50TH VANIER CUP INTERVIEW SERIES: 1983
A conversation with…
Greg Vavra, quarterback & kicker, University of Calgary Dinosaurs
In Vanier Cup XIX, at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, the Calgary Dinosaurs survived a furious second-half comeback by the Queen’s Golden Gaels to prevail 31-21 and capture the first national title in program history. Playing in the final contest of his illustrious university career, quarterback Greg Vavra threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to setting a Vanier Cup record with five field goals. He became the first player in history to win the Hec Crighton Trophy and the Vanier Cup in the same season.
The team started the 1983 season 0-2 in the Western Intercollegiate Football League (now Canada West) and then managed to win eight straight games and capture the Vanier Cup with a first-year head coach. What turned the season around and when were you confident that you could perhaps win the conference title?
The fact it was Peter Connellan’s first year as head coach took everyone time to gel. There was no panic from the coaches, the system did not change and we found our way. We knew we had talent on both sides of the football. When we ran off four straight wins, we knew we would be in the mix in our tough conference.
What is your memory of the events surrounding the Vanier Week festivities?
I was in Toronto the year before as a nominee for the Hec Crighton Trophy but it was special to have the entire team with me in 1983. I remember the pre-game warm-up and the throng of Queen’s fans entering the stadium. We knew we were in a hostile environment.
I also remember that the Vanier Cup organizing committee did a very good job staging the events we attended; everything was first-class.
What was the pressure during the week and going into the game knowing you were the first Hec Crighton Trophy winner from the University of Calgary and trying to win the school’s first Vanier Cup?
I do not remember feeling the pressure but was comfortable with the people I was surrounded with. We were very good friends and knew if everyone played well we would be fine. It was a very novel situation, so I enjoyed every minute of it.
What is your fondest memory of the Vanier Cup win?
The last touchdown drive that put us in front is a lasting memory. Having our families down in Toronto was very special. The event that University put on afterwards made it very special for the players and families.
You led the entire game by a fairly large margin until Queen’s recovered a fumbled punt to go ahead before your game-winning touchdown drive. What is your recollection of that drive and how confident were you that you could take back the lead?
I remember everyone being calm. We went into that drive with just over three minutes remaining. No one was in panic mode. There was a concern that we missed on some earlier drives and settled for field goals instead of touchdowns. We knew what we needed to win the game.
(Note: Trailing 17-3 after three quarters, Queen’s scored 18 of the next 21 points to take a 21-20 advantage with 3:32 remaining on the clock. The Dinosaurs retook the lead 68 seconds later thanks to a 32-yard TD pass from Vavra to Mike Siroishka – followed by a successful two-point convert. Vavra added a 21-yard field goal with five seconds left to round out the scoring)
What do you remember of the celebrations once you returned home with the Vanier Cup?
We all were surprised by the media coverage and the engagement from the city as a whole. It was great fun to be treated so well by everyone. The entire community was behind us.
Explain the bond that exists to this day between the players and parents from the 1983 championship team.
We all went on, got married, raised families and have our careers. My wedding party was three players from that team. We have gone on to give something back to the community and the program. The combination of personalities and success basically is the bond that has tied everyone together for such a long period of time. The entire group — players, coaches and support staff — remains a special group, very special even after all these years.
What did the Vanier Cup win do for you inside and outside of football?
Inside of football it created a chance for me to go to the next level; outside the game, the name recognition allowed me to go into business. There was an element of trust when I showed up to meet someone I did not know that created opportunities for me that would not have been there if I hadn’t had such a successful season in 1983.
What did you after your varsity career?
I went on to play five years in the Canadian Football League with Calgary (1984-1985), BC (1986-1987) and Edmonton (1988). In 1984, I became the starting quarterback of the Stampeders, winning six games. I graduated with BComm and Law degrees from the U of C and now operate an oil and gas company in Calgary with my father.
I also served as the Dinos offensive coordinator for five years under Blake Nill (2006-2010) and I remain active with the Dinos football alumni (Dinos 5th Quarter), serving as their president and giving back to the program that gave so much to me.