If there is a ghost that hangs over the annual coaches' media conference at the Grey Cup, it is surely the late Jim (Shaky) Hunt, the legendary Toronto broadcaster and columnist.
Hunt, who died at 79 in 2006, was both the CFL's greatest critic and biggest fan, particularly when it came to his beloved Toronto Argonauts. The nickname Shaky went back to his days as a porous goaltender in the intramural league at the University of Western Ontario. The Argos are not in this year's Grey Cup but since Toronto is the host city, Hunt's presence looms large with media people of a certain age.
Actually, the mischievous Hunt is a literal presence at the coaches' media breakfast to this day, thanks to his famous sex question. The question is whether the coaches allow their players to indulge in sex during Grey Cup week. It is still asked every year in Hunt's honour by Edmonton Sun columnist Terry Jones, the ranking senior football scribe.
This year's coaches, Rick Campbell of the Ottawa RedBlacks and Dave Dickenson of the Calgary Stampeders, provided answers that rank among the best. Not bad, considering Campbell already held the best-answer title from 2015 when Ottawa lost to the Edmonton Eskimos.
Then again, Campbell is an old hand with this matter, since his father Hugh coached and managed the Eskimos to eight CFL championships from the 1970s through the 1990s. In true CFL tradition, Hugh Campbell himself answered the question more than once through the years. Apparently, this did not go over well at home.
"I just don't want to get in trouble with my mom again," the younger Campbell said Wednesday, referring to last year's answer. "I'm talking about sex on national media; she's saying: 'Hey, what are you doing there buddy?'"
But he gamely took another stab and provided an answer almost as good as last year's: "I don't know, if you don't succeed try, try again. I guess that's our motto this year for the Grey Cup."
Not to be outdone, Dickenson also got a big laugh when he said his policy was, "keep it consistent. If you've been doing it all year, keep doing it. This is a no-different week, so watch out Toronto."
A year ago, Rick Campbell brought down the house with this one: "It's my job to put guys in the best position to have success, whether it's on or off the field, so I guess I'm going to give advice more than a policy. This would probably apply to most of our players and coaches, and it mirrors our football team this year. The odds aren't good and no one gave you much of a chance but, if you pay attention to detail and you execute and you do it with zest and enthusiasm, anything can happen."
Two other contenders for best reply came from former Argos head coach Michael (Pinball) Clemons and Dickenson's boss, Stampeders president and general manager John Hufnagel, when he was the team's coach.
Quoth Clemons, with a clever set-up line: "Personally speaking, this game is of such magnitude that, far be it from me to interrupt what may be a player's normal course of action for readying himself for a game. If it has worked thus far, please indulge. If it has not benefited you to this point, please abstain."
Two years ago, Hufnagel looked at Jones and said: "Well, Terry, the recurring theme or words that have come out of my players' mouths from the start of training camp is to finish. I would hope they would have that same directive if they happen to have whatever you're talking about."
The best description of Hunt was that he was the world's oldest teenager and it was in that sense the sex question came about. One year, Hunt grew bored with a long stretch of x-and-o questions directed at the coaches and saw a chance for some mischief.
So he jumped to his feet and asked both coaches if, despite the importance of the game, they let their players have sex during Grey Cup week. History does not record what year it was but the reaction was such that Old Hunt, as he liked to refer to himself in print, asked it every year until his last Grey Cup in 1999. That ended a Grey Cup attendance streak that began in 1949 and Jones began asking the question himself in 2000 the following year to pay tribute to Hunt.
Your correspondent was fortunate enough to witness the fallout from the annual question in 1988 when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers edged the B.C. Lions in Ottawa. I sat next to Hunt at the coaches' breakfast and next to him was Joe Galat, the Lions' GM and every bit as irrepressible as Hunt.
Lions head coach Larry Donovan was famously humourless and tight-lipped. So he gave a typical terse response when Hunt asked the question. Hunt immediately lit into Galat, chiding him for hiring such a boring coach.
Galat, who undoubtedly thought the conversation was going no further than the breakfast table, jokingly stuck up for his coach. "He's really an interesting guy," Galat said. "Don't think he's a prude. His wife teaches sex education. And she wears garters."
This was all Hunt needed for his column the next day. He related the story and added the kicker, "If you are wondering who was the source of this information, it was Donovan's general manager, Joe Galat."
The column ran in both the Toronto Sun and Ottawa Sun. Many giggles had to be suppressed for the rest of the week when interviewing the stone-faced Donovan.
The real payoff came the morning after the Grey Cup game when Hunt and I were standing in the line for the metal detector that was then part of airport security. Right behind us stood Galat, Donovan and their wives.
The Donovans kept their distance while Galat's wife shot a look at Hunt and said: "You are a bad man." Hunt boomed his usual hearty laugh and then, when he noticed Mrs. Donovan had stepped into the washroom, said, "See, she's going to take off her garters so they don't set off the machine."
As I wrote in an earlier account of this story, even Mrs. Galat had to smile.