A conversation with…
Walt McKee, kicker, University of Manitoba Bisons

In Vanier Cup V, the Manitoba Bisons built a comfortable 24-8 halftime lead on their way to a 24-15 victory over the McGill Redmen, at Varsity Stadium in Toronto. Kicker Walt McKee contributed to the win with three converts, 152 yards on four kickoffs, and a 35-yard field goal on the final play of the opening half. The Bisons completed the 1969 season with an unblemished 8-0 overall record and, with McKee once again handling kicking duties, they went on to repeat as Vanier Cup champions in 1970, becoming the first program to accomplish the feat.

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

In 1969, it was the last black and white telecast of the Vanier Cup on CBC. It was a great experience as the event was in Toronto and we stayed at the Royal York Hotel downtown. It was a big deal for the team as we had the “big city experience”, but we were focused on the game as we were the underdogs against McGill and wanted to prove that we belonged and could defeat the higher-ranked Redmen.

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

The game was played on a Friday evening in bitter cold and the field was hard as a rock. It rained before the game, and then it turned cold and made the field hard to run on. The ground was so hard that the long cleats some players had were not working. They had to grab running shoes from spectators. I was not affected as I wore soccer cleats, and also it was not as bad for a kicker. But it was still tough to kick during the game. In the end though, there was elation after upsetting McGill and knowing we were national champions for the first time.

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

I do not remember a key play but rather our dominance in the running game despite the field, with a power sweep play that was tough to stop. Our defence was also determined throughout the game to match up with a powerful McGill team. I just remember it as a rewarding team effort to overcome such a difficult opponent.

What was your personal greatest play or moment?

There was not a specific play, but the moment when we knew at the end that we were going to defeat McGill when not a lot of people gave Manitoba a chance to win. A lot of the players were part of the 1968 team that lost in the Western Bowl semifinal to Queen’s, so it was sweet redemption to come back and win the national championship in 1969.

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

Henry Janzen, our head coach, had the same preparations for the Vanier Cup as he did for the other games during the season. However, we played in snowy conditions in the Western Bowl semifinal against Windsor and we had to practice for the Vanier Cup on a small area of grass with four temporary lights on a stadium field to get ready for McGill. It was not the best preparation conditions but we believed in each other and felt we had some unfinished business after losing in 1968. We wanted to complete the goal of winning a national championship.

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

We played in front of a big crowd the week before in Winnipeg, so the larger crowd in Toronto for the championship was not a big deal. The weather was the major factor as it was so bitter cold and got progressively colder throughout the evening.

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

We were so happy because most people felt it was an upset win but we believed in our abilities and were proud of our accomplishment. We had a great celebration. In those days, we wore shirts and ties on road trips. Some of the guys could not find their ties when we were coming back home because of the celebration after the game.

What was the reaction on campus when the team returned?

The airport was packed when we returned as people watched the game on TV and it was like winning the Grey Cup; we were celebrated like local heroes. The campus was great to come back to. There was a large pep rally on campus and we were recognized by the mayor and province with honourary awards to commemorate the victory.

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

Several players on our team were showcased and received attention by the CFL and were drafted. There was no combine back then and the CFL took notice of the Bison program after our Vanier win. I was drafted in 1971 and I think being part of back-to-back Vanier Cup championships was a big reason why I was scouted and picked by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

How often to you reminisce about your Vanier Cup wins?

It was very close-knit team and still, after 45 years, when we see each other there is a bond that has never been broken. Winning bonded us and every time we get together, we reminiscence about those games. As the years go on, we get better and better as a team!

More about Walt McKee (courtesy of University of Manitoba Athletics):

Walt McKee graduated from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Physical Education in 1972 and achieved his master’s in Education in 1980. After being drafted by Winnipeg with the 28th overall pick (fourth round) in 1971, he debuted with the Blue Bombers in 1972 and won the Dr. Beattie Martin Trophy as Canadian rookie of the year in the West division. Over the next two seasons, he was second in the league in punting averaging 44.2 and 41.8 yards per punt, respectively. After three campaigns with Winnipeg, he wrapped up his CFL career with Edmonton in 1975, helping the Eskimos win the Grey Cup.

McKee taught at the elementary, junior and senior high school levels from 1972 to 1993 and was education coordinator in the Winnipeg School Division from 1987 to 1993. He became Bison Sports Athletic Director in 1993, a post he held until 2001. He then moved to the position of assistant to the Dean in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management until 2007.

McKee also achieved his NCCP Level 5 certification in 1992 and was co-founder of the Bison women’s soccer program. After starting out as club team, the program obtained varsity status and joined CIS for the 2005 season with McKee as head coach. He retired from coaching after the 2009 campaign.

Scott Harrigan
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