TORONTO - Perfection wasn't enough to earn Chuck Ealey a chance to play quarterback in the NFL.
Ealey compiled a perfect 35-0 record as a starting quarterback at the University of Toledo but was bypassed in the NFL draft because at the time most clubs didn't seriously consider African-American quarterbacks. Deciding he'd rather play quarterback professionally than switch to defensive back, Ealey was forced to look to Canada, leading the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to a Grey Cup title as a rookie in 1972 and becoming a pioneer for African-Americans looking for the chance to play the position professionally.
Ealey's inspirational story will be one of eight featured in "Engraved On A Nation: Stories Of The Grey Cup, The CFL and Canada." The series of eight documentary films, commissioned by Bell Media and involving a number of accomplished filmmakers, will be unveiled starting in September as part of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup, culminating with the big game Nov. 25 at Rogers Centre.
"I'm very thankful for Canada," Ealey said at the series' launch Friday. "It was a blessing in disguise that I got to come to Canada because the opportunities I've had to be able to do things here and raise my family has just been over the top.
"My issue wasn't to play pro ball in the first place because it was about getting my education. But when I had the chance and opportunity, you would like to have a fairer look at all the opportunities and options you can have.''
Ealey won three straight Tangerine Bowls with Toledo and was the MVP in each game. He was eighth in Heisman Trophy voting as a senior and was the Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) top player three straight seasons.
Ealey was also perfect growing up. He was unbeaten for three years at Notre Dame High School in his hometown of Portsmouth, Ohio, leading the team to a 30-0 record and its first-ever state championship in 1967.
Ealey, 62, became Hamilton's starter early in the '72 season and guided the Ticats to top spot in the East Division with an 11-3 record en route to being named the CFL's top rookie. He capped his season to remember by leading the Ticats to a 13-10 Grey Cup win over Saskatchewan to become the first African-American quarterback to win a CFL championship. And just for emphasis, he was named the game MVP after passing for 291 yards and a TD and running for 63 yards.
Ealey spent seven seasons in the CFL, playing also for Winnipeg and Toronto before suffering a career-ending collapsed lung injury in 1978. He finished with 13,326 yards passing and 82 touchdowns and paved the way for such future stars as Condredge Holloway, Warren Moon, J.C. Watts and Tracy Ham to come north and ply their trade.
More importantly, Ealey was able to use his economics degree to establish a life in Canada outside of football, presently living in Brampton, Ont., and working as a regional director with Investors Group Financial. Ealey also has dual American-Canadian citizenship.
Ealey doesn't see himself as a CFL pioneer but is happy to have been able to provide the path for other African-American quarterbacks to realize their dream of playing pro football.
"Fortunately when I came to the CFL and got the chance to play it opened up more vision for coming to Canada for African-American quarterbacks and to look north knowing they had another opportunity," Ealey said. "I never thought about being a trail-blazer . . . but I guess becoming the first black quarterback to win a championship probably opened some doors I'm guessing as far as peoples' minds were concerned.''
Charles Officer, who recently directed "Fuelled By Passion: The Return of the Jets," a documentary about the return of the Winnipeg Jets, is directing the Ealey film.
The other documentaries in the series include the 1942 Grey Cup-champion RCAF Hurricanes; the story of the '71 Grey Cup finalist Toronto Argonauts; Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo - pro football's career passing leader; the 1969 Grey Cup and FLQ crisis and a look at the Saskatchewan Roughriders' rabid fans.
Shelley Saywell, an Emmy Award-winning director, is producing, writing and directing the Calvillo piece while Larry Weinstein, an Academy Award nominee, is directing the piece about the Roughriders' fans. Academy Award winner Paul Cowan is directing "The Crash of Flight 810," the story of the 1956 plane crash that took the life of Cal Jones, the grandfather of Calgary Stampeders lineman Edwin Harrison.
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said the series tackles more than just football.
"This is not just important for the CFL but the country," he said. "The stories they will be telling using the lens of the Grey Cup will open peoples' eyes about how important this game has been to the culture of the country.
"The story about Chuck Ealey is one about immigrants coming to Canada because they couldn't succeed in their home country and flourishing here because they were denied those opportunities. That's just a reflection of what the Grey Cup is and our stories are Canada's stories.''