Lancaster was truly in class of own

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

If there was ever a greater ambassador for the CFL than Ron Lancaster, I have yet to meet him.

It was 10 years ago Lancaster was saddled with the responsibility of turning around a sad-sack Hamilton Tiger-Cats organization that had won just two games the year before.

In the midst of this monstrous undertaking, he agreed to let me -- a former soccer player with no football experience -- attend camp as a kicker.

No, neither one of us had any illusions I could displace Hamilton kicking legend Paul Osbaldiston, who was lured out of retirement by Lancaster. But the idea was that I, as a journalist, would help promote the game by writing daily about what it was like to be in an athlete's shoes.

A la George Plimpton, I signed a CFL contract, slept in the players' dorms, sang in the rookie show, attended every practice and was under the same rules every other player was. Even though his reputation and the franchise's future was on the line, he took a chance by allowing me to eat up a roster spot, not to mention endless cookies every lunch.

Late in a tight preseason game, when we were winning against Doug Flutie's defending Grey Cup champion Argos, he sought me out on the sideline and sent me in to experience kicking in a game. I made the kick (and forever joke I hold the CFL record for the highest kicking percentage.) Afterwards, Lancaster took the time to release me like he would any other player, with class. He even thanked me for covering the CFL.

Along the way, I was struck by how much respect everyone had for him and, in turn, how accommodating he was to anyone he came across inside or outside the football world. He always took the time to shoot the breeze with anyone interested.

He loved to laugh almost as much as he liked to smoke.

In fact, I recall the team bus waiting at the airport in Winnipeg so he could choke down one last butt.

That year, the Ticats rebounded from its worst record ever to its best season in franchise lore (12-5-1). It was the second-biggest turnaround in CFL history (21 points), ending with a loss to Calgary in the 1998 Grey Cup game. One year later, they beat Calgary in the Grey Cup rematch and Lancaster deserved all the credit for it. He was that good a leader.

Thanks, coach, for giving me an experience I'll never forget and for giving the game the type of humble hero that most sports so desperately lack these days. You will be missed.

Now, more notes, quotes and anecdotes from a sports world wondering if the last four numbers of the Roughriders phone number (306 569-2323) are a tribute to Lancaster, whose No. 23 is retired there.

AROUND THE HORN

Four years after starring as a defensive lineman with the University of Calgary Dinos, Dan Federkeil is now a starting left guard in Indianapolis, where he's paid to protect Peyton Manning ... New American hero Boo Weekley when asked how he was feeling under the Ryder Cup spotlight: "I feel like a dog that somebody done stuck a needle to and it juiced me up like I've been running around a Greyhound track chasing one of those bunnies." ... In town last week to promote being heart smart, NHL coaching legend Pat Quinn said he very much hopes to be back in the NHL shortly after he's finished coaching Canada at the World Juniors this Christmas. "Quite frankly," said Quinn, "I'm bored." ... Finally found something more annoying in sports than the mindless, token intermission interviews hockey broadcasters insult viewers with nightly: Shots of the players' wives fist-bumping at the Ryder Cup ... Calgary became one of the last major cities in Canada to get TSN2 last week when Shaw added it to its digital cable package (Channel 147) and its HD roster (Ch. 226) ... After years of service, Roger Millions has been replaced as Rogers Sportsnet's voice of the Flames by passionate Peter Loubardias. The FAN 960's Rob Kerr is the new play-by-play voice of the Flames' 10 pay-per-view broadcasts, with Charlie Simmer by his side.


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