A conversation with…

Miles Gorrell, defensive lineman, University of Ottawa Gee-Gees

In Vanier Cup XI, the Ottawa Gee-Gees capped an unblemished 11-0 season with a 14-9 win over the Calgary Dinosaurs in the third and final CIAU championship game played at Toronto’s CNE Stadium. Miles Gorrell, who would end up in the Canadian football Hall of Fame as an offensive lineman, was a rookie on the Gee-Gees defensive line in 1975 and made a significant contribution in the Vanier Cup as Ottawa held the Dinosaurs to a single point after halftime and only 10 first downs in the game.

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

We were playing against Calgary, which was my hometown and I had been in Ottawa for only three months. It was my new friends playing against my old friends whom I had grown up with, and when we won I gave handshakes to my old friends and hugs to my new ones. We also played on artificial turf for the first time and we all got new shoes – those black and white Adidas shoes are a key memory.

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

It’s all in black and white, and it feels as if it all happened very quickly. The overall experience of coming from junior football to competing on that national stage for a Canadian university championship is the biggest memory.

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

I’d say key moment rather than key play. When our starting quarterback, Jim Colton, got hurt, our 17-year-old backup, Yves LeClerc, went into the game. He didn’t panic, he just did what coach Don Gilbert told him to do: keep handing the ball off to Neil Lumsden!

(Note: An all-Canadian running back who also handled kicking duties, Lumsden was named game MVP thanks in large part to his 169 rushing yards in 27 carries)

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

Every time you’d go to Toronto back then it was a big deal, but taking the bus and the whole trip was very smooth. It was all meant to be – we felt we were in the right spot at the right time. And the guys who’d worked hard for four years deserved it.

How did the coaches prepare you for the game?

Our head coach, Don Gilbert, never had any negativity. He was always positive with us and is fun to be around even to this day because of his positivity. He just kept telling us we were the best. Nobody could beat us because we believed in each other.

How did you or the team react to the stadium and the crowd?

It was a night game, which was very strange for us. I was a Prairie Boy coming to downtown Toronto to play on that artificial turf at Exhibition Stadium for a national championship. It was a great night.

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

I was very proud of the guys – my teammates were more important than the trophy. The whole thing was so surreal, not losing a game the entire season… it has always seemed surreal. It was a fun team to play on and to have good times with. The friendships that you get from those teams were everything to me.

What was the reaction on campus when the team returned?

It was a big deal for the athletic department because at that time there were still referendums happening on campus about whether we should have a football team, even though we were so strong. That being said, I have nothing but good memories about the University of Ottawa in the 70’s – it was a great place to grow up.

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

I was very proud to be part of that team, because they set the stage for me. I was a rookie that season and the veterans showed me the way. They gave me a sense of where I was going and what I could accomplish because they’d done it. I admired them for their work ethic and when Paul Kilger – my teammate on the defensive line in 1975 – coached me later on, he helped define what I was going to do – just work hard.

The Vanier Cup was the big thing behind all my athletic accomplishments that came after. Becoming a CIAU all-Canadian (1976), getting drafted to the CFL, winning the Grey Cup and being inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame – the Vanier Cup is a major part of all of that.

How often to you reminisce about your Vanier Cup win?

I like to tell people about 1975. As players, we knew we were a good team but we were also lucky to be there. Don Gilbert was a great coach and he found people to play together, people who complemented each other.

The 1975 team has been called by some “the greatest Canadian college team” due to all the players who went on to play professional football. Does that quote still resonate today?

I really admire the program at Laval and their championship run in recent years has been impressive, but I would take that 1975 team to play against any team.

What did you study at uOttawa?

I studied Business Administration. I think at the time, my father, who was in the stands watching me at the Vanier Cup, was more proud that I was in University than that the fact I was on the football team.

More about Miles Gorrell (courtesy of University of Ottawa Athletics):

Drafted in 1978 by the Calgary Stampeders, Miles Gorrell went on to a 19-year playing career in the CFL from 1978 to 1996 with Calgary (1978-1982), Ottawa (1982), Montreal (1982-1985), Hamilton (1985-1991, 1996) and Winnipeg (1992-1995). He ranks fifth in CFL history for most games played (321) and eighth for most seasons. He won one Grey Cup with Hamilton (1986), played in two more with Winnipeg, was a five-time CFL Eastern Division All-Star and a two-time CFL Outstanding Lineman finalist. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2013.

From 2005 to 2010, Gorrell served as a player personnel assistant and director of Canadian scouting with the Toronto Argonauts. He currently works as a scout for the Ottawa RedBlacks.