He lived to laugh, argue

BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

The sports world has lost its Maestro of Fun -- Pat Marsden, icon of broadcasting and master of mayhem.

Nobody ever bellied up to a microphone lived larger, laughed louder, played harder or enjoyed life more than Pat Marsden. He succumbed yesterday, at 69, to lung cancer.

His career spanned five decades and he became a household fixture from Vancouver to Halifax as the voice of the Canadian Football League.

"He lived his life the way he wanted," fellow broadcaster and pal Fergie Olver said. "He had his own way. He'd light up a room. He loved a good argument, a joke, a story, his family. We should all be so lucky to live the life he lived."

Marsden's impish grin welcomed viewers as CFTO sports director until, as the story goes, one day reaching over the desk, punching news director Ted Stuebing and paving his way to alternative employment as one of Toronto radio's most successful morning men.

"He was a man's man," friend and one-time Argos coach Leo Cahill said. "He was the old saying: If you want to fight, f--- or run a footrace, Pat was there. He was an exceptionally gregarious guy, lived life to the fullest; the kind of guy who liked to gamble and have a drink and talk sports. And a good friend."

Marsden knew everyone from paupers to prime ministers. His friends included baseball executive Paul Beeston, fellow broadcasters Mike Wadsworth and Olver, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Cahill, a rum and coke and a good wager. They should name all hospitality suites after him.

Bill Stephenson worked CFL games with Marsden and Wadsworth. He recalls one playoff game in 1979.

"Someone told a joke during commercial," Stephenson said. "They start laughing and Marsden is rolling on the floor. Pretty soon, both of them are down there and I had to fill 15 minutes of airtime on national TV."

He was irascible. Marsden once told a reporter: "I've always been opinionated. You are entitled to your opinion, but it's simply not valid."

The Ottawa native carried on a life-long love affair with the microphone. Olver recalls 1969 just after he joined Marsden at CFTO.

"He was quick-witted," Olver said. "Sharp. The only guy I ever saw who went in and did a 10-minute sports broadcast without a piece of paper in front of him. Pat had a gift."

In 1991, Marsden retired to Florida but Beeston brokered a deal that brought him back to The FAN 590 in 1996. He would spend the next eight years as their prime morning man.

"He helped rebuild this station," said Nelson Millman, program director at Toronto's sports station. "What made it fun, aside from the fact nobody could drink like he could, was that he had so much respect for everything and everyone, but it sounded like he had no respect for anyone. It was all about having fun."

He refused to take games too seriously.

"Pat wasn't a great guy for statistics, even on his radio show," Cahill said. "Some people have all the facts and figures but Pat went from the seat of his pants ... people just loved to listen to him. He wasn't too accurate on some of the things he said, but the way he said it always came across real good."

He never found an argument he didn't like.

"You're either in the car swearing at him or yelling: 'Way to go, Pat!' " said Don Landry, his co-host on The FAN. "He loved the art of the argument. It was like a competitive sport to him. He loved to prod, to poke, to needle and get a reaction and then it's all chuckles and slaps on the back."

Brian Angus produced Marsden's show for six years and said: "His lack of preparation was legendary, but he had everything he needed in his head. With Pat, he was always 65 (years old) going on 16."

Olver recalls CFTO boss Doug Bassett once telling Marsden he came in too late for his show.

"They start arguing. Next thing he's got Dougie against the wall," Olver said. "And Dougie says: 'All right, Pat, you come in whenever you want.' "

There was always time for another round of golf, another cigarette, another trip to the casino.

One long weekend for CTV, recalled Cahill: "Pat did a game in Regina and one in Montreal. Pat was arguing with Wadsworth about defence and they got into three-point stances in the hotel hallway, going one-on-one about 2 o'clock in the morning. Pat broke his shoulder.

Because of the disturbance, they got thrown in jail and, (Saskatchewan quarterback) Ron Lancaster had to bail them out. They go to Montreal. Got into an argument in a Chinese restaurant and get thrown in jail.

Mulroney bailed them out. So, in one weekend they're in jail in Regina on Friday and in Montreal on the Monday."

The problem, Olver said, was that "Pat thought he could fight."

Marsden once was offered the job as sports editor of The Toronto Sun.

"I met him for lunch and offered him the job," Sun Media's corporate sports editor George Gross said. "He said: 'Are you crazy? That'd be hard work.' "

So, they just ordered another rum and coke, instead.

He once got locked in a Calgary Chinese restaurant after falling asleep under a table. In Edmonton, he got his finger stuck in a seatbelt and the fire department had to cut him free. Next day's newspaper had a photo of Marsden being rescued from the man-eating cab.

His appetite for a wager was legendary. Gin. Blackjack. Horses. Dogs. There are a hundred stories and some might even be true.

A little mystique only made Pat larger than life -- such as the one about him getting on the wrong side of the ledger with gamblers and being banned from Vegas.

On May 28, 2004, Marsden's annual $300,000 contract with The FAN was not renewed. His final guest was Mulroney, one-time prime minister and bail bondsman. When Marsden walked out of the building, employees lined both sides of the hallway in a farewell salute.

Marsden is survived by his wife, T.A., a daughter Taylor, son Connor, and children Mike, Patti-Lee, and Ruth Mary, from his first marriage.

Visitation at Rosar-Morrison Funeral Home (467 Sherbourne St.) is Sunday (7-9 p.m.), Monday (2-4 p.m., 7-9 p.m.) with funeral mass at St. Michaels Cathedral on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.

"I'd like to think," Olver said, "that somewhere in the hallway beyond the Pearly Gates, he and Wadsworth are dressed in their Notre Dame sweaters going one-on-one."


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