conditions. Unfortunately, we had a great passing attack that could not be showcased that day.

(Note: The teams combined for 83 rushes in the game, while attempting only 22 passes)

What are your memories of the post-game celebrations on the field and/or in the dressing room?

It was in the unheated dressing room and showers. A number of stevedores from the Halifax waterfront, who attended every game and were great fans, joined the team in the showers. Everyone had their clothes and uniforms on and we just wanted to get warm after such a miserable day.

What was the reaction on campus when the team returned?

Reaction on campus and in Halifax was unbelievable. The province and the Premier hosted a special government reception and Saint Mary’s had a big pep rally on campus. The media coverage was great.

At the time, how did winning the Vanier Cup change your everyday life?

Winning the Cup didn’t really sink in until a few years later. It took four years to get there and we won despite the odds and critics to give our conference its long awaited respect. Winning the next year at Western to go back-to-back certainly put me in a unique category that has always been an interesting conversation piece. The great thing about team sports is you end up with a special bond with your teammates that you carry forever.

1973 was 41 years ago. Is that Vanier Cup win still one of your best memories as a student athlete?

The 1973 win is certainly one of my best memories because it was my first national championship. Every championship has its journey and the 1973 Huskies team paid its dues to get there which made it so very sweet. So many people remember that year for the region’s first national football championship and have a story to go with it. The story gets better every year as time goes on but to reminisce with people is never boring.

What did you study at Saint Mary’s and what career paths did you follow after graduation?

I graduated from Saint Mary’swith a commerce degree focused on marketing. While playing for Ottawa in the CFL,I had the opportunity to work for the Canadian Amateur Football Association as executive director in Ottawa from 1976 to 1983. In 1983, I accepted a position as executive directorwith the newly formed Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame in Halifax. The position has evolved to CEO and, 31 years later, it continues to be challenging, diverse in nature and allows me to work with great people who love sport and love what our sport heroes bring to the youth of Nova Scotia.

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