50TH VANIER CUP INTERVIEW SERIES: 1965
A conversation with…
Gerry Sternberg, running back, University of Toronto Varsity Blues
In Vanier Cup I, on November 20, 1965, running back Gerry Sternberg rushed for a game-high 85 yards on 16 carries and added 51 yards on six punt/kickoff returns on his way to becoming the inaugural recipient of the Ted Morris Trophy as game MVP. In a low-scoring affair played in inclement weather at Varsity Stadium, the hometown Varsity Blues erased a 7-1 halftime deficit to defeat the Alberta Golden Bears 14-7.
What is your major memory of the entire Vanier Cup week and the overall experience?
There weren’t really the festivities leading up to the game like they have now. The bigger thing was the Yates Cup victory we were coming off of – we won for the first time since I joined the team and it was the first time in my career we were able to beat Western on their home field. That was the crowning point. That year, the national game was an invitational event and the game itself wasn’t actually called the Vanier Cup, which was the name of the trophy. We were invited to play in the Save the Children’s College Bowl against the Western Canada champion, the Alberta Golden Bears.
What is your one major lasting memory of the actual game?
That it was a terrible day. It was rainy, the field was muddy and there were not that many fans in the stands. We were able to win the game in those conditions. We would have liked to have played in good conditions, to judge the performance of the team on the field but it was a win for us, which was a great celebration by our team.
What do you remember as the key play of the game?
There was a play designed by the coach during practice and what happened was that the quarterback, Bryce Taylor, handed the ball to me and I ran and handed it to Jim Ware, who flipped the ball back to Bryce, who passed to Mike Eben in the end zone for the winning touchdown. It was really something.
What was your personal greatest play or moment?
I really didn’t have my greatest game. I won MVP because I was able to run the ball for about 80 yards in those conditions, consistently setting up field position which led to our ability to win the game. My greatest moment actually came in the Yates Cup game. We were playing Western at Western and we were losing. I wasn’t having a good game because every time I got the ball, there were always a couple of guys ready to pounce on me. In the last minute I took a pass from Bryce Taylor out into the flats and somehow was able to run down the field 40 or 50 yards for the winning TD, so that redeemed the poor game that I had. That was the highlight of my career. Just a little pass to the sideline with a number of people around and I avoided them all somehow to run in for the TD.
Did the coaches do anything different from normal routine in the preparation for the game?
It was the same, other than putting in and practising the special play described above.
How did you or the team react to the stadium, the crowd, the weather?
The weather conditions certainly didn’t help. We were used to having much larger crowds but for this game, with the conditions, there were maybe only a few thousand fans in the stands. When you look around you want to have good support and, unfortunately, it certainly wasn’t there.
What are your memories of the post-game celebrations on the field and/or in the dressing room?
I don’t remember anything like champagne coming out and flowing but just euphoria on the field for winning the game and back in the dressing room players hugging each other, etc.
What was the reaction on campus when the team returned?
It was just school as usual other than a write up in the student newspaper, The Varsity, to describe the game and our win. There was no celebration like that. At the athletic banquet a few months later, Governor-General Georges Vanier presented the Vanier Cup to us.
At the time, how did winning the Vanier Cup change your everyday life?
Personally for me, being named the MVP was a great honour and all I can say is that the success I had in the 1965 season, culminating with the Vanier Cup win, led me to a contract with the Montreal Alouettes and I was able to play seven years in the CFL.
How often to you reminisce about your Vanier Cup win?
I guess every year when it comes time to hear about the Vanier Cup you recall that we were the first winners. It’s special every year – the fact that we were the first.
How did it feel to play in the first Vanier Cup? Do you recall a “buzz” about the event in Toronto? How special was it to receive the Cup from General Vanier at the Varsity Blues awards banquet later that year?
At the time, it was just another game in a good season, not a great season. We were 3-3 in the regular season, so being recognized as the Yates Cup champions and the first Save the Children’s College Bowl turned it into a successful year for me and my teammates and the coaching staff. There’s great pride in that win and for the U of T, which has a great winning tradition.