Pettersen far too young to leave us

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

This is getting too frequent and too personal. All these sporting obituaries.

Too many from the world of fun and games, as Jim Hunt would call it, are dying. Too many good friends, old friends. Too many colleagues.

You start to live without George Gross and then Bobby Ackles dies suddenly on his boat. You start to live without Ackles and then you hear the shocking news about Leif Pettersen, found at home, so damn young at 57.

Sometimes death doesn't surprise. From a hospital bed, his body full of cancer, Pat Marsden liked nothing better than to share old stories on the phone, sounding so loud and full of life, right to the end of that crazy, frenetic life he led. He knew he was going. We knew he was going. But typical of Marsden, he wanted to get in the last word wherever possible.

In Don Wittman's case, we knew for months his time was running out. We just didn't know when. But there was time to hold a living tribute, a time for friends to say goodbye, a time for the broadcaster to be acknowledged for all that had been ignored for most of his working life. A time for us to adjust.

That happens sometimes. You can celebrate a life before it ends. But yesterday, a morning e-mail arrived, leaving us stunned and silent and unable to comprehend. Leif Pettersen, who my wife once described as the "most perfect looking man I have ever seen" lost his life way too soon. How is this possible?

There were no signs. There was no warning. He had a 34-inch waist when he played in the Canadian Football League and he would never be too embarrassed to let you know that he still had that 34-inch waist. Guys that well-built, that perfect looking, funny, full of stories, in shape, aren't supposed to die young. To an extent, we can make sense of Gross dying in his 80s. That's what you call a full life.

But at 57? A stunning athlete? A broadcaster. A serious golfer. A businesman. A family man. Yeah, he spent a lot of years with Marsden, who thought there were 48 hours in every day, but Pettersen was so much the specimen that even that didn't seem to age him. If life on the road with Marsden didn't kill him -- or get him arrested -- nothing should have.

Petterson was just at a visitation on Tuesday night for an old friend and made plans to meet his good friend and golf buddy, Ron Hewat, for dinner Wednesday night. He never did show. "Turns out," Hewat said, "we were the last people to see him."

Our world of fun and games has been rocked by sad realities in recent times.

The newsrooms and the press boxes aren't the same without Gross and Hunt, without Milt Dunnell and Jim Proudfoot and Rick Fraser. The broadcasts aren't the same without Wittman and Don Chevrier and Tom Cheek and Marsden and the CFL can't be the same without Ackles, the league's conscience, and without that gorgeous kid, Pettersen, who strangely enough, used to be in the funeral business.

ERAS GONE BY

We miss their presence, their story-telling, their wisdom, their tales of eras gone by, their guidance and their perspective. At various times, the CFL thought enough of both Ackles and Pettersen to interview them for the job of commissioner. Both would have been up to the thankless task. And both were successful in their own business ventures, and their own family lives.

Last night, a few weeks after the Ackles tributes, TSN dedicated its CFL doubleheader to the memory of Pettersen, who once was part of their original football panel. For almost 30 years, he was part of football in this country, either catching the ball or commentating on it. Never looking a day older.

That is how I will remember him: The guy with the drop-dead looks wasn't supposed to live up to his own description.


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