It’s fitting recognition for the first true gridiron star for the University of Calgary Dinos football team.
With the Dinos currently in possession of the Vanier Cup for the fifth time in program history, the man who was instrumental in bringing the first one to Calgary will receive a high honour, with the Canadian Football Hall of Fame announcing that Greg Vavra will be inducted as part of its Class of 2020.
Vavra is the first Dinos player in history to enter the Hall, and there he will join his head coach, Peter Connellan, who led UCalgary to four Vanier Cup titles and was inducted in 2012.
“When I was told, it caused a lot of reflection,” said Vavra, a two-time alumnus of UCalgary (BComm ’83, JD ’92). “It’s recognition of what our team accomplished, both on our own behalf and on behalf of the University of Calgary. I’m very appreciative that 37 years later, that team is still remembered by the people who vote for this particular award.
“To the extent it reflects on the group of men I played with and played for…I’m very proud of them.”
“It’s a great feeling to have someone like Greg join the Hall of Fame,” said Connellan. “One of the main reasons is he and I were both there when we won that first Vanier Cup [in 1983]…a lot of years and lot of good memories.”
Greg Vavra arrived on campus in 1979 from Bishop Grandin High School. From the start, he saw the field, throwing for 724 yards and seven touchdowns in his rookie season.
As a sophomore in 1980, he led his team to a first-place tie at 6-2 and a tight loss in the Hardy Cup at Alberta, earning the first of four straight Canada West all-star nods at quarterback. Throughout his career the completions, yards, and awards piled up, until it all culminated in his senior year in 1983.
Throwing a then-conference record 2,823 yards – a mark that stood for more than 30 years – Vavra led the Dinos to a 6-2 record, a first-place finish, the Hardy Cup championship, and the program’s second appearance in the Vanier Cup. His Hec Crighton Trophy that season was the Dinos’ first, and he capped it off with a national championship – kicking five field goals and adding a legendary touchdown toss to Mike Siroishka.
Nearly 37 years after he played his final game, his name remains all over the Dinos’ record book. He’s still the all-time leading passer, with 8,401 yards. His 611 completions are the highest in school history, as are his 63 career touchdown passes. And his Oct. 7, 1983 performance against the University of Saskatchewan, when he threw for an incredible 627 yards, remains the highest single-game total in U SPORTS football history.
Vavra was the rare Canadian quarterback who started in the Canadian Football League. He joined the Calgary Stampeders in 1984 and played five CFL seasons from 1984-88 with Calgary, B.C., and Edmonton.
His ties to the Dinos remained, however, and his contributions to the program didn’t end with his playing career. Teammates and families from the 1983 championship team formed the genesis of the Dinos Football 5th Quarter Association, the alumni group that provides significant scholarship and operational funding for Dinos Football to this day. Since his playing days and with his education from the Faculty of Law, Vavra has been heavily involved with the 5th Quarter’s fundraising efforts, including a significant stint as the organization’s president.
This legacy of leadership earned him a high honour from his alma mater, with the Order of the University of Calgary bestowed on him at Convocation in 2019.
“Greg is an incredible alumnus and dedicated friend of the University of Calgary,” said Nuvyn Peters, UCalgary’s Vice President (Advancement). “His leadership with the Dinos 5th Quarter Association has impacted the lives of countless student-athletes. Greg is an inspirational leader whose vibrant and enthusiastic support of sport and athletics to build and strengthen community is an example for us all. Congratulations Greg!”
Wayne Harris, Jr., the Dinos’ current head coach, has known Vavra since the two were teammates in the late 1970s. More recently, they coached together with Vavra as offensive coordinator and Harris as defensive coordinator, and then worked closely together as head coach and alumni president.
“It’s such a great honour for Greg who, led us to first ever national championship,” said Harris. “He was a great teammate of mine, very committed, excelled on the field and went on to be one of the few Canadian quarterbacks to have pro success. A big part of his contributions continued after his career with the 5th Quarter, where he is still very active, and including his time as a coach Greg has been an integral part of our recent success.”
Connellan, whose 13-year career as the Dinos’ head coach landed four Vanier Cup titles and laid the foundation and expectation for success, has watched Vavra from his time as a freshman, through the myriad roles he has played.
“There are lots of good players, but what do you accomplish over a period of time?” Connellan asked. “Someone who is going to be selected to the Hall of Fame has to be someone special. They have to have leadership skill, great physical skill, be respected by the team, and have the drive to be successful. Greg had those qualities in combination, and all of those things made him so outstanding and so important to our team.
“He carried those qualities he had as a player into helping make the 5th Quarter the kind of entity that is the envy of university football – led by people with the sense that they have to give back because of the benefits they got from the program.
“Greg epitomizes the kind of athlete that universities want to develop. It’s bigger than just the team – are athletes coming out of the university as a complete person? People like Greg are why universities have athletics, or music, or drama – to have individuals who can contribute in so many ways to the community.”