Steve Milton: Bill Danychuk was one of the greatest Tiger-Cats ever

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He was an all-time Ticat and personified the ferocious, impenetrable wall that was the offensive line of the franchise’s Glory Years, but Bill Danychuk almost didn’t make it to Hamilton.

Danychuk, who died from cancer last week at the age of 79, is one of just two dozen Ticat players on the Wall of Honour at Tim Hortons Field — it’s arguably harder to get onto that wall than into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame — but when he came out of the University of Tennessee in 1964, Jim Trimble (oh, the irony) snapped him up for the Montreal Alouettes.

Trimble, who’d gone from the Ticats to Montreal two years earlier claimed that the fact that Danychuk lived in Lachine, Que for a few years as a kid, made him Alouettes property under the regional protection rules of the day.

Ticat boss Jake Gaudaur, never one to back down, dug out records confirming that Danychuk had also played for a junior team in Niagara Falls, which fell under Ticat territory. The CFL bought his argument, negated the Alouette contract and Danychuk started at tackle for the Ticats a couple months later.

When the great Ellison Kelly was hurt, Danychuk moved to guard to replace him, and stayed there even after Kelly’s return becuase he could really move for a big man (6-foot-3, 233 pounds) and in those days the guards were always pulling to block, while the tackles tended to stay home, with help from the tight end.

“A guard will run just as much as a halfback, at least when we’re running sweeps,” Danychuk told The Spectator, and the Ticats ran a lot of sweeps.

Before converting to the offensive line at Tennessee Danychuk — who grew up in Niagara On the Lake — had been a star high school quarterback at Niagara District and had been points champion at SOSSA. With speed and strength, he was an immediate Ticat success, with the likes of household names Kelly, Bronko Nagurski, Gene Ceppetelli, Chuck Walton and Jon Hohman on what was considered best blocking line in the CFL in the mid-1960s. He often called offensive linemen “the unsung heroes” but that group was not unsung.

“The club really got a bargain with Bill,” Angelo Mosca told The Spectator in 1965, Danychuk’s second season. “He’s a man-and-a-half out there and he doesn’t back down from anyone.”

He was a CFL all-star twice, an eastern all-star five times, and played on three Grey Cup winners. After the Ticats won the 1972 title at Ivor Wynne Stadium, head coach Jerry Williams referred to Danychuk, “an excellent leader and a real gentleman.”

Danychuk did not miss a game for more than six seasons until a case of the mumps forced him to skip a midweek flight 1970. He was replaced in that game in Vancouver by Ed Chalupka, who died last month. Danychuk didn’t miss another game until he broke his leg in 1974. When the Ticats’ all-time team was announced in 2012, the last season of Ivor Wynne Stadium, Danychuk was one of the offensive linemen. So was Kelly.

An outspoken teammate — “He was very direct,” longtime friend and teammate Bobby Krouse laughs — Danychuk worked diligently for those same men on the field and off it, as the eastern vice president of the CFL Players Association. In 1973 he was instrumental in helping substantially increase the players’ share of post-season money.

Danychuk leaves his daughter Deanna Danychuk, his son Bill and his wife Sue, four grandchildren and a great grandchild. A Celebration of Life will be held on Jan. 11 from 2 to 5 p.m. at St. Davids Lions Club 1462 York Rd. in St. Davids.

smilton@thespec.com

905-526-3268 | @miltonatthespec

smilton@thespec.com

905-526-3268 | @miltonatthespec

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