R.I.P. Gerry James (22 October 1934 - 13 February 2024)

Started by Hepcat, February 19, 2024, 04:54:06 AM

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Gerry "Kid Dynamite" James passed away a few days ago on the very same day as former teammate Kenny Ploen. James was born in Regina, Saskatchewan but attended Kelvin High School in Winnipeg. But in 1952 at the tender age of seventeen(!) he joined the Winnipeg Blue Bombers professional football team as a running back thus becoming the youngest player in CFL post-WWII history. He played at both halfback and fullback, returned both kickoffs and punts and kicked for the Blue Bombers over a ten year stint from 1952-62. (He missed the 1956 and 1963 seasons due to injury.) He played one more year in 1964 as a RB and kicker for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

He rushed for a total of 5554 yards on 994 carries for an average of 5.6 yards per carry with 58 TDs over those years. His best seasons were 1955 when he rushed for 1205 yards with an average of 6.4 yards per carry and 1957 when he rushed for 1192 yards with an average of 6.1 yards per carry. (The fact that the Blue Bombers had the absolutely sensational Leo Lewis in the backfield as well beginning in 1955 served to limit the number of times James got to carry the ball.) He was the CFL scoring leader in 1957 and 1960 as well. He also set a CFL record with 18 rushing TDs in 1957 which was equalled by Jim Germany of the Edmonton Eskimos in 1981 but wasn't broken until Mike Pringle of the Montréal Alouettes notched 19 in 2000 (although James did it in a 16 game season while Pringle did so in an 18 game season).

He won the Schenley Award as Most Outstanding Canadian in 1954 and 1957 and was a CFL West All-Star in 1955 and 1957. He played in the 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962 Grey Cup games with his Bombers emerging triumphant in the last four. Gerry James was inaugurated into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Blue Bombers' Ring of Honour in 2016.

But he also played hockey at the highest levels after the Blue Bomber season ended! He was with the Winnipeg Monarchs when they lost in the Memorial Cup (junior championship) final in 1951 and was then transferred to the Toronto Marlboros with whom he celebrated a Memorial Cup championship in 1955. He then played 154 regular season games from late 1955 to the end of the 1959-60 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL as well as 15 playoff games. He scored a total of 14 goals for the Leafs in the regular season and one more in the playoffs. The Maple Leafs had tried to get him to play only hockey but they weren't willing to make up the salary he was getting from the Blue Bombers and he was better at football anyway. The Maple Leafs only valued him as a "policeman" which in more modern parlance is a goon or enforcer. As a result the Leafs had him with the Rochester Americans of the AHL for part of the 1957-58 season and the Winnipeg Warriors of the WHL for the duration of the 1960-61 season.

His most extraordinary achievement though was on 30 November 1957. After playing in the 1957 Grey Cup game at Varsity Stadium in Toronto in the afternoon, he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs that same evening! Hey, he had nothing to celebrate after his team's 32-7 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Maple Leaf Gardens was just over two kilometers away so why not? (He must have packed up his skates for the trip to Toronto.) A fellow does need to earn a living however he can.

Then after the Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup on 28 November 1959, he joined the Maple Leafs who went on to be Stanley Cup finalists that same season in early April (though they lost 4-0 to the Montréal Canadiens).

I don't believe these feats will ever be equalled. All things considered, Gerry James therefore had one of the most extraordinary careers of any professional athlete going back to the very early years of the 20th century.

Here are some of the Gerry James cards and photo pages I have in my collection:

1954 Blue Ribbon

27 September 1958 Weekend Magazine

18 November 1958 Star Weekly

1959 Topps

1962 Post Cereal

1960-61 Parkhurst

1960-61 Shirriff

James' desire to play continued to burn even after he was no longer capable of competing at the highest levels. He played amateur hockey for the Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Senior Hockey League in 1964-65, 1965-66, 1966-67 and 1971-72. Beginning in 1973, he then coached the Yorkton Terriers, the Melville Millionaires and the Estevan Bruins of the Saskatchewan Junior A Hockey League for eight seasons. In 1988-89 he returned to coach the Moose Jaw Warriors of the major junior Western Hockey League from which Memorial Cup finalists are drawn.

Here's a book outlining his career:

Gerry James was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in 1982 and the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 1994.

Collecting! It's what I do!