The Western Mustangs football team will be competing for the Yates Cup for the third time in four years this Saturday against the Laurier Golden Hawks. The Yates Cup is the Ontario University Athletics championship trophy, awarded to the top team in the province. Winning the Yates Cup is the first step in the journey to winning the national prize, the Vanier Cup.
The Yates Cup was the championship trophy in the then-newly formed Canadian Intercollegiate Rugby Football Union in 1898, making it the oldest existing football trophy according to Ian Speers. At the time, football was still played without a system of downs, and the forward pass had yet to be introduced, with 15 men aside. The game closely resembled rugby more than the modern form of football that is so popular today.
This weekend is the 109th instalment in the cup's history. It has been awarded every year since its inception, with the exception of war years between 1915-18 and 1940-45. It was first awarded back in 1898. As one of the oldest trophies in North American sports, it predates the Grey Cup (1909), the Super Bowl (1969) and the Commissioners Trophy of the World Series (1903). The Stanley Cup has it beat by a mere five years, as Lord Stanley’s mug was first awarded in 1893.
According to Speers, Dr. Henry Brydges Yates, a graduate of McGill, and a football player himself, presented the first Yates Cup to the Toronto Varsity Blues. The Varsity Blues were one of three teams who originally competed for the trophy, alongside the Queen’s Golden Gaels and the McGill Redmen. The Mustangs became the fourth team to join the league in 1928 and since then have gone on to win the trophy 30 times, more than any other team.
Until Ontario University Athletics conference was established as a league in 1971, the cup was simply awarded to the top team in the standings, with a playoff game only being played in the event of a tie for first between two teams. Due to the lack of playoff games, only 27 Yates Cup championship games were played between 1898 and 1971, with 70 champions games being played to date. The Mustangs managed to win 11 times during that period. When the OUA was established, the league almost doubled in size from six teams to 11, which made the need for playoffs necessary, creating the format that is still in use today.
Now, the Yates Cup is not only the OUA championship cup, but it also serves as the quarterfinals for the national league. The winner of the Yates Cup goes on to play in Uteck Bowl or in the Mitchell Bowl, facing off against the champions from the Atlantic, Quebec and Western conferences. The winner of the Mitchell Bowl face off against each other in the Vanier Cup, Canada’s national university football championship. Western has made 12 appearances in the Vanier Cup, the most of any other team, and has won six times. This weekend should be another great instalment in the long history of the Yates Cup.