CFL loses one of its greats in Murphy

The CFL has lost one of its staunchest, most loyal and compassionate supporters following the death...

The CFL has lost one of its staunchest, most loyal and compassionate supporters following the death of Cal Murphy, says Sun columnist Frank Zicarelli. (QMI Agency Files)

Frank Zicarelli, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:23 PM ET

The CFL has lost one of its staunchest, most loyal and compassionate supporters following the death of Cal Murphy.

A character whose character was beyond reproach, Murphy loved three-down football like no other, maintaining his ties to the game even as a scout for the Indianapolis Colts.

Murphy died late Saturday night in a Regina hospital, where he had been since suffering broken ribs in a fall earlier this month. He was 79.

Any trip to Regina was incomplete without meeting Murphy, who routinely attended Roughriders games from his spot in the press box.

During last fall’s visit by the Argos, Murphy’s wit and mind were as sharp as ever, recalling the days of Bob Cameron as Toronto and Saskatchewan played under the predictable backdrop of a harsh prairie wind.

“The greatest wind punter in the history of football,’’ Murphy intoned. “What’s sad is that no one remembers how great Bob was as a quarterback.”

Equally sad is that today’s generation wouldn’t know Cal Murphy from Murphy’s law.

Murphy’s old-school approach infuriated many because he wasn’t into coddling or placating egos.

Murphy was about winning, family and football, his passion never wavering even as his health deteriorated.

He would defy the odds by getting a heart transplant when a donor surfaced at the last minute in 1992, never skipping a beat, refusing to offer sound bytes that were politically correct as he kept the Winnipeg Blue Bombers competitive during his run in the ’Peg.

Name a player and Murphy would offer a scouting report that was precise and to the point. If ever someone needed his advice or a helping hand, Murphy would offer his services.

The CFL has experienced a week in which Murphy, Al Brenner and Warren Hudson passed away, three individuals spanning different decades, three people who embodied all that is good about this odd game that is three-down football. But none of the three will leave an impact quite like Murphy, who helped bring Hudson to Winnipeg from Toronto.

A few years later, Murphy brought quarterback Matt Dunigan to Winnipeg in a move that shocked many when Murphy doled out plenty of money to lure Dunigan.

Back in 1992, there was no such thing as a salary management system, parlance for a salary cap, no precedent of a small-market teams such as Winnipeg making such a huge financial commitment to an injury-prone quarterback.

And this after Dunigan shot up a broken collarbone and led the Argos to their 1991 Grey Cup win at frigid Winnipeg Stadium.

But that was Murphy at his best, unafraid to roll the dice, undeterred by optics, unwavering in his goal to make the Blue Bombers the best they could possibly be.

As fate would have it, Dunigan’s Bombers would play Doug Flutie and Calgary in the 1992 Grey Cup held in Toronto.

Flutie’s Stamps prevailed, but Winnipeg would not have advanced to the title game had Murphy not acquired Dunigan.

From an historical standpoint, there aren’t enough words or space to properly document Murphy’s impact on the game.

More than any Grey Cup he was part of, or Hall of Fame induction, it was Murphy’s presence that touched people. Murphy was so unique he had no peer.

He had a grin that could be interpreted in so many ways that some would take exception.

For those who got to know Murphy, everyone understood that inside that strong veneer was a heart of gold, a champion for Canadian players who never oozed arrogance like some of his contemporaries.

Murphy had his moments of crustiness and stubbornness, refusing to allow females inside Winnipeg’s locker room, a decision that triggered a maelstrom of controversy. But Murphy stood by his decision and never blinked.

He took a lot of heat for trading Dieter Brock to Hamilton for Tom Clements, but, as always, Murphy got the last laugh when Winnipeg beat the Ticats in the 1984 Grey Cup.

Whether it was Eagle Keys in B.C., Marv Levy in Montreal or Hugh Campbell in Edmonton, Murphy gleaned knowledge from some of the best and forged a coaching and managerial career that made Murphy one of the best.

“Everyone in both the immediate, and extended, Blue Bomber family is deeply saddened by this news,” Bombers president and CEO Garth Buchko said in a statement. “Cal was a great ambassador for our game and for Canadian football in Winnipeg and Manitoba. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”

Murphy was born in Winnipeg in 1932 and was involved with the CFL for more than 30 years.

About half of his time was spent with the Blue Bombers, winning the 1984 Grey Cup as head coach and serving as GM during Winnipeg’s title years in 1988 and 1990.

“Cal was one of the most influential figures in our organization’s history, and that dates back over 80 years,” Bombers GM Joe Mack in a statement. “His dedication and desire to win was second to none.

“He just didn’t accept losing and his passion for this game was simply unmatched. He will be truly missed.”

Murphy suffered heart attacks in 1978 and 1985 before undergoing successful heart transplant surgery in 1992.

In recent years, Murphy was on kidney dialysis treatment.


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