For Ham, vindication has a nice ring to it After 2 losses, QB shows he can win big game

Grey Cup

November 20, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

REGINA, Saskatchewan -- During the post-game hoopla that surrounded Baltimore's 37-20 Grey Cup victory over Calgary yesterday, quarterback Tracy Ham eventually moved from the locker room to a separate interview area to deal with the horde of reporters who wanted to hear from him.

Maybe that was fitting, since Ham's appreciation for winning the Grey Cup runs especially deep. The victory, and Ham's resulting Most Outstanding Player award, capped a career that was chock full of accomplishments before yesterday.

After all, you don't throw for 29,092 yards (ninth best in CFL history), 201 touchdowns (fifth) and run for 6,266 yards (fifth) without unusual talent.

But something was missing before yesterday -- a championship ring. Ham's first two Grey Cup appearances were forgettable. He quarterbacked Edmonton in 1990, when the Eskimos were blown out by Winnipeg, 50-11. Then there was last year's debacle against British Columbia, when Ham committed three costly turnovers that helped the Lions hang around long enough to pull out a 26-23 victory.

Ham redeemed himself, shedding the "can't win the big one" label against Calgary by throwing for 213 yards, rushing for 24 yards and a touchdown, and directing the Baltimore offense flawlessly in the second half.

That's the way teammate Elfrid Payton saw it.

"Everybody kept talking about how Ham couldn't win the big one," Payton said. "Tracy Ham is our leader, and he showed it."

Ham showed it by rebounding from a costly mistake. Early in the second quarter, he tossed a lateral slightly behind slotback Gerald Alphin, who failed to make a difficult catch. The fumble was returned 35 yards by Calgary's Will Johnson to the Baltimore 2. Doug Flutie then threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Pope, giving the Stampeders a 13-7 lead.

Did memories of past Grey Cup failures creep into his mind?

"If I listened to all of the guys who said I couldn't win the big one, I'd get nervous out there, but I approached this game like I've approached every other ballgame. I just try to maintain my composure," Ham said.

The Stallions turned the game to their advantage in the second quarter behind their defense and special teams. Alvin Walton recovered a blocked punt by O.J. Brigance for a touchdown and Carlos Huerta kicked three field goals, as the Stallions led 23-13 at halftime.

Ham's finest moments came in the third quarter, after Flutie drove the Stampeders 75 yards for a touchdown that cut Baltimore's lead to 24-20.

Starting on his 18, Ham began carving up Calgary's zone defense. First, he hit wide-out Robert Clark along the right sideline for 16 yards. Then he found Alphin over the middle for 18. A pass to fullback Peter Tuipulotu netted nine, and on third-and-one, Ham barely gained the first down on a sneak.

Ham then connected with Alphin for 22 yards and another 12 to Tuipulotu, who made a diving catch. After a 1-yard run by Pringle that moved the ball to the Calgary 13, Ham dropped back, stood in the pocket seemingly forever while the Calgary secondary held firm, then took off to his right for a 13-yard touchdown run that put Baltimore back on top 31-20.

The Stallions were never seriously threatened after that.

"Tracy did not have to answer the questions around here that other people put to him," coach Don Matthews said. "He's been a winner all his life. He doesn't have to justify himself as a football player."

"You don't get a whole lot of shots [at championships], and I don't know when I'll be back," Ham said. "I've really enjoyed playing with this team. It's a treat to see so many guys come up with plays when they have to. It's a shame you have to change your team makeup every year in this league because I could play forever with these guys."

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