Looking ahead to this month's 2019 uOttawa Gee-Gees Touchdown Dinner in collaboration with and support from 1881 Gee-Gees Football Alumni Association, uOttawa is pleased to profile each of its new Football Hall of Fame Inductees. Michailis Giftopoulos is inducted from the 1980 team that won the Atlantic Bowl. He also was awarded the Don Loney Trophy as MVP of that Atlantic Bowl Championship and was named an All-Canadian running back in the season prior.
Certainly, Giftopoulos has rightfully earned his place among the Gee-Gees all-time best, and asked if he was excited about his induction, he was more than happy about it. Just not what you would expect it for. His answer was selfless and indicated that he was more excited because of what this says about the group of players we played with.
"It's a testament to what our group did," he said, "A reflection of what a great group we had. Being a tight-knit group allowed us to succeed, and that success just filtered down to me – I was just the catalyst that was beneficiary of all that hard work that took place."
Giftopoulos believed that in addition to his teammates, the culture around the team was also a major factor in the success he and his teammates experienced. Joining the 1976 team, he came into a squad that was still filled with players from the 1975 Vanier Cup winning Gee-Gees. That presence from a historical team is something that Giftopoulos and his other rookie teammates "benefited immensely from."
"They all worked hard to get to the levels that they did, and that rubbed off on the new guys like myself," he remembered, "The culture was pretty significant and we all just bought into it – it was a lot of fun."
Giftopoulos said that this culture that was embedded in the team was something he "tried to impress on the younger guys," as he stepped into a leadership role with the team. The former Gee-Gee still finds himself with the current team during the summers and winters as a guest coach. He uses the time helping the younger players grow and ensures that the culture all the way from 1975 is still here today.
"I like to be around the guys and support them, ensure that have a good experience. " Dubbing himself a hype man, he continues on to say it's great to see the current team still has leaders "that know what it takes to be successful," just like during his time at uOttawa.
Spending time in Ottawa is something Giftopoulos has always enjoyed, but after graduation, he moved out west. He originally graduated with a Bachelor of Honours in Phys. Ed, and moved between Hospitality jobs in Alberta or B.C. He then came back to Ontario, going to Teachers College at Brock. He went on to teach high school for almost 30 years.
His teaching days were what allowed him to keep football around his life, as he said he "coached football the whole time." Giving back to the sporting community was important to him.
Recently retired from teaching, Giftopoulos has decided to move back to Ottawa. He'll be working for Astro Design Center, as part of their business development, as well as Marlboro Doors and Windows, hoping to develop some strong relationships with in the Gee-Gee community.
Regardless of whether it was hospitality, teaching, or his new business ventures, Giftopoulos was very adamant in saying that being a Gee-Gee has prepared him for so much in his life.
"It's so significant," he insists, "learning how to persevere, use your work ethic - the competitive nature of football and the social component of being around many bodies and working as a cohesive unit – it's all been very instrumental and incumbent in my life."
"Those characteristics that I took away from the Gee-Gee football field, they influenced me immensely and all the things in my life."
In addition to looking back at how uOttawa prepared him, Giftopoulos has been doing his reflecting on his career, and what some of his favourite moments in the Garnet and Grey were. When asked if he could pin point one specific case, he had a fantastically unusual story to tell.
"We were playing at Mooney's Bay, and I took a punt return, and returned it 103 yards. It became a record at that time," he proudly recalled, "but then in the same game, Rocky DiPietro (fellow Gee-Gee) took a return for 108 yards. So I held the record for about a quarter." As he laughed about holding the punt return record for about 30 minutes, he had nothing but praise for his teammate that he succeeded the record too. "He was a really special guy – I always looked up to Rocky and still do."
The fact that one of his most cherished memories as a Gee-Gee included praising a fellow teammate mirrors the kind of character Mike Giftopoulos is. Selfless and quick to attribute others, he is as worthy a selection as any for the induction, and he is more than honoured for the recognition.
"I really enjoyed my experience and it means a lot to me to be put into something as treasured as the half of fame – the guys that went in before me I held in such high regard and now to see your name appear there is going to be a really special time."
Michailis Giftopoulos was a running back for the Gee-Gees between 1976-1980. In 1979, Giftopoulos led the OUA East in rushing with 608 yards on 85 carries and scored seven touchdowns to lead Ottawa. An all-purpose threat, Giftopoulos also hauled in receptions and handled kickoff returns. He received All-Canadian honours in 1979 and was invited to train with Hamilton of the CFL. He returned to the Gee-Gees the following season and was the most active rusher in the OQIFC, logging 98 carries and 472 yards. On the balanced 1980 offence, Giftopoulos was one of five players to tie for the team lead with two touchdowns apiece. Giftopoulos was named the MVP of the Atlantic Bowl in 1980. He spent nearly 30 years teaching and coaching football in high school, and has recently returned to Ottawa for a new business opportunity. Known for his selflessness, he attributes most of his success in football to his teammates, and much of his career afterwards to what he learned during his time as a Gee-Gee.
The 2019 Touchdown Dinner will be held on Saturday April 27 at the Canadian War Museum. Tickets and full event information are available online here.