Vicki Hall is grateful to be the one breaking a barrier for women.
The longtime Postmedia columnist is now nationally enshrined, becoming the first woman inducted into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
The honour bestowed on the Calgarian follows a poignant 16-year tenure covering the CFL for both the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald.
“It was a huge shock for me, because you never think of yourself landing in the hall of fame,” said Hall, 50. “But it’s also a huge honour in terms of the number of women who came before me.
“It’s kind of shocking that I’m the first woman that’s going in. But I know I’m not going to be the last, and I know it won’t take very long for me to have company.”
Hall has embraced her call to the hall with an introspective take, given her own personal challenges in recent months.
A sudden health scare threw her life in turmoil a few months back.
“It makes me appreciate all the times that players get injured and can’t play in the big game — like the Grey Cup — or when athletes train their whole lives for the Olympics and they miss it,” Hall said. “But I’ve been playing a much bigger game in some ways.”
Hall underwent surgery last Tuesday at Foothills Medical Centre, so she could not fly to Hamilton for Sunday’s hall-of-fame induction ceremony — instead attending virtually but nonetheless in superb spirit — which also featured salutes to fellow media inductees Jon Hynes, a legendary TSN producer, and the late Chris Schultz, a longtime TSN broadcaster.
“We all live knowing we might receive a test result or a call from a doctor that could change our lives,” Hall said. “And on Sept. 29, I had a routine test, and all of a sudden, everything was turned upside down. It’s been really scary.
“But what’s happened from that is it’s given me this chance to look at things differently,” she continued. “And I look back at my time covering the CFL as more like this collection of moments — and I’m grateful for all of it.
“I’m grateful for the big stories that I covered.”
Grey Cup memories
The 2009 Grey Cup and deadline pressures are among those stories.
“The 13th-man Grey Cup always stands in my mind, being in the dressing room after the game and watching the Saskatchewan Roughriders players vomit and cry and in shock and screaming,” Hall said. “I remember Milt Stegall scoring a 100-yard touchdown on the final play of the game in 2006 (over the host Edmonton Eskimos), and I had to rewrite my whole story in five minutes because Winnipeg had suddenly won. I wasn’t very happy that night.”
The stories — and memories — are endless …
And completely different from what the Calgary native could have expected when she first entered the business back in the 1990s as a news journalist.
Her introduction to sports actually came during a hockey-talk visit by Calgary Flames Bill Clement and Jim Peplinski to West Dalhousie Elementary School.
“I came from a British family,” Hall said. “So hockey wasn’t a thing. But I went home and turned on the (1982) Stanley Cup final between the New York Islanders and the Vancouver Canucks and fell in love with hockey. So I was hooked on sports from that point on.”
After she moved around, Hall landed in Saskatchewan, where she went to high school and then to the University of Regina and graduated with a journalism and communications degree.
“In Saskatchewan, people just live and breathe football,” Hall said. “It’s the fabric of the culture there, and that’s what people talk about. If there’s an awkward point in a conversation, people say, ‘Well, how about them Riders?’ That’s the way to change the subject. So I learned football, and I fell in love with it. It’s that Saskatchewan connection that opened the door for me.”
However, news was her first order of business in journalism, as she interned at the Edmonton Journal, moved on to the Medicine Hat News, then to the Regina Leader-Post and back — in 1998 — to the Journal.
One-year adventure became so much more
Then came a career-altering shift in 2001, as Hall took on sports reporting for the Journal, covering the Eskimos for what was supposed to be a one-year adventure.
“The first year was really hard, and I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m going to quit after that. I’m going to keep going,’” Hall said. “It became way more than one year, for sure.”
As a rookie, she briefly covered the bombastic Don Matthews, then the head coach in Edmonton.
“He was fired during training camp, so that was interesting. The Edmonton Journal flew me out to Montreal to interview him the next winter, and his new team, the Alouettes, agreed to it as long as I didn’t ask why he was fired from Edmonton. At the 45-minute mark of the interview, I asked him what happened in Edmonton, and I was escorted out of Olympic Stadium.”
She still remembers the biting cold of that day.
“But in the final months of Don Matthews’ life, I ended up calling him for an interview and we had just a wonderful conversation. He was absolutely one of the characters of the game.”
So was Wally Buono, another CFL coaching legend.
“I loved listening to what I called his ‘sermons’ — his pre-game news conferences. I always looked forward listening to Wally preach about football and life.
“And (Calgary Stampeders hall-of-fame receiver) Nik Lewis was a character, too. Nik didn’t like me in the beginning, but I think we found an understanding over time. So he was somebody who I always enjoyed covering, as well.”
In 2008, Hall headed south to take on a sports reporting gig with the Calgary Herald, staying aboard until 2017 when she left Postmedia primarily to focus on the needs of her young son, A.J., who is on the autism spectrum.
But the biz is still in her blood.
“I remember standing at practice when it was plus-35 degrees,” recalled Hall. “I remember travelling all over and seeing Ottawa and swimming in the Pacific Ocean in B.C. and writing from games in Montreal, where there was no bathroom for women in the press box. I remember (then-Eskimos head coach) Jason Maas being so angry at me because he wanted to yell at me in front of TSN cameras before someone changed his mind at the last second. I remember (Eskimos kicker) Sean Fleming kicking the football off my car one day in Edmonton by accident. I remember the good and the bad.
“I reflect on all of it, and I’m so grateful. because I know that, at the time, there wasn’t very many women who were allowed in. I’m grateful that I was allowed in when that wasn’t normally the case.”
These days, Hall is teaching journalism at SAIT in Calgary, describing herself as being “in more of a coaching role than a playing role.”
But there’s still been room for sports writing, having written for CBC on a regular basis and continuing to write freelance stories for both The Canadian Press and the CFL’s website.
Part of the plan ahead is to help cover the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris for the Olympic Information Service.
“When I left the business, I thought I was leaving it, but it’s never left me,” added Hall. “And I’m really grateful for that.”