Rivals join to honour Harris

Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed (left) and former Bomber coach Don Burrell were among the many CFLers...

Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed (left) and former Bomber coach Don Burrell were among the many CFLers in attendance at the funeral for Bombers assistant coach Richard Harris Sunday. (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI Agency)

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:10 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Football rivalries were put to the side on Sunday afternoon in Winnipeg as the CFL community gathered to remember Richard Harris.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive line coach and assistant coach passed away July 26, and hundreds, including Bomber players, coaches and staff, attended the 90-minute memorial service at Immanuel Pentecostal Church.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive end Stevie Baggs stopped in Winnipeg on his way home from Saturday night’s game in Calgary.

Calgary Stampeders receivers Arjei Franklin and Romby Bryant travelled to Winnipeg after Saturday night’s game as well.

B.C. Lions offensive co-ordinator Mike Benevides came from Vancouver.

Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Greg Marshall delivered a humorous, touching and emotional eulogy.

Edmonton Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed gave a Scripture reading.

The aforementioned players and coaches are in rival CFL cities, but their common bond is they all spent time with Harris and won’t ever forget it.

“He was my coach, as I affectionately called him,” said Baggs, who spoke to Harris on the phone two days before he died. “I wouldn’t be in this league if it weren’t for him. In 2006 and ’07, when I was on the practice squad here in Winnipeg, if it wasn’t for him I probably would’ve went home and packed up my bags as a pro athlete.”

Marshall might have been Harris’ closest friend in the CFL, as they coached together in Ottawa and Winnipeg. Marshall’s voice trembled often as he paid tribute to his friend.

“The first thing I noticed right away in Ottawa that carried over to Winnipeg was the way Richard had the ability to touch everybody in the locker-room, whether he coached that position or not,” Marshall said.

That couldn’t be more true for Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson.

“He was the No. 1 reason why I signed back in Winnipeg, considering our whole coaching staff (except Harris) got fired that year,” Johnson said. “Every week we plan to make him proud, especially our defence. We go out and play for him.”

Marshall, Bombers president Jim Bell and Harris family friend Danny Boyko, a Winnipeg police officer, delivered eulogies. They all spoke of Harris’s compassion, kindness, laugh and, of course, his penchant for hugging.

Boyko became friends with Harris because his infant son had endured two open-heart surgeries and the coach was there to offer support. For the last three years the Harris and Boyko families usually spent holidays together.

Marshall also spoke of his remarkable integrity while playing college ball in the racially divided South, and he summed up the fun-loving character Harris was in a story from their Ottawa days.

Just before the final Renegades game in 2005 — two days after the coaching staff had been told it would be fired — a diehard fan named Rocco showed up in a cab at Lansdowne Park with his arm in a sling and the hospital bracelet still on his wrist. He had wrecked his car, which had been towed away with his ticket inside.

Marshall was going to help Rocco out, but Harris said he would take care of it and get the fan into the game.

“Half way through the first quarter Richard comes over and gives me an elbow,” Marshall said. “He says, ‘Check out Rocco.’ Rocco’s standing behind our bench with a beer in each hand.”

Richard Harris will be missed.


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