CFL icon buoyed by support

CFL legend J.I. Albrecht, 76, unable to walk, is confined in a Toronto nursing home where he...

CFL legend J.I. Albrecht, 76, unable to walk, is confined in a Toronto nursing home where he struggles against the physical ravages of a stroke and a heart attack. (Sun Media File/FRED THORNHILL)

EARL MCRAE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:55 AM ET

The recent story in the Sun on the sad state of retired CFL legend J.I. Albrecht triggered a voluminous response of shock and sympathy.

Albrecht, 76, unable to walk, is confined in a Toronto nursing home where he struggles against the physical ravages of a stroke, heart attack, and the emotional sorrow of his son's suicide and death from cervical cancer of his second wife.

A message from J.I. Albrecht:

"I am overwhelmed, Earl, by what has happened. I owe you a great debt of gratitude. The only part of your article I didn't like was the big picture of my face. I knew I was ugly, but (chuckling) I didn't know I was that ugly. I've received so many phone calls, letters, and cards. From all over Canada and the United States. And I'm still getting them. And visits. People coming in to see me.

'THEY ARE SO KIND'

"I feel that I matter again. I'm on the map again. Phone calls and letters and visits from people I know and people I don't know. Many from people I haven't heard from in years. They are so kind. They care for me. People like Marv Levy, general manager of the Buffalo Bills. When I was with the Alouettes, I gave Marv his start as a head coach. He phoned me.

"Wally Buono phoned, and Don Chevrier. George Brancato and his wife came to see me. Marshall Shirk and John Pentecost, two of the guys I once recruited for the CFL, they phoned from California. Leo Cahill came in.

"Pierre Desjardins and Larry Fairholm visited me. Peter Dalla Riva phoned and so did Terry Evanshen. They were all my boys. And Junior Ah You and Ed George. They phoned as did a lot of others. And Mark Kosmos. Mark phoned.

"Bill Frank, another great CFL player. He phoned. I've had calls from U.S. college players I'd once recruited, and coaches, players I'd recruited for the NFL.

"It is unbelievable, Earl. You have no idea what your story has done for me. An auto mechanic from Peru came in to see me. From Peru. Can you believe it? He said he was moved by the story.

"People have given me books of inspiration to read, and people have come in, people who aren't football people just ordinary citizens, they've come in and actually prayed with me in my room. Prayed for me to get better and for my heart to mend. People have been so kind. So kind. Who knows, Earl. Maybe I'll make that Canadian Football Hall of Fame after all."

Phone call to Earl McRae from Marv Levy, GM of the Buffalo Bills, former Bills head coach, inductee Pro Football Hall Of Fame:

"Not only was your piece magnificently written and beautifully expressed, Earl, it was very touching. I've always counted J.I. as a friend. The story was very heart-breaking in many ways. I was J.I.'s selection to coach the Montreal Alouettes and, boy, did he bring in some great players."

J.I. Albrecht. Lincoln Place Nursing Home. Room 515. 429 Walmer Rd., Toronto, Ont. M5P 2X9. His bedside phone: 416-928-6506.


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