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Top Five Panda Game Moments: 1979

Wednesday August 28, 2013
Panda Graphic from 1979 game.

The Gee-Gees will host the return edition of the Panda Game on Saturday, October 5th 2013 at Gee-Gees Field. In the weeks leading up to the game, geegees.ca will feature five of the most memorable Panda Games in the 44 year history of the event.

Original Panda’s Retirement

The year was 1979 and the rivalry between the Carleton Ravens and the uOttawa Gee-Gees football programs was stronger than ever. It would also be last time that Pedro the stuffed teddy bear would be captured by the winning team. This combined to make the 25th annual Panda Game one that most would never forget.

Despite the Panda Game having a reputation for pranks, vandalism and many more shenanigans involving alcohol, the 25th Panda Game was not about bad reputations; it was about great football, playoffs and paying respect to the original panda that brought so much joy and excitement to the country’s capital every year.

To put things in context, it is important to understand that the panda trophy was particularly special that year. In Pedro`s 25 years of faithful service the stuffed bear had been kidnapped on many occasions, buried under the field of Lansdowne Park and more. So with the aging Pedro’s well-being in mind, the decision to finally let the bear take his retirement was made. The question that quickly followed the decision became: Who will take home the prized panda in his 25th and final Panda Game?

The Gee-Gees led the all-time panda series with a 17-7 record. However, thanks to two consecutive years of Panda Game losses, Ottawa’s confidence had been shaken to say the least. The previous season possibly hurt more than any other, as the loss officially disqualified the Gee-Gees from playoff contention and forced the squad to watch from the sidelines.

Yet, it is incredible at times how a single year can make such an enormous difference. That year the Gee-Gees were in a three-way tie for first place with Carleton and Queen’s and a win would assure them a trip to the playoffs as well as home field advantage. Despite needing a simple win, Ottawa players and coaches knew that a Panda Game victory was the most difficult one to predict in the entire season.

With so much on the line, head coach Cam Innes said in an interview with the Fulcrum newspaper, “Pedro is an important bear in our minds, we have won him 17 out of 24 times. Which is why we believe that Pedro’s rightful home is on the uOttawa campus.”

Through perseverance, the Gee-Gees took control of their season and did what they set out to do, handing the Ravens a 28-16 loss. Ottawa's top tier offence was credited for the win with its steady, multi-dimensional scoring through the entire game. Rick Zmich and Fred Zlepnig split time at the quarterback position and both players performed well.

Zmich had one of his best performances in a Gee-Gees uniform as he threw 13-for-19 which was good for 265 yards while Zlepnig threw 17-for-28 for 229 yards. Zmich also doubled as punter for Ottawa, booming several punts and averaging 46.2 yards. Today Zmich continues to be recognized as one of the all-time great Gee-Gees and is a member of the Gee-Gees Football Hall of Fame.

After the first half,  result of the game was virtually unpredictable as both sides played a solid first half that mixed scoring with strong defence. The score at half was 14-13 in favor of the Gee-Gees. Ottawa’s defence showed its composure mixed with the perfect amount of grit in the second half as the Gee-Gees shut down all but three points in the final thirty minutes of the game. Ottawa’s defence also held Carleton’s ground attack to only 60 yards in the game.

The win launched Ottawa into the playoffs on a high note and gave them the chance to bring the original Pedro to his true home for a final time. A bronze replica of the Panda was created and allowed the Panda Game tradition to live on for many years. The original Panda was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a memento of the historic tradition.

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Be there for the next chapter in Panda Game history – buy your tickets for the October 5th game today. Contact the Gee-Gees box office at 613-562-5800 x 4337.

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