Leo the Lip likes London

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

One doesn't speak with Leo Cahill long before grand ideas begin percolating beneath his pate.

Then monuments emerge from his mouth.

And before you can say Joe Theisman, suddenly you can see a Canadian Football League franchise in London.

Folks of a certain age will recall Cahill. He was the guy who kept the Toronto Argonauts on the front pages and at the top of newscasts over two regimes as head coach and one as general manager.

Leo the Lip is back with the Argos, now in community relations. And one community he likes is London.

Cahill has always thought this would be an ideal city for CFL expansion, and nothing has changed his mind now that the league is enjoying an upswing in popularity.

"London would be one helluva place for the league to expand," Cahill said yesterday from his Sarnia home.

"It would make a lot more sense than the Maritimes. Can you imagine home-and-home games with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Argos? You'd jam the place."

He was referring to recent CFL talk of expanding to Halifax. While Cahill sees potential there as a sort of community-owned regional franchise like the Saskatchewan Roughriders, he likes the football culture of this region more.

"If a deal could be struck like the ones the Argos did with York University, one between Western and the CFL and government, a stadium of 20,000 to 25,000 would sell out for sure," he said.

Cahill has always felt a London franchise also targeting the nearby American market would produce immense dividends.

Unlike other sports, CFL teams only have nine regular season games to sell. The key, of course, is a stadium. Even with temporary bleachers, UWO's TD Waterhouse could accommodate only about 16,000, well short of what a CFL team would require to be viable.

There are other issues. The sort of government assistance the Argos get -- $27 million from the feds and $8 million from the province -- is one thing. A large stadium on the Western campus would require vast road-building and parking upgrades.

That said, football is a drive-to sport and there are plenty other sites in or around town.

Cahill, once an assistant coach at the Montreal Alouettes with Indian Jack Jacobs, who coached the old senior London Lords, recalled a time when they were boarding a plane with head coach Perry Moss and then-owner Ted Workman.

"Jack had his golf clubs with him and something was said about it," Cahill recalled. "Jack told them he'd do what he wanted and what they could do. He was one tough SOB."

Cahill's style was more creative. In the same position as Jacobs, he'd conjure up ways in which his presence on the golf course would be of immense value to the Alouettes and get hearty applause.

It was Cahill who managed to attract such blue-chippers as quarterback Joe Theisman into Argo double-blue and fill the 31,000 CNE Stadium regularly. In fact, if anyone ever gets behind a CFL franchise for London, Cahill ought to be the first signing.

For now, he is glad to be back in football, even though "I have to take a low profile, which is not exactly my modus operandi," and enjoying finally getting a Grey Cup ring after the Argo victory over the BC Lions.

"It's great, doing radio and television and after the Grey Cup, doing autograph sessions along with the players."

At 76, Cahill has received some added recognition. Siemens Canada sponsors the Leo Cahill Trophy, which goes to the Toronto-area high school football coach who does most to support the game.

He gets to award it next week. There's a story behind the award. The CEO of Siemens once interviewed Cahill for his student newspaper and never forgot the coach's kindness.


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