By CLAUDE SCILLEY
They came not to celebrate Richardson Stadium Saturday, but to bury it.
The last game at a stadium that, for 44 years, had been home to one of the most storied football teams in the land was attended by 1,234 souls, many of them there to watch their Carleton Ravens, who likely had no inkling they were watching the final page being written in what is, in full context, a glorious history.
Yes, glorious. People have condemned the stadium for years—for its lack of amenities, its shabby appearance, the neglect it received from the university—long before engineers finally condemned it for its structural deficiencies. They don’t remember how it was greeted when it was built, about 3,000 seats larger than its predecessor on campus.
It was largely welcomed in 1971, because the old girl on Union Street, across from Victoria School—once the site of a Grey Cup game—had, too, grown long in the tooth. Besides, with the growth of the student body, and the huge success the Golden Gaels had enjoyed in the sixties, it simply was no longer big enough. It wasn’t a tough ticket to get into a Queen’s football game in those days; it was an impossible ticket.
So here came this new stadium, with plenty of parking, a jewel on the brand new west campus, and it was wonderful.
Soon, it will be gone, sadly to be remembered not for glory of its birth, but for the regret that the football stadium ever was moved off the main campus.
Not many people will mourn, given the state it was in Saturday, a Halloween afternoon that was spookily symbolic. The game began in pleasant weather: the sun came out, it was eight degrees, almost no wind, perfect for a celebration that never came. There was no ceremony; there were no dignitaries, no speeches. We were left to wonder how difficult it would it have been for Queen’s to invite some Gaels who played in the first game to come back, maybe do a ceremonial kickoff, or at least wave to the crowd to mark the occasion?
The game itself quickly, however, became something of a dirge for the faithful who were, mere four weeks previously, treated to perhaps the team’s finest game this side of the championship season of 2009—a revenge-filled victory over Guelph—but on this day were exposed to perhaps Queen’s worst game in that time; one where, by the final dozen or so minutes, the players were exhibiting all the enthusiasm for the game that the administration had shown for the stadium in its final dozen or so years. It had become time to put everyone out of their misery.
On the east berm: the most striking metaphor for the day, the metal skeleton of what was, just a week ago, the student bleachers, full of young people, excited to be there, if not for the football game, then certainly for the thrill of being part of the event, to salute the alumni who, in the new stadium, by the way, will no longer have a track around which to parade at halftime of the Homecoming game.
Not many people know it, but another tradition has been put to rest, that of students swarming the field at halftime of Homecoming, with engineers slapping their coats on the turf in a ritual that, while mysterious, compelled Wilfrid Laurier coach Michael Faulds, two years ago, to instruct his players to stay on the sideline for a few moments at halftime, just to take in the spectacle. Faulds had been a quarterback at Western, where they know a thing or two about tradition. “This is a memory,” Faulds told his players that day, “that you've got to have.” There will be no more rushes to the field anymore, since the new stands will be elevated, and there will be an eight-foot drop from the front row to the field.
The new Queen’s: Where traditions go to die.
By the end of the game Saturday, the weather had changed but it was still symbolic: cloudy and gray, the temperature was dropping, as if Mother Nature had, too, gone on to better things, since no one seemed to care. People milled about, several of them not in any hurry to leave a place that harboured happy memories that soon will render those of the final utter debacle forgotten.
A young man went around the field, collecting bits of grass and turf from here and there. Across the field, a coach from the visiting team, clearly looking for a keepsake from his alma mater, found one at the foot of the student stands, possibly left there by workers with a keener sense of tradition and history than the soul-less gang now in charge at Queen’s. A hometown member of the current team sat quietly on a players bench, staring straight ahead. It was almost half an hour before Corey Flude finally left the field to get changed.
As the crowd dwindled, a man who spent uncountable Saturdays at the stadium in the last 27 or so years, first as a player, then alumnus, fan, high school coach and now parent, quietly ambled to a spot in the middle of the field, and simply looked around. There weren’t many people left to wonder what thoughts were going through Tim Pendergast’s mind at that moment.
Seems a lot had happened at that spot, around the 40-yard line at the north end of the field, when Pendergast was a quarterback for the Gaels. A long pass to Jock Climie in the Homecoming game of 1989 originated from that spot, he recalled, turning to face the scoreboard.
Looking to the south, Pendergast talked about a sequence later that autumn when the play was going the other way.
“I threw a pass to Matt Angus and he dropped it,” Pendergast said, as if it happened half an hour ago. “The next play, Gord Weber hit me and I got hurt. Then Doug Corbett ran the old inside trap and scored, but I was done for the year.”
That was the Dunsmore Cup game and, though Queen’s won it, Pendergast was a spectator the following week for the Churchill Bowl and the Gaels never had a chance against Saskatchewan.
“In ’92, it was the same spot,” Pendergast said, the memory reel now rolling on its own. “Second and 10, and the screen was called. They played man, I was supposed to go to a receiver, and I hit Dan Wright right in the back of the leg, because he thought it was a still a screen. He was going up the field to block.
“The very next play was the infamous punt.”
Anyone who was there that day would surely put that “infamous punt” on their list of Top 10 Richardson recollections. Jamie Galloway kicked the ball, it was blocked, and McGill ran it for a touchdown that put them into the lead, with barely a minute left in the game—but there was a flag on the field. A young player named Franz Wellington, who went on to be an all-star in the OQIFC but whose name, alas, will forever be connected with that fateful play, was caught blocking from behind. The play came back, Queen’s defence held, and the Gaels held on to win the game and, three weeks later, the Vanier Cup.
“Everything was on that same spot,” Pendergast said, “so I went and stood and soaked it all in.”
Luke Ball, who played high school ball for Pendergast at Holy Cross— and whose father, Rob, had been a member of Queen’s 1978 national championship team—was the last member of the last Queen’s team to play at the stadium to leave its field. It was coincidence, he said, but with that kind of legacy, you wonder.
“It was a tough one to see,” Luke said. “You want to have a good game to end Richardson Stadium, but a new stadium will mean new people, new teammates. The program is going to benefit greatly for it.”
The Homecoming games will likely be the ones he remembers best from his five years with the Gaels, Ball said. “Looking up at the stands, looking at the old wooden, paint-chipped stands, running out of that tunnel with the cages half falling off. The tradition of the stadium, knowing there were some great guys who played here in the last 40 years.”
The old stadium, he suggested, may even have played a hand in deciding his academic future.
“I was a water boy when I was 10,” he said. “I’ve been in the system for a while. I couldn’t really leave Kingston. Watching from the hill, when they played Laval here (in 2009)—you can’t leave Kingston when you’ve got tradition here like this.”