By Jack Chambers
To win one national championship in a major sport during a given year more than any university can reasonably expect. To win two is unthinkable. But this year the Golden Bears travelled east at the climax of both the football and the hockey seasons, and came back with national championships.
Clare Drake, Associate Professor of Physical Education, was with the Bears on both triumphant trips. He had to be. This year, for the first time, he was the head coach for both the intercollegiate football and hockey teams.
Coach Drake's achievement in his double role is impossible to assess. It is probably without precedent anywhere in intercollegiate athletics, but both he and — perhaps unfortunately — the students and sports fans in Alberta paused over it for only a moment and went back to business as usual.
This situation caused The Edmonton Journal columnist Wayne Overland to say, "It is a shame college sports in Canada don't have the vast spectator appeal they do in the U.S. Otherwise Drake and his University of Alberta teams would be well on the way to becoming a national legend such as Knute Rockne, Bear Bryant, and other U.S. college coaches established over the years."
The football Bears' Vanier Cup victory in Toronto last November is not surprising in retrospect. After all, the team had some excellent prospects, such as Ed Molstad and John Wilson, both 230-pound seniors who signed professional contracts this spring with the Edmonton Eskimos. And it had an excellent group of assistant coaches, like line coach Roy Stevenson and backfield coach Jim Donlevy, who had been with the team for several seasons. And it had beaten the McMaster University Marauders, who were to be the eastern representatives in the Vanier Cup game, by a score of 11-1 in a pre-season exhibition game.
Nevertheless, the Bears were decidedly underdogs. For one thing, McMaster had grown stronger as the season went along, and were coming into the final with a string of five straight shutout victories, including one the week before against St. Francis Xavier of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, which earned them the right to play the Bears. For another thing, McMaster has a one-year physical education course and many athletes gravitate to it after finishing arts degrees elsewhere. This year, McMaster had 16 football players who had played elsewhere for three or four years as well as several players with experience on their own teams. By contrast, the Bears had 14 rookies in the lineup.
The game was a close one from the beginning. The Bears scored in the first quarter, and McMaster in the second, to tie the score at half time. A single and missed field goal made it 9-7 for McMaster early in the third quarter, until the Bears recovered a fumble and kicked a 10-yard field goal. In classic fashion, the climax came in the final minute of the game. The Marauders, trailing 10-9, found themselves on the Bears' 17-yard line with first down. They had only to punt for the single point that would take the game into overtime, or kick a field goal to win. Instead, they elected to pass for the touchdown, and the pass was intercepted, allowing the Bears to run out the clock and win the championship. Val Schneider, the Golden Bear fullback, linebacker, and punter, was awarded the Ted Morris Memorial Trophy as the game's most valuable player, making the rout complete.
The hockey final in March was more surprising. It was no secret among followers of intercollegiate hockey that the Bears, with 12 rookies in the lineup, had had trouble scoring during the season. Before the opening game, Ed Zemrau, Alberta's Athletic Director, confessed that the team appeared to be weaker this year than it had for several seasons. Nevertheless, they managed to edge out the University of British Columbia in the final scheduled game to get into the championship tournament.
In the tournament, played at the Montreal Forum, they were like a different team. They breathed a sigh of relief when they drew St. Francis Xavier instead of the strong University of Toronto team as their first round opponents. And then they surprised themselves by scoring 12 goals to defeat St. Francis Xavier. However, their performance was overshadowed when Toronto, in the other semi-final, was upset by the University of Loyola Warriors.
Loyola, playing on home ice, controlled most of the action in the championship game, outshooting the Bears by the imposing margin of 47-27. However, the Bears were somehow still in the game in the middle of the third period when centre Ron Cebryk, who had scored three goals the night before against St. Francis Xavier, tied the game at 4-4. Then, with only 17 seconds left to play, Cebryk again found himself with the puck in front of the Loyola goal. This is how one sports writer described what happened next: "While 10,000 avid Loyola fans screamed in disbelief, Cebryk calmly shifted one way and then, when goalie Andy Molino went for the fake, flicked the puck over the netminder and into the gaping net." A few seconds later, Cebryk was named the tournament's most valuable player and the Golden Bears had earned their second major national championship of the year.
Goaltender Dale Halterman, who along with defenceman and captain Gerry Braunberger was named to the Western Conference all-star team this spring, spoke for all the Golden Bears and many of the spectators after the game in Montreal, when he said, "We won it on coaching, that's all. Everybody knows that."
Head coach Clare Drake is about the only person who has offered a serious demurrer to Halterman's conclusion. "When you get right down to it," he says, "it's the kids who determine whether or not a program will succeed." He considers himself lucky that so many of the athletes on campus-this year and in past years too — arrive at practice on opening day already enthusiastic and prepared to dedicate themselves; these are the qualities, he feels, that are the key to a successful season. Nevertheless, all the enthusiasm and dedication would be wasted without a person of exceptional ability to channel them into cohesiveness. Coach Drake is such a person. He was born and raised in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, where he played high school hockey and football, and might possibly have gone on to a professional hockey career if he had stayed with the Junior 'A' Regina Pats instead of going to the University of British Columbia. At British Columbia, on his way to a BPE degree, he played one season of intercollegiate football and three seasons of intercollegiate hockey. In the summers, he supplemented his salary by playing semi-professional baseball. Back in Yorkton as a senior hockey player and high school physical education teacher, he had his first taste of winning as a coach when his high school team won the league championship during his second year.
The next year, 1953, he graduated with his BEd from The University of Alberta, and then headed for Dusseldorf, West Germany, and a year as player-coach of the local hockey team. In doing so, Coach Drake was joining a legion of other young Canadians who, in similar stints of sight-seeing and teaching, have helped to raise European hockey to its present high standard.
Back from Germany, he taught for three years in Edmonton at Strathcona Composite High School before joining the staff of the Faculty of Physical Education and taking up his duties as coach of the hockey Golden Bears. Since 1959, when intercollegiate football started again at the University, he has served off and on as assistant football coach under three different head coaches. This year he became the head football coach as a temporary measure when the former coach, Gino Fracas, left for the University of Windsor. His double role will probably only last for two or three seasons, until a new football coach is appointed. In the meantime, Coach Drake, practising what he preaches to his athletes about the priority of earning grades over winning championships, received his MSc in Physical Education from the University of Washington by doing course work during the summer, and now has more than 40 hours toward his PhD at the University of Oregon.
On the eve of the hockey win in Montreal, a sports columnist wrote, "Canadian championships in both hockey and football must climax the most satisfying year of Clare Drake's life." They were also the climax of the University's most successful year in athletic competition.
Published May 1968.