Murphy's death shocks Polian
By Steve Simmons, QMI Agency
|Bill Polian says the football world and the human race lost a luminary with the death of his close friend, Cal Murphy. (Kevin Uhadl, QMI Agency files)
The late phone call on Saturday night came as a complete shock to Bill Polian.
“I didn’t know what to say at first,” Polian admitted Monday morning. It was the agent, Gil Scott, on the phone. The news brought more than a tear to Polian’s eyes.
“The last time I spoke to Cal — he called me after I was let go in Indy — and we talked for a long time. It didn’t seem that anything was wrong,” he said. “I know he had grown a little frail over the past couple of years. He had the difficulties with the dialysis and things like that, but I always thought that was just normal part of the aging process. He sounded fine, to me, when we last spoke on the phone.”
He sounded the way Cal Murphy usually sounded, full of life and fun and trouble and family and football. “I was very, very shocked by the call,” said Polian. “I’m still shocked.”
For the past 35 years, Cal Murphy kept looking out for Bill Polian, and in turn Polian kept looking out for Murphy. That’s what friends do. That’s what they were. They met in 1977, when Murphy was the offensive line coach for Marv Levy’s Montreal Alouettes and Polian worked there as a part-time scout. They won a Grey Cup together that year, and for Murphy it was his first of six in a row. One in Montreal, five in Edmonton.
“I don’t know what it was at the beginning but we just hit it off,” said Polian of their relationship, which began before he ran the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts in their very best times. “He was older, more experienced than me. I was a young kid getting my feet wet in the scouting business. We talked a lot of football, and a lot of life, spent a lot of time together.”
Five years after leaving Montreal, Murphy was hired as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Paul Robson was the general manager. “Paul had just hired Cal and Cal said: ‘I know this guy from Montreal, he used to be the Kansas City Chiefs, I think you’d better hire him.’
“I loved that job. We were close, close friends and I absolutely valued his opinion tremendously. When you go through the process we went through to built a team from scratch in Winnipeg, working 24 days a day, seven days a week. You become very close and that closeness never faded with time and distances.”
Polian and Murphy were front and centre in the famous Dieter Brock holdout in Winnipeg, that led to his eventual trade in 1983. And funny how things worked out, years later Polian tried to sign Brock in Buffalo: The agent in this case — the same Gil Scott who called him on Saturday to tell him that Murphy had passed away.
Murphy went on to win nine Grey Cup rings before being inducted in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. He won 10 rings in his career, one Super Bowl, nine Grey Cup, one for each finger and a thumb. Polian, with more Grey Cup titles (2) than Super Bowl wins (1), will almost certainly find his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And once Murphy’s football time in Winnipeg and later Saskatchewan came to an end, Polian looked out for him in 2000 — hiring him to scout for the Colts, a job he held for the past 12 seasons.
“I miss him already,” said Polian, who is out of football management since being fired in Indy last month. “He was an important guy for us, and important friend for me. When I think of Cal, I think first and foremost of one of the finest men I’ve ever met. A devout catholic, a tremendous father and husband, and a wonderful person to be around with a funny, cheerful, positive disposition. A great football man, but a better man than even that.
“He did some great work for us. He brought in Mike Vanderjagt and that paid immediate dividends for us Vanderjagt had a real good run here.
Cal was one of the few people who could translate the games. He understood the Canadian game so well and he also understood how the talent would translate, league to league. No one did that better than him. He’d see a player and know whether he had a chance or not.”
Murphy didn’t just bring Vanderjagt south. He recommended Cameron Wake, among others, when he playing for the B.C. Lions. “We lost out to Miami on that one. But we were right there on him because of Cal.
“He brought in that (Dan) Federkeil kid from Canada. I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but if it hadn’t been for concussions, I believe Federkeil would have had a long and very productive NFL career as an offensive lineman. He had that kind of talent. Cal made our teams better, by doing things like that, but also by being at the Combine or at training camp and seeing something someone else didn’t see. I thought he was tremendous to have around. He was a valuable resource and we would talk very frequently. I liked having him share his opinion with me and I valued it.
“The football world lost a luminary in Cal Murphy,” said Polian, “but the human race it lost a luminary, too.”