'Nobody better'

TIM BAINES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

Bob Stephen was a giant ... and not just in stature.

A bear of a man, the former Ottawa Rough Riders offensive lineman was legendary in the local community football scene. Not just legendary, but LEGENDARY.

A teammate to some, a coach to many and a friend to so many more, Stephen died Sunday of a heart attack. He would have been 51 on Feb. 23.

It was about the only thing that could stop Stephen, whose love for life made him The Man among men.

"He was a big bear of a guy, with that big smile," says his good buddy, Stephen Dean, president of the National Capital Amateur Football Association. "He certainly loved life.

"Bob was always joking. We had to implement a five-second rule when Bob was around, just to see if he was kidding or not."

Stephen, who worked at Capital Stamp, was a member of the Ottawa Sooners' 1979 national championship team. He went on to play for the Rough Riders from 1981-85. He coached an Eastern Ontario team to gold at the 2004 national championship. He was also involved in the Nepean Redskins.

"He was one of those guys who did what it took to play," says Football Canada's Rick Sowieta, Stephen's teammate with the Riders. "He wasn't a huge guy at the time. But he just loved the game. He was a centre, but he would play wherever we needed him. He was a great student of the game.

"After he was done playing, he became involved in coaching and was one of our course co-ordinators for the Level 3 certification.

"This really comes as a shock."

Sooners marketing and promotions director Jeff Balys says "there was nobody better" than Stephen.

"I spent a lot of time (at the Redskins) midget games with him," says Balys. "He was like the city's coach. When you thought of Ottawa football and coaching, he was the guy.

'LOVED THE KIDS'

"He always had advice. He was always laughing. He loved the kids. And he loved football."

Dean's connection with Stephen went well beyond the field.

"It's a pretty tough time," says Dean. "We're all emotional about this. No one saw it coming.

"Technically, we went to the same high school, St. Pius X, but he was two years older than me. We didn't travel in the same circles, but I knew who he was. The best man at his wedding, Fabe Poulin, is my brother-in-law. They were Sooners together. My wife (Elizabeth) knew his wife (Jennifer) in high school. I got to know Bob more closely when he started coaching football.

"We played golf together. Four of us went to Prince Edward Island last year. Bob just fit right in to the point where he had old ladies hugging and kissing him. He was the life of the party. We had a ball in P.E.I.

"He had that 300-yard swing and the ball would go right down the middle of the fairway. Bob would kiss both his pipes, then do a Popeye imitation."

Stephen would shoot in the mid-80s, counting every shot.

"We're sort of reeling," says Dean. "He was just one of those characters. We're really going to miss him. We won't have Big Bad Bob in the corner of the end zone watching over us anymore."

The wake will be held at the Kelly Funeral Home in Barrhaven today, 5-9 p.m., and tomorrow, 2-4 p.m. and 7-9. It's expected the funeral will be Thursday, 11 a.m., at St. Patrick's Fallowfield Parish (15 Steeple Hill Cr., in Nepean).

Stephen is survived by his parents Ted and Sadie, his wife Jennifer and his children Jonathan, Matthew, Stephanie and Jacqueline.

And it's to his family, especially Jennifer, his high-school sweetheart, we owe the greatest debt ... to have unselfishly shared such a special person, a gentle giant, with us for so long. God be with you, Bob.


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