Hand on the wheel

Calgary Stampeders offensive co-ordinator Steve Buratto is passionate about his football. (Calgary...

Calgary Stampeders offensive co-ordinator Steve Buratto is passionate about his football. (Calgary Sun/Darren Makowichuk)

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

It's a package deal, this growing old.

There's no arguing that along with the march of time comes grey hair, creaky bones and wrinkles. But while 61-year-old Steve Buratto is exhibiting subtle traces of each, he's also enjoying the benefits of a weather-worn birth certificate.

With every passing year the Stampeders offensive co-ordinator -- a key component in the rebuilt regime -- says he has developed a clearer perspective on life and a more accurate tally of what matters most.

Buratto's fiery temperament during his distressing days as Calgary's head coach 20 years ago has yielded to a calmer, cooler demeanour. He is a new man making what might be his last CFL stop after nearly three decades coaching in Canada.

"A lot milder, a lot less volatile," smiles Buratto, describing his approach these days to life and football and its stark contrast to his stint as Stampeders boss when he was 40 years old -- his first head coaching role.

Buratto's Stampeders of 1984, in a dogfight for talent with the upstart USFL and saddled with numerous player contract squabbles, managed just six wins. He was replaced by Bud Riley part way through the following season and returns in 2005 a different man, wielding a thick football resume and a new outlook on life.

Buratto has since developed a passion for pottery, soothing his sometimes tattered nerves by throwing ceramic cups and lamps on his wheel at home. It's a far cry from the days when, as a high-strung hothead, he was tempted to really throw cups and lamps as an emotional release.

"Impatience of youth, I guess," Buratto suggests, describing the transformation.

"People change during that time. You find out what's important and what isn't and you don't worry about things you can't control because there's a whole lot of things you can't control. When you're young and aggressive, you try to control everything and you can't. It's all part of the maturation process as a person.

"The biggest shock was last December when I went to my son's 40th birthday party. That's gettin' down the road a little. He's now about the same age I was when I was head coach here."

Wife Judy's serious car accident 16 months ago also provided an emotional jolt that still reverberates today. Her ongoing rehabilitation for a damaged ankle has delayed her move from Vancouver to Calgary as physiotherapists work to restore her mobility.

Buratto is relieved to report his wife is recovering and plans to venture to Calgary this season. For now, she remains at their White Rock, B.C., home to continue rehabbing with a personal trainer while a physical therapist also has her back on her feet.

"She broke a lot of things but the worst injury was to her right ankle," the Seattle native explains. "The doctor described her ankle as a bowl of Rice Krispies. They put it back together and filled the holes with that cadaver bone stuff, put in plates running outside both bones. She's starting to walk and she's starting the physical therapy and the rehab is where she's now starting to make some significant improvement. Before, it was baby steps. Now she walks with a cane at times."

Although Buratto's short reign in the mid-'80s as Stamps head coach was a career low point, his lengthy resume includes Grey Cup triumphs as head coach of the Lions in 2000 and offensive co-ordinator with Baltimore in 1995. While Grey Cup titles are emotional milestones for Buratto the coach, Buratto the craftsman also gets excited at the mention of his passion for pottery and the strange way he was introduced to it more than 40 years ago.

On the day of John F. Kennedy's tragic assassination, No. 22, 1963, Buratto was briefly stranded in Phoenix, spellbound by neighbouring potters.

"When I was at the University of Idaho we flew to play Arizona State and just before we landed John Kennedy was shot, so they postponed the game," Buratto recalls.

"We just kind of sat at the hotel twiddling our thumbs in Phoenix over the weekend. Right across from where we were staying was a strip mall with a couple of Navajo potters in there throwing these huge pots on treadle-driven wheels.

"I was fascinated but I was never anywhere where I could learn it."

He eventually enrolled in an adult education course and became hooked.

"We all got very excited about it, formed a little group and built this Raku kiln and started firing our own stuff," Buratto recalls.

Buratto proudly reports he has graduated to where to now sells much of what he makes, while the entire Stamps staff has been presented with his hand-crafted coffee mugs.

Depending on the team's on-field success this season, the coaching staff's senior citizen could make Calgary his long-term home or retire to his potter's wheel.

"It's only work if you'd rather be doing something else," Buratto muses.


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