For those of us who follow the Canadian Football League, rules that might jar a fan of the American game are perfectly normal: three downs to make 10 yards; a 110-yard playing field that’s 65 yards wide with end zones 20 yards deep; and 12 players per side, just to name a few.
But take away the rouge (you might want to look that one up if you’re unfamiliar with it), and scoring is pretty standard. A touchdown is worth six points, a field goal three, and PATs count one with a two-point conversion option.
Go back to the 1955 season and earlier, however, and a Canadian football touchdown was worth just five points.
The change to a six-point score was announced on January 28, 1956, and hailed by The Canadian Press as “the most revolutionary in the game since the forward pass was introduced from the United States in 1931.”
The Canadian Rugby Union met in Toronto and decided to alter the scoring system, one that dated all the way back to the 1870s. Those in favor argued that two field goals should not be equal to a touchdown.
“After all, it’s much easier to kick a field goal from 30 yards than to score a touchdown from 30,” said Bill Bolvin, manager of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Western Interprovincial Football Union.
Like any major change, though, there was resistance.
Bull Ritchie, who kicked off for the Toronto Argonauts in the first Grey Cup game in 1909, said a TD worth six points was an attempt to “Americanize the game too much,” and former British Columbia Lions coach Annis Stutkus lamented, “in these days of high costs some teams can possibly afford an odd specialist instead of a specialized team and could pick up points with field goals.”
The rule innovation was made official on March 3, with Montreal Alouettes owner Leo Dandurand, Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union official Bobby Coulter and Ontario Rugby Football Union president Frank Commins protesting.
Dandurand said the alteration was a “flight of fancy.”
Rules committee chairman Bert Warwick, however, insisted the change was needed.
“There is no defense against a field goal,” he told TCP. “There is considerable defense against the touchdown. A touchdown is more valuable than two field goals.”
I recently spoke to Dr. Frank Cosentino, a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame who has authored or co-authored 17 books – including Canadian Football: The Grey Cup Years. He played 10 years in the CFL and coached 12 years of college football, winning two Vanier Cups (the Canadian college football championship) while guiding the Western Mustangs.
The five-point TD was part of the game when Cosentino played high school ball, but changed during his college days.
“I think that it was a reaction taking place with more of the movement away from rugby connection and more with the American game,” he said.
It also came at a time when the professional game was moving toward consolidation.
“Really, in 1956, the CFL was yet to be formed officially,” Cosentino explained. “There were two independent leagues. There was the Western Interprovincial Football Union with Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and British Columbia (it used to be known in 1935 as the Western Interprovincial Rugby Union but as one wag said, ‘We’re not playing rugby, it’s football.’) In the east it was called the Big Four (Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal) but officially the IRFU (Interprovincial Rugby Football Union).
“In 1956, the two unions formed the Canadian Football Council. Two years later, the CFL was formed.”
Cosentino adds that the “rebranding” of Canadian leagues also helped lure American players north of the United States border.
“There were many ‘imports’ – read Americans – who were confused about signing with a rugby club,” he said. “That was partly the reason, and the six points for a TD resonated with the whole idea of Americans playing football in Canada. I seem to recall, too, that Hamilton head coach Jim Trimble, the former NFL Philadelphia coach, helped push the six-point change.”
If you wonder who scored the first six-point TD in Canadian professional football history, it appears the honor goes to Rollie Mills.
Games between Saskatchewan and Edmonton and Calgary vs. BC were the first pro matchups of the 1956 season, both played on August 18 at 8:30 p.m. Mountain Time. There was no scoring in the first quarter of the Lions’ 17-14 victory over the Stampeders, while Mills tallied an Edmonton TD in the opening frame of the Eskimos’ 15-3 conquest of the Roughriders.
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