Loss of a legend

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:35 AM ET

He was the glory of his time. Three times.

The Canadian Football League has lost not one but three different legends in Ron Lancaster.

While very much the same man, he was three different people to three different generations of football fans, equally adored and respected by all. Some of us were privileged to have had our lives touched, up close and very personable, by all three.

Nobody, in the entire history of the CFL, represented the league and the game any better or any longer or in as many ways than Ron Lancaster.

"His contributions, in every way, really, was unparalleled with fans, players and people who never met him," said his best friend and former teammate Gluey Hughie Campbell. "The combination of what he did as a player, a commentator and a coach was really unmatched as an ambassador."

HUMBLE

He was the small-sized quarterback who was larger than life, setting CFL records in a 19-year career which included winning the 1966 Grey Cup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Yet he was still the guy next door in Regina.

He was the CBC TV colour commentator who seemed to almost come into your home and sit on your couch with you watching the game, the exact same guy he was sitting in a hotel lounge as a media colleague the night before the game.

And, as a surprise to many, he became one of the most successful coaches the Edmonton Eskimos ever had, winning more games than any other in team history (83) and winning a Grey Cup both here and later in Hamilton.

Great player. Great guy.

Great broadcaster. Great guy.

Great coach. Great guy.

It's hard enough to find one of those combinations, much less three.

He was the best quarterback in the league in his day, the best colour commentator in league history and ended up with an excellent record as a coach, especially considering the team he had his first two years in Saskatchewan and the last couple in Hamilton were so woeful.

"Ron Lancaster was exactly what you got. His words and body language were unfiltered," said Campbell.

"He thoroughly enjoyed his interaction with a huge variety of people in his life. Ronnie would turn a simple conversation with someone he knew forever or a fan he just met into a fun experience."

I wish all those people he touched, in and around the game, could have been there the night in Hamilton in 1982 when Campbell inducted Lancaster into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

It was in one of the rooms after the affair when the stories started being told.

Campbell told about Lancaster's first year in Saskatchewan when coach Bob Shaw cut Lancaster at half time, then ended up down on his knees in front of the quarterback as he took off his equipment, begging him to go out for the second half saying 'I didn't mean now, I meant after the game.' "

Lancaster spun the story about the old days of Taylor Field when there was a chicken-wire fence in the end zone, which separated fans and players a few inches and Campbell came back to the huddle and asked if he could call a play.

" 'Look up in the middle of the end zone and you'll see a girl in a blue dress.' I looked up and I saw her. 'OK. Look to your left and count to four. Turn around and throw the ball right at the girl in the blue dress. I'll be there.' That's what we did. And he was there. Some people think that football is complicated."

SELF-DEPRECATING

But the all-time Ron Lancaster story he told on himself.

He called it his "most memorable moment" in football.

"It was in 1976 in a game in Ottawa and I moved up to the ball on the line and "Well, I put my hands in there ...

"And it didn't feel the same.

"Ralph Galloway was the guard and it scared the hell of out him.

"Larry Bird was our centre and he didn't know what to do with the ball in his hands when I was over behind Galloway with my hands between his legs.

"Bird didn't know what to do so he tried to roll the ball over to Galloway while I stood there feeling like an idiot.

"The next day at practice, all the guys showed up with their positions stenciled on their bums and Larry Bird had a big 'X' marked on his rear end and lettering which said 'Place Hands Here.' "

Hard to believe a guy who made Ralph Galloway so uncomfortable with his touch that day could end up being three different legends in the game who ended up touching so many people in all the right places.

---

LANCASTER QUICK FACTS

A quick look at CFL legend Ron Lancaster, who died this week at age 69:

Born: Oct. 14, 1938 in Fairchance, Penn.

Nickname: The Little General.

Playing career: Quarterback with the Ottawa Rough Riders from 1960 to '62 and Saskatchewan Roughriders from 1963-'78.

Achievements on the field: Led Ottawa to a Grey Cup title in 1960, his rookie season. Quarterbacked Saskatchewan to 14 consecutive playoff appearances, five Grey Cup finals and one Grey Cup title in 1966. Won the Schenley award as CFL's outstanding player in 1970 and '76.

Coaching career: Player-coach in 1977 and '78, as Saskatchewan's offensive co-ordinator. Saskatchewan's head coach in 1979 and 1980; Coached Edmonton from 1991 to '97 and Hamilton from 1998 to 2003 and in 2006.

Achievements on the sideline: Led Edmonton to a Grey Cup title in 1993, and the Tiger-Cats in 1999.

By the numbers: Completed 3,384 passes for 50,535 yards and 333 touchdowns and was the CFL's passing yardage leader in five seasons. As a coach, his 142 wins place him fifth on the CFL's career regular-season wins list.

Hall of Famer: Inducted into Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1982, and Canadian Sports Hall of Fame ('85).


Videos

Photos