Two Saturdays ago, I had a scheduling conflict.
I could have stayed at home, sat in front of the big screen all afternoon, and watched this year’s Uteck Bowl from Quebec City, featuring the St. Francis Xavier X-Men and Laval Rouge et Or. Being a St. FX alumnus, the game had my interest.
Otherwise I could have driven to the new RBC Centre in Dartmouth to see my granddaughter playing a home game for her girls’ peewee hockey team. Because her club had been playing out of town lately, I hadn’t seen her in action for a while. So that also had my interest.
My decision was to record the football contest for later viewing, watch the girls’ hockey game, and hope nobody tells me the football score on my way home.
I made the right choice.
As usual, I enjoyed seeing the girls playing. I like the action and the competitiveness, whether they win or lose.
I can’t say the same about getting home and turning on the TV recording. It should have been three hours of great football entertainment. But I found myself fast-forwarding through the telecast. It was finished in 38 minutes.
I couldn’t believe how the score kept piling up against X. I just couldn’t keep watching it. From an Atlantic perspective, it was all lowlights. There were no highlights.
I still can’t believe that 63-0 score.
I found myself thinking back to the football glory days in Antigonish when, under the late Don Loney, the X-Men compiled an extraordinary record of 133 victories, two ties and just 31 losses over his 17 seasons at the helm.
There were no 63-0 spankings in those days.
I had arrived on the cathedral town campus in 1956, one year after Loney’s debut with the club. Covering games for the Xaverian Weekly campus paper, I quickly discovered how much Don loved the game, having been a four-time all-star in the Canadian Football League, and having a wonderful approach to coaching.
In the wake of the recent embarrassment against Laval, I wondered what Loney would have thought about the result.
Since the Uteck Bowl was established as a national semi-final in 2003, the X-Men have been in the match only twice. Though they lost their previous appearance — at home in Antigonish in 2015 — that year’s 36-9 defeat didn’t seem bad when compared to this year’s outcome.
It would be very easy to step into a pulpit and suggest the 2018 drubbing was just another indication the St. FX football program has collapsed.
But hold up on that criticism.
The more obvious story is the awful showing the AUS conference has made pretty much every season since the Uteck Bowl replaced the Atlantic Bowl and was baptized to honour former Saint Mary’s Huskies head coach, the late Larry Uteck.
Lopsided defeats by Atlantic winners are becoming far too common.
That wasn’t the case when the first Uteck contest was played. In that one, Saint Mary’s crushed Simon Fraser 60-9 in Halifax.
But that’s it.
Since then, the AUS has had a 2-9 record — and even that figure doesn’t sufficiently sum up how terrible things have been.
The true arithmetic hurts.
In the conference’s nine defeats beginning in 2005, the bottom line shows Atlantic schools being humiliated by an almost unbelievable 441-95 margin.
SMU has done okay, recording a 2-1 record, including a 24-2 verdict against Laval in 2007, as well as its 2003 laugher. Even the Huskies had a walloping — a 38-4 loss to Calgary.
Sadly, other AUS schools are a winless 0-8.
Acadia has been to five Uteck Bowls, losing all five. They were crushed 31-10 by Wilfrid Laurier, beaten 57-10 by Laval, trounced 45-21 by McMaster, whipped 42-7 by Laval and, worst of all, manhandled 81-3 last year.
The Mount Allison Mounties reached the semi-final only once — and were crushed 48-21 by Laval.
The overall Maritime record wasn’t nearly as bad in the days of the Atlantic Bowl. At least the home teams entered those games with some hope. Yes, there were some lopsided losses, but the games were never automatic defeats.
You only have to refer to the achievements of Loney’s and Uteck’s teams to see something positive.
Consider Loney’s record.
At one time his team went on a winning streak that lasted a phenomenal eight years. Think about that for a moment.
Under Loney, X finished first in the conference nine times, became playoff champions six times, won four Atlantic Bowls, and had an impressive win over Waterloo Lutheran in the second Canadian College Bowl in 1966.
Then there was Uteck.
He piloted SMU from 1982 to 1997, was named conference coach-of-the-year five times and Canadian coach-of-the-year twice, took his teams to five Atlantic Bowls and led them to the Vanier Cup three times.
Don and Larry were two of the most outstanding football coaches this part of the country ever had.
I attended most Atlantic Bowls from the late 1950s through the 1990s. In my Chronicle Herald years, I developed a reputation of making predictions — bad predictions.
The one I recall best was in 1973. That time the Huskies were hosting Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks. In my Saturday column, I said the Ontario champions would beat SMU easily. One reason: SMU had never won an Atlantic Bowl before that.
So what happened? The Huskies scored an impressive victory behind star quarterback Bill Robinson. The campus went wild.
The result hit home — literally.
After the game, I was in the Saint Mary’s dressing room interviewing some of the victorious Huskies. One of my habits.
Meanwhile, back home, the telephone began ringing, ringing and ringing. My wife was the only one there to answer. Students at SMU had begun a phone blitz regarding my prediction.
The Townsends’ only solution? Two days later, we had our home number removed from the phone directory, never to return.