By Brian Snelgrove
He is the only quarterback in the long and storied history of the Canadian Football League to throw eight touchdown passes in a single game – and he did it in his first professional start.
The date was October 15, 1962 and Joe Zuger (1962-71) established the mark as a rookie signal caller for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Zuger lit up the Saskatchewan secondary in what was then Civic Stadium in a 67-21 blowout of the western ‘Riders. Garney Henley established a club record for most touchdown receptions in a game (later tied by Terry Evanshen and Tony Akins), as he was on the receiving end of four of those TD strikes. Zuger threw for 475 yards on that momentous occasion. It was, without question, the most outstanding debut in professional football history.
“I thought it was a fluke,” Zuger says of his historic night. “I thought no way; this is not going to occur on a weekly basis.” Zuger was right. The record of eight TD passes in a game is one of the oldest in the league and has stood for 47 years – a plateau unmatched in either the CFL or NFL.
Zuger also has the distinction of completing the longest pass in Ticat history when he connected with Dave Fleming for a 108 yard touchdown in 1971. He is fifth all-time on the Ticat career passing list with 12,676 yards and fifth in completions with 814. His 76 career touchdown passes also ranks fifth in the Hamilton record books.
The Arizona State graduate was a terrific quarterback but was arguably the best punter of his era. He is the only Ticat player to average better than 48 yards per punt in a season and Zuger did it three times (1968, 79 and 71). His career average of 45.5 yards per punt is third best in league history.
Asked whether he was a better quarterback or punter, Zuger says, “That’s for others to decide. I was trying to be as versatile as I could. The more I could do, the more I wanted to do it well.”
Zuger played in five Grey Cups and was named Most Outstanding Player of the 1967 game as the Ticats knocked off Saskatchewan 24-1 in Canada’s Centennial year.
“That was the best team I ever played on,” he says.
“It was great, the whole era. We had a great rapport with players, the city, management, owners,” says the former Ticat pivot. “We were very close in those days”. “You had to win. The fans were tough. They expected you to win. They wouldn’t settle for losing.”
Following his playing days (and a front page photo of his career-ending injury on the first edition of The Toronto Sun in 1971), Zuger became General Manager of the Tiger-Cats, a post he held from 1981-92.
Zuger, who has lived in Hamilton for the past 45 years, retired in 1993. ”I can do whatever I want, whenever I want,” he says.
“I am very thankful to Hamilton, the opportunity to play here. It’s wonderful that you can spend your whole career in the same place,” Zuger says. “I am honoured. I owe a lot to The City of Hamilton.”