by George Gross
Annis Stukus, also known as the Loquacious Lithuanian, was one of the most popular players, executives and sports journalists in Canada. ‘Stuke’ passed away at age 91 in 2006 in Canmore, Alta, where he lived in retirement. The Toronto-born Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and Football Hall of Fame member predicted the skyrocketing salaries paid to athletes these days and the probable consequences.
A Toronto Argonauts star in the CFL from1935-41, Stuke was versatile – playing several positions including quarterback. Along with brothers Bill and Frank, he led the Argos to Grey Cup victories in 1937 and 1938.
He later did some player-coaching, working with a few semi-pro and amateur clubs like the old Toronto Indians, Balmy Beach and the HMCS York Bulldoges before becoming head coach and general manager of the Edmonton Eskimos in 1949. He also handled the Eskie’s place-kicking duties.
He is also credited with founding the BC Lions of the CFL and in 1953 served as the team’s first coach.
Stuke said at his induction into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1991: “The big bucks will eventually destroy the leagues these players are playing for. Just look at the United States football League and the North American Soccer League. They should be cutting expenses instead of spending freely. We may have to go back to the 1930s and play for a uniform and a suit of clothes at the end of the season, but there always be a CFL.”
The multi-talented Stukus wrote a sports column in Toronto and in Vancouver and was a radio sports director and a regular on television Football telecasts.
Football wasn’t his only sport involvement. At one time he served as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks when they were in the Western Hockey League and of the fledgling World Hockey Association’s Winnipeg Jets, signing Bobby Hull to a then-unheard of $1-million contract and providing a large measure of instant credibility for the new league. He later served as promotion director for the Vancouver Whitecaps of the North American Soccer League.
A colleague who knew him well described him as a gregarious, fun loving guy. “He was a great story-teller,” said the colleague. “He loved to tell stories about the good old days of playing and coaching and he loved to have a group around him. He would go out at a drop of a hat to any function that asked him whether it was two people or 200 people.
“He would soon have them laughing, an enjoyable guy, a very enjoyable guy.”