Clair will always be with us

EARL McRAE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Much, rightly, has been written this week about the death of Frank Clair, who outlived the football team he coached by nine years.

The Rough Riders were 98 when they were buried only to be reincarnated several years later as the Renegades. Frank Clair was 87 when he was cremated, but he'll be coming back, too, with his widow Pat who, later this year, will grant her husband's wishes to have some of his ashes scattered over the field in the stadium named after him.

The rest of Clair's ashes will be taken to Pat's small home town of Rennsselaer, Indiana, and interred beside the ashes of their daughter Holly, who, at the age of 21, died in 1976. When Pat dies, her ashes will join theirs.

SMALL, PRIVATE SERVICE

Clair's funeral service was small and private and family restricted, but says Pat: "We got phone calls from so many of Frank's former players with Ottawa, and even with the Argos from when he coached them way back in the early '50s. Ronnie Stewart, Russ Jackson, George Brancato, Gary Schreider -- they all phoned, oh, so many. Even J.I. Albrecht phoned me. That was so nice of him.

"At the funeral home, all of Frank's mementoes from his years in Ottawa, and Toronto -- the team caps he wore, plaques, sweaters; they were all on display. It was very impressive."

One treasure that wasn't displayed was the one that, perhaps, makes Pat Clair unique in the long history of coaches' wives in the CFL: Her Grey Cup ring. Yes. When Frank Clair's Riders won the Cup in 1968, he had a ring made for Pat, a replica of the players' ring except for the cluster of diamonds he added because 1968 was also their 20th wedding anniversary.

Pat has worn the ring next to her wedding ring ever since.

There is no need, here, to go into again all the honours and awards and achievements of Frank Clair and his Ottawa Rough Riders; it is well known that he was to the Riders and the city of Ottawa what Vince Lombardi was to the Packers and the city of Green Bay. The finest coaches their teams ever had, legends in life and in death, never to be duplicated, never to be replaced.

Frank Clair was called The Professor for his bespectacled, bookish, aloof demeanor, and the Absent-Minded Professor for his mind which often seemed in another galaxy, creating episodes of forgetfulness and distractedness and eccentricities, even making some wonder if he was all that smart, as in all there. He was all that smart, and more, it's just that his focus was so deeply, single-mindedly immersed in football on the field and off, seven days a week.

Leo Cahill, who coached the Argos during a period when Clair coached the Riders, said his team always had to be at its competitive zenith when playing Ottawa because of Clair's preparative and creative excellence that surpassed that of other coaches in the league.

'CHAIN-SMOKING LIKE CRAZY'

"You'd look at him on the sideline," said Cahill, "and there he'd be in that fedora and beige raincoat and those glasses, walking up and down, not smiling, not looking like he was doing anything at all. But he'd be chain-smoking like crazy, and that's what gave away the intensity, the concentration, that fierce desire to win."

Little has been mentioned, in the obits on Frank Clair, about the funnier stories to do with him, and that were such a part of his legend, still told in sporting circles, as they will be for as long as memories last. Some deserve mentioning once again.

Like the time Clair and Brancato were entering a car wash, Clair driving, and Brancato suddenly realized the front windows were down. "Frank, geez, the windows, they're down," yelped George. "Too late," fired back Frank. "We'll be electrocuted if we try to roll them up, don't touch."

The two of them went through the car wash and came out the other end, drenched from head to foot, up to their waists in water and soap bubbles. "Nice day, how are you?" Clair said nonchalalanty, smiling at a kid watching stunned, his mouth open.

Or Pat sending her husband out to get a loaf of bread when they lived in Ottawa, Clair late in returning, Pat turning on the TV, Pat seeing Clair being interviewed at CNE Stadium in Toronto at halftime of the Argos-Alouettes game he'd suddenly decided to scout live.

Clair talking long distance over the phone to sports columnist Eddie MacCabe, Clair fumbling for a match, Clair saying, dead serious: "Eddie, have ya got a light on ya?"

Clair never able to get it right between his players Ernie White who was black and Rick Black who was white, calling Ernie White, Ernie Black and Rick Black, Rick White.

Clair driving the wrong way along an expressway under repair in Florida, Brancato beside him, a worker waving frantically at Clair that he was going the wrong way, Clair smiling, waving back, continuing on, and saying to Brancato: "Guess that guy knows me."

It'll be good to have you come home again, Frank Clair.


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