By Jeffrey Ferrier
The bleachers in Kerr Hall gym are full. The Ryerson men’s basketball team is battling the Queen’s Golden Gaels in their season-opener. The bass beat that fills the Ryerson gymnasium stops. To bob Todd, a retired Inco engineer, I suddenly vanish from the east stands, even though I sit next to him. Shoulders squared and eyes gazing at centre court, Todd loses himself in the moment.
The last item Todd attended a league-opener, he didn’t watch from the bleachers. It was 31 years ago that the 6’-4” “Tiger” Todd started at forward for the Rams, patrolling the post and defending the boards.
“I used to pull that ball off the rim,” Todd, now 53, says. “And I was able to get up high enough that I could turn around and hit the guard with a pass before I hit the floor to start a fast break.”
Todd helped the 1966-67 Rams become the first Ryerson team to advance to the Ontario east finals. That Ryerson team, however, would not be the last.
Ryerson has a tradition of excellence in men’s basketball dating from the early ‘50s. Legend has it that when Ryerson was still a college, universities like U of T refused to play the basketball team because the Rams were so strong.
Todd is part of that tradition. A former star with Sudbury High School, he didn’t play varsity ball his first year, choosing instead to focus on his studies. However, forces beyond Todd’s control would make him wear Ryerson’s white and gold.
“I was fooling around in the gym one day,” he says. “And the coach at the time, Angelo DiThomas, saw me playing. I went to the basket and did a two-hand-stuffer. He liked it.”
Todd played for the Rams during the 1965-66 and 1966-67 seasons. The team struggled during Todd’s first year of play but flourished in the second, advancing to the Ontario East finals. There, the Rams were edged out by Waterloo Lutheran, now Wilfrid Laurier University, for the right advance to the Canadian finals.
No Ryerson basketball team had ever advanced so far.
Basketball was big at Ryerson in Todd’s heyday. About 700 rowdy students would crowd the bleachers and mezzanine at the Ryerson gymnasium for home games. Busloads of fans would follow the Rams on road trips.
On one road trip, Todd recalls, the Rams opened a double-header by edging the Detroit Institute of Technology.
“I remember walking off the court and looking, up and there were people right up to the ceiling. Over 16,000 in all.”
The second-half of the double-bill was an NBA match pitting the Detroit Pistons against the San Francisco Warriors.
The earliest Ryerson teams were known simply as the Whites and the Golds. They became the Rams in 1951 and played solid basketball in local leagues led by “Slender” Steve McCaughey and Coach Ted Toogood.
Ryerson teams were strong well in to the 1960s but struggled through the 1970s. At one point, the Rams lost 41 consecutive league games, an Ontario University Athletic association record.
The Rams re-emerged as a force during the 1980s. Phil Row, second-team OUA all-star in the 1984-85, and Jamie Vozkuil, Ryerson’s all time leading scorer guided the team from marginality to respectability.
For current men’s basketball coach Terry Haggerty, the Rams have enjoyed their greatest success ove rhte past eight years. Haggerty points to recent Ryerson grads Carl Harper (last year’s team captain) and Alex Beason. Beason holds the OUA record for most points in a season (401), and most points in a single game (52 in 1994 against Laurentian). These two players have led Ryerson teams to seven consecutive berths in the OUA playoffs and to the finals in 1993-94 and 1994-95.
Back at Kerr Hall, the Rams trail Queen’s 25-10 midway through the first half. Haggerty gets his men to play the full-court press in an attempt to steal momentum for the Golden Gaels.
Bob Todd likes Ryerson’s chances.
“This Ryerson team deserves good support,” he says. “Ryerson is strong, real strong. Aggressive defence, good rebounding. IF the Rams shoot from the outside and set up good picks more consistently, you never know.”
And who am I to argue with the Tiger?