On the Empire Field gridiron one Sunday afternoon in 1970, the Meraloma junior football club shut out the North Shore Cougars and beat them by a devastating margin. The No. 1 team in the province took home an 82-0 win.
The next day, a Monday and usually a rest day, head coach Ed Murray worked his team into the ground, driving them hard at their own practice grounds in Kitsilano.
"We had a very hard practice and then afterwards he kept us on the field," said Ray Crawford, remembering the exhaustion and the coach's demand for discipline.
"He'd say, 'On the line, gentlemen.' On his whistle we would have to sprint." After 30 minutes of the kind of physical punishment unique to football, Crawford said, "We were just beat. It was wet, it was cold, it was November."
Inside the clubhouse, the footballers all took a chair. They were gassed. One veteran on the team of players aged no more than 21 asked their well-liked coach, "Why?"
Murray answered: "Because you didn't score in the third quarter."
Remembering a story like this is just one reason the Meraloma Football Alumni gather each summer. In less than two weeks, they meet at the clubhouse for their annual reunion, an anniversary that started 10 years ago, more than a decade after the Meralomas fielded a football team.
In 2002, unexpectedly for a sad occasion, close to 60 alumni attended the funeral of Meraloma football coach Glyn Phillips, prompting one of the men to ask if they'd only gather when one of their brotherhood died. Three months later Crawford arranged their first gathering, which was held in Langley and attended by nine alumni. Two of those initial nine have since died. The reunion invitation is now sent to 288 former Meraloma football players and coaches.
The Meraloma "Canadian rugby team" began in 1925 as teams formed across the country and the sport's rules evolved yearly until the game we know today was finally established. No team played from 1939 until 1959, a 20-year hiatus that began because of the Second World War. In 1954, the B.C. Lions adopted the burnt orange and black Meraloma colours for the city's new professional sports venture.
From 1967 to 1974 under coach Murray, the Meralomas won eight consecutive league and seven consecutive provincial championships. They might have had one more B.C. title in that time, but lost the 1967 final by one point. They won Western Canadian championships and in 1974 hosted the Canadian nationals at Empire Field, where they lost 17-4 to the Ottawa Sooners who had four national showings in six years.
Meraloma records show that 38 players went on to play professional football. The Meralomas played their last junior football game in 1991.
Crawford brings his son to the clubhouse, he jokes, so he can prove the stories he tells are true. But it's no joke that they really are.
"When you win championships for so many years in a row, there are so many stories," said Crawford.
Murray, who coached the Meralomas to many of those wins and delivered that punishing practice one Monday afternoon in November, told the Courier Tuesday morning, "I used to say you'd never see one Meraloma jacket walking down the street. There would be five or six walking together."
His hard practice paid dividends. The Meralomas met the Cougars again the next weekend at Empire Field, this time for the league championship. Murray said it meant nothing to trounce the Cougars just the week before.
"Anything can happen any given game," he said. "You've got one shot and then you're out or you're in. I wanted to remind the kids the other team might come up big-the score was not indicative of the play. We were worried they were so embarrassed that they would come up big in one big game and we'd lose."
In the final, the Meralomas won. "We beat them and we scored in every quarter," said Crawford.
The Meraloma Football Alumni reunion begins at 1 p.m., June 23 at the Connaught Field House, the Meraloma clubhouse, at 2390 West 10th Ave. For more details, email Crawford at raycrawford@ telus.net or call 604-940-2232.