The Canadian Football League has lost one of its biggest supporters. Bob Ackles, an integral member of the B.C. Lions for more than 50 years, died of a heart attack at his family's cabin on Bowen Island early Sunday morning. He was 69.
"It was our league that virtually adopted him when he was just a boy, and it's our league that has looked to him as a man for counsel, inspiration and leadership by example," CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said in a statement. "As much as the CFL has meant to Bob, he has meant so much more to us."
Born in Sarnia, Ontario, Ackles started with the Lions as the team's water boy in 1953 and rose up the ranks quickly. In 1971, he was named assistant general manager and earned the post as GM just four years later. He held the job until 1986 and departed for the National Football League.
Under Ackles' leadership, the Lions captured the Grey Cup in 1985 and in 2006.
"It's a sad day," said TSN analyst and former CFL player Glen Suitor. "He spent his whole life in football and was the CFL's greatest ambassador. It's a huge loss for the entire country."
After his first stint with the CFL club, Ackles spent time in the National Football League with the Dallas Cowboys. Ackles was hired by Tex Schramm in to be the Cowboys' vice president of pro personnel and worked in that position for three seasons. He became player personnel director after Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989.
Ackles also worked in executive positions with the Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins and was associated with World Wrestling Entertainment's XFL during its brief existence as vice-president and general manager of the Las Vegas Outlaws. He is the only individual in pro football history to have worked as an executive in all three leagues.
"To be a man so small in stature and accomplish what he did in our league and in the National Football League is incredible," said Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager Eric Tillman. "He was a success in his personal and professional life and he will be missed tremendously."
"Bob is the franchise. He is Mr. B.C. Lions. He's football in B.C," Lions owner David Braley told Vancouver radio station CKNW.
"On Friday, he and [Lions owner] David [Braley] had agreed to a new three-year contract," Ackles' wife, Kay, told the Vancouver Province.
Braley confirmed to CKNW that "Bob and I had a sort of arrangement where he was going to work for the B.C. Lions as long as he wanted to."
"We have lost a dear friend in Bob Ackles – a man who was passionate about many things not the least of which were family, the BC Lions Football Club and the Canadian Football League," Braley added in a statement.
"As Bob would have wanted, we will continue to do our best both on the field and off. As a result of his outstanding leadership I have every confidence that our staff, our coaches and our players will continue to make us proud as we move forward."
"I will be working closely with both vice president, business, George Chayka as well as GM and head coach Wally Buono to ensure that both business and football operations continue to function at the high level Bob established as president of our organization."
Despite his age, Ackles was expected to remain with the franchise for a long time.
In 2002, Ackles returned to the Lions as President and CEO and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a builder. He recruited CFL veteran Wally Buono and named him head coach and general manager in 2003. The move paid off handsomely as Buono built a contender that eventually won its fifth Grey Cup championship in 2006.
"It was quite a shock," an emotional Buono told reporters on Sunday night. "Knowing Bob, he would want things to move forward. Football was a big part of Bob's life."
Ackles, who was also a member of the CFL's Board of Governors and the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, provided a strong, passionate voice for pro football in Canada. He recently spoke out about the NFL's Buffalo Bills playing games in Toronto and the threat that the league posed to the CFL.
"He was a great man, and I'm very sad," said Calgary Stampeders quarterback Dave Dickenson, who helped guide the Lions to their 2006 Grey Cup.
He is survived by his wife Kay and his two sons, Steve and Scott. He has five grandchildren, Robert, Ashley, Kyle, Kasey and Robyn.
Ackles' funeral will be held saturday, however, details are still to be worked out.
The B.C. Lions will be wearing an orange paw on their helmets with BOB on the inside to commerate Ackles.