Leo Cahill: Still a man of the people

Steve Simmons holds up some of the printed out e-mails he received after his story about legendary...

Steve Simmons holds up some of the printed out e-mails he received after his story about legendary CFL coach Leo Cahill — who is fighting for his life after undergoing heart surgery. (JACK BOLAND/QMI Agency)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:44 PM ET

TORONTO - My BlackBerry began vibrating late Tuesday afternoon and hasn’t stopped buzzing since. Interest in Leo Cahill can do that to a small computerized instrument.

The response to the column detailing Cahill’s difficult battle after heart surgery has been nothing short of overwhelming. It isn’t simply which people have written in or how many have chosen to respond, it’s the tone of the emails, the personal stories being related, how much Cahill is admired by a sporting populace that has probably never been exposed to anything like him, before or since his days with the Argos.

It is remarkable how long he’s been away and how much he is revered.

The notes came in, from a wonderful cross section of football people, football fans, those who grew up on the Argos, so many with more than well wishes to pass on to the ailing 83-year-old coach, who calls himself lucky to be alive.

Notes came in from The Don, Don Matthews, asking for Cahill’s phone number. He wants to call from Oregon. Rich Stubler, the former Argo coach, sent his best.

Dave Ridgway, the Hall of Fame kicker from the Saskatchewan Roughriders, wrote a touching note about being a British immigrant kid and growing up in Southern Ontario in the 70s when football really mattered. “When I started in the league in ‘82, I used to imagine some of the greats that prowled the sidelines and playing fields,” Ridgway wrote. “And when playing at the CNE, I thought of Symons, Stillwagon, Theismann, Chuck Ealey, the Big Zee and Leo, amongst others...”

His experience, based on the letters written Wednesday, was not unique, even if he ended up winning a Grey Cup and being inducted in the Hall of Fame, and so many others just have memories of such a memorable time.

Ron Lancaster’s daughter, Lana, sent a note from Saskatchewan. “And ps,” she wrote, “please tell Leo that Ron’s grandson (my son) Marc has just signed a contract with the Edmonton Eskimos.”

Paul Bennett, the great defensive back and punt returner, sent a note. Chris Schultz, the best analyst in Canadian football, sent a note as did a number of national broadcasters. Joe Theismann sent his well-wishes through a third-party. Those are some of the famous people.

But mostly, the responses came from almost every province, from names you wouldn’t know, from an older demographic, some from the United States, from those who used to live here and have since moved away, all of them touched in one way or another by the former coach. It’s amazing what people remember. They remember what seats they sat in at Exhibition Stadium. My dad and I were in Section J, Row 49. I got notes yesterday from those who sat in L and F and H. We were on the covered side of the stadium. We were the ones laughing whenever it rained.

And so many wrote in about father and son memories and the bond that any sporting situation can bring. If Leo Cahill did anything important in his time with the Argos — and he did lots — then the relationships formed between fathers and daughters and sons has to be near the top of any list.

“Thank you Mr. Cahill for being such an important part of a father and son bonding experience,” a fan named Larry Henderson wrote. “My son and I now attend games ... and my son is always reminded of the glory days at CNE Stadium, which was always packed with fans and usually cheering for Leo and the Double Blue. Long live Leo. My dad always said you were the toughest of the Argos.”

That wasn’t one story. That was so many.

As I promised, I have printed all the emails and will be sending them to Cahill today. If he didn’t know yesterday what people thought of him, he will have a clear understanding after he sees how Toronto Sun readers and sports radio listeners have responded. And when he reads how many people are angry that he isn’t in the Hall of Fame, it will make him smile.

He needs to smile. Hopefully, all these messages and well-wishes, will help him on the road to recovery.

The following is a small sampling of letters and emails Steve Simmons received in response to Wednesday’s column on Argo coaching legend Leo Cahill:

“Mr. Cahill is a true sports hero ... I loved his candour and truthfulness with the media and public. Unlike many of the transient sports figures of today, his players were characters who we, the fans, could bond with and certainly enjoyed watching.”

— Rick Leslie, Yellowknife, NT

“Hang in there Leo. Tough guys finish first and you are one of the toughest guys on the planet. You are a huge part of the last golden age of the Argos.”

— Jim Sutherland, Riders fan

“Leo was a wonderful character in the city. He brought us a lot of laughs, a lot of civic pride, and lots of very strong and long cheers ... Please do add my name to the list of people who wish Leo all the best and a speedy recovery.”

— Dave Reason, Swansea

“Please wish Leo a fast recovery. The world is a better place because of him.”

— Rich Stubler, former Argo coach

“In my 60 years of watching sports you were the most fun. After all these years, I still get a warm feeling thinking of you in action.”

— Moe Cooper, Toronto

“Please pass on my best wishes to Leo. It was his generation of CFLers that inspired a young immigrant British kid to pursue the game upon my arrival in Canada and the Southern Ontario region in the early 1970s. ... Please pass on my well wishes ... To me, he is one of the icons of our game.”

— Dave Ridgway, Hall of Fame, 2003

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/@simmonssteve


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