50TH VANIER CUP INTERVIEW SERIES: 1971
A conversation with…
Paul Knill, kicker, University of Western Ontario Mustangs
In Vanier Cup VII, the Western Ontario Mustangs upset the top-ranked Alberta Golden Bears 15-14 in front of a pro-Western crowd of 13,041 at Varsity Stadium in Toronto to capture their first of six national titles. The Mustangs never had the lead in the game until late in the fourth quarter, when veteran kicker Paul Knill nailed the winning field goal from 17 yards out with only 3:57 left on the clock.
What is your major memory of the entire Vanier Cup week and the overall experience?
Quite frankly, the events leading up to the game are a bit of a blur. We travelled to Toronto earlier than for a normal road trip. We practised at the stadium and attended a Vanier Cup dinner. But the prior two weeks had included a trip to Kingston for the Yates Cup final and then a trip to Halifax for the Atlantic Bowl, so we were actually getting a little tired of hotel stays.
What is your one major lasting memory of the actual game?
Just how tough a battle it was playing the Alberta Golden Bears and doing so on a blustery early winter day.
What do you remember as the key play of the game?
We were playing in the shadow of our own goal posts and facing a strong wind. On a short-yardage second down, our quarterback Joe Fabiani faked a handoff and passed the ball to wide receiver Terry Harvey, who ran the ball almost to the Alberta goal line.
(Note: The 97-yard pass-and-run play still stands as the longest completion in Vanier Cup history)
What was your personal greatest play or moment?
In the second quarter, we kicked a long field goal which stood as the longest in Vanier Cup history for many years.
(Note: The 41-yard FG stood as a Vanier Cup record until 1982 and still ranks sixth in game history)
You also kicked the winning field goal to give Western its first Vanier Cup. How did that feel?
Our field goal team of Jim Roth (centre), Mike Fess (holder) and I had been practising together every day for two years. To us, making the winning field goal seemed to be simply the culmination of all our preparation.
Did the coaches do anything different from normal routine in the preparation for the game?
Our coaches prepared us well and always gave us adjustments at halftime to counter what the other team was successfully doing. They did the same thing during that game.
How did you or the team react to the stadium and the crowd?
The stadium was historic and reminds me of the old J.W. Little Stadium in London, or Richardson Stadium at Queen’s. The fans were within arms’ reach and we received fantastic support from the Western fans.
What are your memories of the post-game celebrations on the field and/or in the dressing room?
As soon as the final gun went, and we had won by a single point, it seemed that every fan was on the field giving us hugs and celebrating with us.
What are your memories of the trip back home? What was the reaction on campus when the team returned?
Some of our teammates remained in Toronto – which was home for them – and the rest of us took the bus home to London that evening. It was an amazingly quiet trip. Of course we were ecstatic from the win but we felt fortunate to have pulled it off, and were also totally and completely spent. On campus though, the celebrations continued for weeks.
How often to you reminisce about your Vanier Cup win?
Every four or five years, our teammates gather and reminisce. We are like brothers to one another, and the jokes, jibes and stories are as fresh as if it was yesterday that we played together.
What did you study at Western and what career path did you follow after graduation?
I received my law degree at Western and practised law in London for 38 years before recently retiring to the Huntsville area.