Where does one begin summing up more than a century of Mustang football? The 32 Yates Cup titles. The seven Vanier Cup championships. The 16 bowl victories. Maybe the six Hec Crighton Trophy winners.
For Paul Gleason, author of The Mustang Legend, it start with the essence of the program – the thousands of student-athletes who donned the purple and white and took to the gridiron for the Mustangs.
One in particular, Jack Parry, was the main catalyst for Gleason, a Mustangs Football assistant coach.
“When putting together Jack’s bio for his Wall of Champions induction in 2005, I was amazed at what I learned. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross during the Second World War; he was a war hero; he was recruited by the Toronto RCAF Hurricane football team and led them to a Grey Cup; he was signed by the Cleveland Indians; he was an Olympic athlete as a sprinter; he was a Med student at Western; and he was team captain for Mustangs football.
“I thought, ‘This had to be told to a wider audience.’”
Along with film editing duties with the Mustangs team, Gleason has also completed more than 90 Wall of Champion videos which, at times, was an onerous task because there was no single place to find the information. He did a lot of leg work, spent countless hours in archives and began keeping files on everyone and every things, including games, to make things little easier.
“I now have every year documented and collected this immense amount of material. Thinking of the history we have here, the alumni base, the players who have come through this program, I figured our fan base would be interested in something like this,” Gleason said.
The Mustang Legend, a pictorial history of Mustang football released this month, features more than 800 pictures that document the tradition and legend of football at Western. The book chronicles the team’s history from its beginnings in 1908 through to the 2018 season. The book is divided into 10 chapters, each highlighting a unique era of Mustang football. The foreword is written by famed sports-writer Stephen Brunt, BA’81, MA’82.
There are plenty of well-known stories, but also a lot of surprises, including the football riot of 1945 – a story that was news to Gleason, too.
In 1945, there was no interleague schedule due to the Second World War. Instead, an exhibition series between Western, McGill, Queen’s and Toronto was held, each facing each other once for the ‘unofficial’ Yates Cup.
Western and Toronto was a huge rivalry at the time; the teams hadn’t seen each other in six years. The night before, Western students set up roadblocks around campus, including barricading University Bridge, guarding it with baseball bats in hand to ensure Toronto fans wouldn’t attempt to vandalize the field or the campus.
On the day of the game, 2,900 Toronto students came to London – more than Western had on its entire campus – in an attempt to buy the last 500 rush seats for the sold out game.
“At halftime, the U of T students rushed the field and attacked the one set of goal posts in an attempt to bring them down. Then Western students came on the field to stop them,” said Gleason, noting the Toronto Star referred to it as a “donnybrook.” “Then the Toronto students took gasoline, wrote a ‘T’ on the field and lit it on fire. The field was burning. Tear gas canisters were thrown onto the field. Bing Whittaker, who was broadcasting the game, was crying from all the tear gas.
“At that time, Western had a cannon they used to shot off after touchdowns. So they started shooting to try and break things up. Over the PA they started playing God Save the Queen in an attempt to calm them down. Finally, they got it stopped and resumed the game. Western went on to win 18-10. It’s one of those sort of stories you think you would have heard of at some point.”
Recently, Gleason met with some of the members of that 1945 team, including Herb Ballantyne and Jack Fairs, at Western’s annual Wall of Champions dinner where this year Gleason was being inducted. Showing the pair the book was a great moment for Gleason.
“Herb starts talking about how he remembered that game and started telling me all about it and had a great laugh,” he said. “They were blown away. It was kind of cool. Jack would start telling stories about playing and it was like he was going back to being 19 years old, remembering all the guys. But three Mustangs were also killed in the war and you also saw how Jack reacted to that. There were a lot of memories and emotions.”