Rob Vanstone: Saskatchewan Roughriders' early-era stars remembered

Fred Wilson, a charter inductee into the Plaza of Honour in 1987, tops our list of the best early-era players in Roughriders history.

A leather football helmet worn by the Regina Roughriders' Eddie (Dynamite) James in the 1931 Grey Cup is shown at Taylor Field in 2016. The helmet was made available for the photo by the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. Don Healy / Regina Leader-Post

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Of all the Saskatchewan Roughriders top-10 polls to this point, today’s edition — covering the franchise’s early years — proved to be the most challenging.

Statistical information is fragmentary, at best, for players who made their debuts during a period that spanned 1910 to 1945.

Media coverage is limited to newspaper accounts. Video footage is exceedingly rare. And the members of a panel consisting of three football historians — Bob Calder, Tom Fuzesy and yours truly — are evaluating players without having ever seen them play.

However, various tools can be used in order to honour those who played for the Regina Rugby Club and Regina Roughriders.

Enshrinement in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and the Roughriders’ Plaza of Honour is reflective of excellence.

In some cases, a player’s longevity is also reflective of his contributions. Consider the case of Fred Wilson, who is ranked first in this poll.

Prior to Wilson, the category winners have been Ron Lancaster (best quarterback), George Reed (running back), Ray Elgaard (receiver), Gene Makowsky (offensive lineman), Bobby Jurasin (defensive lineman), Wayne Shaw (linebacker), Eddie Davis (defensive back), Dave Ridgway (special teams) and Ken Preston (builder).

This is the 10th of 11 best-of polls, which will ultimately list (appropriately enough) 110 names in commemoration of the Roughriders’ 110th anniversary.

The series will conclude with the top 10 players in Roughriders history — regardless of position.

All three panellists listed 10 people in each category. A first-place vote is worth 10 points, a second-place vote is worth nine, etc.

Fred Wilson of the Regina Rugby Club (later Saskatchewan Roughriders) in 1919. Regina Leader-Post files

1. Fred Wilson (28 points): Wilson was among the Plaza of Honour’s charter inductees in 1987, when Regina Leader-Post sports editor Bob Hughes described him as “the original scatback.” Hughes continued: “A little guy at 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds, he was a great kicker and was so fast that he often would kick the ball, race down the field, catch his own punt and score … Fred Wilson could kick the ball, on the dead run, with either foot. He played for two decades, and his playing career ended in 1928 when he broke a leg, but he stayed on for four years as the Roughriders’ manager.”

Greg Grassick starred at halfback for the Regina Roughriders. Courtesy of George Grassick

2. Greg Grassick (22): A 1988 Plaza inductee, and also a member of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, Grassick was an outstanding halfback for the Roughriders from 1927 to 1932. He helped the team win six consecutive Western Canadian championships and make five Grey Cup appearances.

Regina/Saskatchewan Roughriders player-coach Dean Griffing in 1938. Regina Leader-Post files. Regina Leader-Post files

3. Dean Griffing (20): “Dean Griffing was among the best to ever play for the Roughriders,” Hughes wrote in 1987, when the former centre entered the Plaza. “(Griffing was) one of the first Americans to come to Canada and he was an all-star, and then was a coach, and then a general manager … He was as tough as a worn piece of leather.” He entered the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (CFHOF) in 1965.

Regina Roughriders lineman Johnny Garuik in 1936. Regina Leader-Post files

4. Johnny Garuik (13): Garuik, who entered the Plaza in 1991, was a dominant lineman who debuted with the Roughriders in 1930 and played his last game with them in 1943.

Howie Milne starred for the Regina Rugby Club and the Regina Roughriders. Regina Leader-Post files

5. Howie Milne (12): Milne, who was noted for his tackling ability, joined the Regina Rugby Club in 1920 and became a playing coach with the Regina Roughriders in 1925. He entered the Plaza in 1992.

Brian Timmis, who played for the Regina Rugby Club from 1920 to 1922, was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1963. Canadian Football Hall of Fame

6. (tie) Brian Timmis (9): A star on both sides of the ball, Timmis was recognized by the CFHOF in 1963. He played for the Regina Rugby Club from 1920 to 1922.

Bob Walker of the Regina Roughriders in 1936. Regina Leader-Post files

6. (tie): Bob Walker (9): Walker, a West all-star lineman in 1938 and 1939, was welcomed into the Plaza in 1989. Beginning in 1934, he spent seven seasons with the Roughriders.

Fred Ritter was a member of the Regina Rugby Club for its first four seasons. Courtesy Glenn Maddock

8. Fred Ritter (8): Ritter was a player-coach with the original edition of the Regina Rugby Club in 1910. He was with the team for its first four seasons.

Steve Adkins was the Roughriders’ first great pass-catcher. South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame

9. (tie) Steve Adkins (7): The Roughriders’ first premier pass-catcher, Adkins caught 11 passes for 231 yards in an Oct. 6, 1934 game against the Saskatoon Hilltops. The receiving-yardage total was the highest in franchise history until Chris DeFrance exploded for 260 — still a team record — on Aug. 5, 1983 against the host Edmonton Eskimos. Adkins also caught a touchdown pass in the 1934 Grey Cup game, won 20-12 by the Sarnia Imperials.

9. (tie) Gordon Barber (7): The Plaza honoured Barber in 1988 for his fine play on the Roughriders’ line from 1929 to 1933.

Ex-Roughrider Ken Charlton is in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Regina Leader-Post files

9. (tie) Ken Charlton (7): Charlton, who debuted with the Riders in 1941, was also with the team from 1948 to 1954. His versatility and excellence were recognized by the Plaza (1988) and CFHOF (1992).

Also receiving votes:Piffles Taylor (6), Al Urness (6), Eddie James (6), Tare Rennebohm (3), Ralph Pierce (1), Stonewall Jackson (1).