I always knew my grandpa adored football, but it wasn’t until he got sick that I realized the love affair stretched back to the 1940s and helped to define a sport.
Fred Doty returned home from duty with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1945 with one thing on his mind: football. He’d discovered the game playing pick-up on the barracks in Calgary, Alta., and now that the war was over he finally had a chance to play for real. He was 21-years old, five-foot-six and 140 pounds — not exactly an obvious pick when he showed up at the Toronto Argonauts’ camp as a walk-on. But it had been seven years since their last Grey Cup victory, and the Boatmen were desperate for new talent.
Stepping onto the turf that day was surreal for Doty. His idol, Joe “King” Krol, formerly of the Hamilton Flying Wildcats, was there, along with newcomers like Royal Copeland and Doug Smylie, who made Doty look like a pipsqueak in comparison. But head coach Teddy Morris noticed Doty’s exemplary skills right away; he was a natural quarterback with speed, agility and a talent for reading the field. Better yet, he could return punts and play defence as a capable safety. It was a no-brainer: Doty was in.
The Boatmen never missed a chance to strut their stuff on the beach. From left to right: B. Shaw, Royal Copeland, Fred Doty, Don Loney, Steve Karrys, Bruce Richardson.
Over the coming months, No. 54 was given a lot of nicknames, including the Mighty Mite, Little Freddy and the Sparkplug. But to his friends, he was always Scooter. That season, Scooter and the Argos were stellar, going 7-2-0 en route to the championship final against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The 33rd Grey Cup took place on Dec. 1, 1945. Varsity Stadium was brimming with 18,660 spectators. The day was grey and blustery, and local fans tossed snowballs in the direction of Winnipeg supporters. Despite the cold, Doty started the game off in heroic fashion, making a huge gain on the first play from scrimmage and setting up Smylie for the team’s first touchdown.
From then on, the game was a flurry of Toronto touchdowns, with Billy Myers and Scooter calling every play. Myers and Smylie both scored off of passes from Krol, who himself ran in a 55-yard touchdown off an interception, and Copeland capitalized with a 13-yard end sweep late in the third quarter. Myers put the final points on the board with a 75-yard run with only seconds to spare. Elated fans rushed the field prematurely, delaying Myers’s convert attempt. But it didn’t matter. As the clock ran out, the final score was 35–0 and the Toronto Argonauts hoisted the Grey Cup.
Nearly 70 years later, it remained one of the best days of Fred Doty’s life.
The following season, under considerable pressure from his alma mater, Doty opted to represent the University of Toronto (but still managed to sneak in three games with the Argonauts). Under head coach Bobby Coulter, the Varsity Blues went 13-3-1 and Doty was a conference all-star at QB. But when the Argos won the Grey Cup again that year, Doty couldn’t ignore his desire to return to the Boatmen.
And return he did. In 1947, Doty once again pulled his No. 54 sweater over his head and rejoined teammates like Krol and Copeland out on the field. Together, the boys secured yet another Grey Cup victory — the third in three years, a national dynasty. It was also the last time that an all-Canadian roster would win the championship.
Doty played another two seasons after that, leading the Argos in punt returns and setting two team records for interceptions. He retired after the ’49 season when he graduated with a civil engineering degree from U of T. He married Beverly Brown, his long-time sweetheart, in 1951, and had two sons, Cole and Tobin. (Tobin played five years with the Varsity Blues, and Cole won the 1977 national 100m championship, finishing the race in 10.3 seconds.)
Through it all, Doty’s love for the Argos never wavered; he continued to cheer for the team despite tough losses, staffing overhauls, gruesome injuries and a 31-year-long title drought that stretched from 1952 to 1983. The greatest reward for his loyalty came in 2012 when the Argos hosted and won the 100th Grey Cup.
On Nov. 9, 2014, at the age of 90, Fred “Scooter” Doty passed away after a long battle with bladder cancer. Surrounded by family, he was ready to let go, but the hardest part was surely leaving behind the loves of his life: his boys, his Beverly and his beloved Boatmen.