Farewell to a CFL Legend
Can't say I knew Ron Lancaster as a close friend.
Then again, he was a big part of my life.
Weird, huh? That's how you remember the sporting heroes of your youth, and Lancaster was a figure out of western Canada who appeared on snowy days to perform magic with George Reed for every Canadian's second favourite team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
He wasn't athletic, didn't look like he could run very fast and threw tons of interceptions. But that never stopped him from throwing the football and becoming one of the biggest stars of the CFL throughout the 1960s and 1970s, arguably the heyday of the league. Can't even tell you who was the backup quarterback to Lancaster all those years — he was always the guy under centre.
He died Wednesday night of lung cancer, making me awfully sad that when I saw him in the press box at Ivor Wynne Stadium on Labour Day, I didn't immediately go over and offer my best wishes. Then he was gone and the game was on and that was the last time I saw one of the legends of Canadian three-down football.
I knew him personally only as a coach, and always thought it admirable that after failing terribly as a head coach the first time around, he succeeded wonderfully in Edmonton and Hamilton. He could be a bit growly at times, but usually had time for pretty much everybody and certainly didn't carry himself with the slightest pretence, the slightest sense that he had been a king on the football field once upon a time.
As a native Hamiltonian, I will always appreciate that Lancaster found a way to lose to Chuck Ealey and the Tiger-Cats in the 1972 Grey Cup Game at Ivor Wynne, and similarly appreciate that he brought the Grey Cup back to Hamilton in 1999, not just with one of those lucky winners but a truly outstanding football team. Sadly, ownership wasn't strong, and that era in Steeltown football faded.
At 69, Don Matthews is back coaching in the CFL, and at the same age the Little General has left us. Not fair, but never to be forgotten.