A Life's Story

July 30, 2022

Salesman master motivator on gridiron

Peter Watt, 87, helped lead St. Vital Bulldogs to four Canadian football titles

By: Jim Timlick

Few places made Peter Watt feel more alive than on the football field.

Whether it was evading tacklers as a player or coaching from the sidelines, Watt was in his element.

“I think for many years football was a huge part of his life. I don’t think my mom was too happy about it, but I think she learned to live with it,” son Peter recalls with a laugh.

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Peter Watt wore #20 when he played for the St. Vital Bulldogs senior team in the early 1960s.

Watt’s love of the game began as a teenager. A standout running back and defensive back, he later joined the St. Vital Bulldogs senior team in the early 1960s. Watt played a key role on the Bulldogs teams that went on to win a pair of Canadian Intermediate League championships in 1960 and 1962.

Those Bulldogs teams dominated the line of scrimmage with a running attack, led by Watt, that averaged almost 500 yards a game. At the time, some observers considered him to be the best running back who played the three-down game.

“I played centre, so I was out blocking for him. He was a helluva good football player,” says former teammate Bill Hutton, who played with Watt for three seasons (1960-62). “He fought for every yard he gained.”

Watt was so good he attracted the attention of Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Bud Grant, who invited him to attend training camp on several occasions. He reluctantly turned down the invites.

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Peter Watt (right), seen here as head coach of the St.Vital Bulldogs in 1968, died on May 9 at the age of 87.

He was working full time for Canada Packers, and the food processing company frowned on its employees playing for the football club. He also had a young family to support with his first wife, Dorothy.

“Dad was basically told he had to make a choice between playing for the Bombers and working for Canada Packers. He had a young family at the time, so what kind of choice do you make? You obviously choose your job and family,” says Peter.

“If he ever had any regrets about his decision, he never told anybody. He’d always say, ‘I’m certain I made the right choice.’”

Watt died May 9 at age 87. He is survived by his second wife, Margaret, children Peter, Kevin, Randy, Shelley and Chris, and numerous grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Soon after retiring as a player in the mid-1960s, Watt joined the coaching fraternity. He took over as head coach of the Bulldogs senior team and guided the team to three consecutive appearances in the Canadian senior championship, beginning in 1967.

After losing a tough 4-0 decision in that first title game, Watt’s team returned the following year and steamrolled the Sudbury Spartans 62-7 at Winnipeg Stadium. It followed that up with a 72-13 drubbing of the North Bay Tiger Cats in the 1969 Canadian title game in North Bay, Ont.

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Peter and Margaret were married in 1981.

While those teams were blessed with some outstanding athletes, including future Olympian Bruce Pirnie, Watt’s football acumen and ability to inspire players were integral to the success of those squads, says one former player.

“A lot of senior teams didn’t have good turnouts at practice. We had about 98 per cent turnout at every single practice. I think a lot of that had to do with Peter and his personality. He had a really easy-going style,” says former offensive lineman Blair Schapansky, who also played for Watt when he coached the Weston Wildcats junior team.

“One of the things I remember about him was he was able to keep our spirits up even if we were down a bit. He’d say, ‘That’s nothing, let’s go out and do it’ and we would.

“I remember being down 13-0 in the championship game in North Bay. He said if you guys want to be champions you’ve got to pull yourselves up. We did.”

As positive as he was, Watt could also be a strict disciplinarian. Schapansky still recalls the time he joined some co-workers for a couple of beers after work and then showed up at practice.

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Peter Watt spent 20 years in sales at Canada Packers.

“It was 30 (C) that day and Peter smelled that I had been drinking. He turned to me and said you see that track? He said you start running and don’t stop until I tell you. I ran for an hour. If I had stopped I knew I would have been off the team. My tongue was hanging out by the end. I’ll tell you, I never, ever had a drink again before practice,” Schapansky says with a laugh.

Despite his affinity for the pigskin, Watt was also an outstanding hockey player. As a teenager, he signed a C form contract with the Cincinnati Royals of the Eastern Professional Hockey League, a minor-league affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. He attended camp with the Royals one year but returned to Winnipeg to concentrate on football.

Watt was born Born Oct. 27, 1934, in Winnipeg and spent most of his early years in the city, although he and his family briefly moved to Saskatoon during the Second World War while his father was fighting overseas.

His career outside of football mirrored his play on the field. He worked hard for everything he accomplished, including during his 20-plus years in sales at Canada Packers. He also worked as a salesman at a number of other different companies and briefly owned his own waterbed business.

“Sales fit him. He had the gift of the gab. My mom would say he could have sold anybody anything,” Peter says.

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Peter Watt.

Watt met his second wife, Margaret, in 1977; the couple was married in 1981. They were inseparable for the next 40 years.

Watt was diagnosed with dementia in 2010, after family and friends became concerned he was becoming increasingly forgetful. He spent his last four years at Betel Personal Care Home in Selkirk.

While his memory may not have been what it once was, Peter says his dad’s football recollections endured.

While he was always modest about his accomplishments as player and coach, Watt was extremely proud of the fact the four championship Bulldogs teams he was a part of were enshrined in the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

passages@freepress.mb.ca

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