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Death of 'The Tripper'

Vancouver writer Tom Hawthorn spies great obit stories. Here's one that caught his eye recently.

Hawthorn writes:

At his death May 17 aged 83, David Humphrey was praised for his brilliance as a defence lawyer, his thoroughness as a prosecutor, and his fair-mindedness as a judge.

As a justice of the Superior Court of Ontario, he carried the honorific Honourable before his name.

On the bench, it was said he more than once referred to himself by the nickname Merciful Dave.

It is a quality he may have exercised while keeping in mind his own behavior on the wintry afternoon of Nov. 30, 1957.

On that day, a man who dedicated his life to the law succumbed to a scofflaw's temptation. The incident earned for him another nickname, as well as a spot in the lore of Canadian sport.

Born in 1925 in Passaic, N.J., he moved north with his family as a teenager. He joined the U.S. Navy during the Second World War, returning to Toronto afterwards to complete law studies at Osgoode Hall.

He was a well-known lawyer in Toronto when he decided to attend the Grey Cup game, emblematic of Canadian football supremacy. Lacking a ticket, he called on his familiarity with the local constabulary to sneak inside Varsity Stadium.

The championship game, which pits a team from the East versus one from the West, is known as The Grand National Drunk, a description as much jocular as factual. In 1957, the game was for the first time broadcast on television from coast to coast. The stadium was sold out for the showdown between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Humphrey stood on the sidelines, sipping cheer, in the form of rye whiskey, from a brown paper bag. He would later say he had been unnerved by a chance encounter with a fellow fan, who turned out to be the foreman of a jury who had sent one of his client's to the hangman but a year earlier. Humphrey refused to shake the man's extended hand.

The lawyer nursed his grudge as well as his drink as he stood along the Winnipeg sidelines.

A roar from the crowd caught his attention. Hamilton's Ray (Bibbles) Bawel (pronounced bobble) had intercepted a pass and was racing along the sidelines towards the end zone. He had evaded all tacklers. Ahead of him lurked only grass.

It was at this point the lawyer stuck out a foot.

Now, he did not have a bet on the game, nor an affinity for either team. It just seemed like a funny thing to do at the time, he would later recount.

Bawel fell to the ground. In the ensuing uproar, Humphrey slipped away in the crowd.
Winnipeg was assessed a penalty, though none of the players was responsible for the trip. The ball was moved halfway to the goalline. Bawel and Hamilton went on to win the Grey Cup by 32-7.

The next morning, the Toronto Telegram newspaper offered a cash reward for the culprit.

Humphrey felt sick. His mentor was the newspaper's lawyer.

A quiet confession and some urgent whispering led to his identity remaining a secret for 20 years.

Feeling bad about costing Bawel a touchdown, Humphrey later presented him with a gold watch on which he had engraved "Grey Cup 1957 -- The Tripper."

As it turned out, the Grey Cup was Bibbles Bawel's final game as a professional. He had earlier spent three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles before serving in the U.S. Army. After leaving football, he returned to his native Indiana.

The Tripper was responsible for at least one other incidence of odd, perhaps even boorish, behavior in public. He once interrupted applause for the Greek soprano Maria Callas by booing her performance at Massey Hall in Toronto. On that occasion, he was identified by name in the newspaper.

By Adam Bernstein |  May 26, 2009; 12:39 PM ET
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Interestingly, since the abolition of capital punishment, tripping and booing has helped reduce the Canadian crime rate. Funny piece. Lovely turns of phrase.

Posted by: joeshmuck | May 26, 2009 4:52 PM

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