A QB and a friend

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:36 AM ET

The tributes began to pour in moments after the news of the death of Ron Lancaster became public yesterday.

But it took until mid-afternoon for his old teammates and best friends Hugh Campbell and George Reed to gather themselves to be able to participate in a conference call.

"A day like today hits George and I very hard. We're pleased to try to do our best here but we're still teetering," said Campbell.

'DEVASTATED'

"We are devastated by this loss. We knew of his illness but thought he had a lot more time than this," said Campbell about losing Lancaster at age 69 after a battle with lung cancer. "I was devastated when I got the call about it. I could hardly talk.

"We were good friends and good friends are hard to come by. We did a lot of things together," said Reed, who set CFL rushing and touchdown records taking handoffs from Lancaster with the Saskatchewan Roughriders glory gang of the '60s.

Lancaster once told me about his relationship with the two.

"Those were the two guys I was closest to on the team. I think I was closer to George in the off-season and Hugh during the season.

"George and I lived three blocks from each other and we spent the week between Christmas and New Year's together in North Dakota.

"Hugh and I used to talk a lot. We'd sit around on the road and talk coaching a lot.

"Hugh always said we were successful as a receiver and a quarterback because he ran slow and I had a slow delivery. Hugh would never get tired of running those patterns.

"He'd run them as long as I'd throw them.

"Taylor Field had a bunch of little hills and valleys. Hugh knew how to run around that field so (that) he was always running downhill, I swear."

Yesterday Campbell and Reed were having trouble talking about Lancaster like he loved to talk about them.

"I have a really good book's worth of info going through my head, but it's a struggle to put it into words," said Campbell. "As a player he was the toughest, mentally. He had great leadership qualities.

"His toughness and the fact he was willing to work harder than anybody else made him a natural leader."

GO-TO GUY

Reed talked about the day he became Lancaster's go-to guy carrying the pigskin.

"I'd carried the ball seven times in a row and players were saying 'Ronnie, give him a break, he's carried it seven times in a row, he's getting tired. He gave it to me again and I ran for 40 yards.

"That was the start of him giving me the ball a lot."

Lancaster played the final game of his 19 seasons at Commonwealth Stadium to a royal send-off.

He left as the CFL's all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 333, pass completions with 3,384, pass attempts with 6,223 and yards passing with 50,535.

Campbell, of course, would go on to hire Lancaster as his Edmonton Eskimos head coach in 1991 despite a 4-28 record in two seasons coaching at the end of his playing career in Saskatchewan after a decade in the broadcast booth.

His job was to restore class and character to a dressing room which had lost both.

"I knew I could have complete trust in Ron. He didn't want anybody on the team that didn't meet the description which applied to him," said Campbell yesterday.

"Coaching in Edmonton, it was the smoothest and greatest of situations. He was demanding but the players knew he loved them and he was on their side.

"He was very surprised when I suggested to him that he do it. It took a little bit of convincing and recruiting to get him to do it, to challenge him to get back into the football side of it. He had a comfortable life commentating and was enjoying it."

Coaching would come to complete him.


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