Football lost a legend today with the passing of former CFL quarterback and coach Ron Lancaster, who died of an apparent heart attack Thursday. He was 69-years old.
"Our league has lost its 'little general'. And our country has lost a giant of a man," said CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon. "Ron Lancaster is deeply loved across Canada, as a CFL player, coach, broadcaster and mentor, but most of all as a true friend. His career spanned eras, bridged west and east, and delighted our fans. But his life transcended sport, because the young man who came here from Pennsylvania grew into a true Canadian hero - a role model who often towered above the rest, and yet remained resolutely down to earth, at the same time."
A native of Pennsylvania, Lancaster began his CFL career with Ottawa in 1960, winning the Grey Cup in his rookie season. He was dealt to Saskatchewan after the 1962 season and he stayed there for 16 years. He led the Roughriders 14 consecutive playoff appearances and five Grey Cup games, winning in 1966.
After being the runner-up in 1966, he was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player in 1970 and again in 1976. Lancaster was named an All-Canadian in 1970, 1973, 1975 and 1976.
When he retired, he left as the CFL's all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 333, a record that was later broken by Damon Allen.
Lancaster also sits second all-time on the CFL's list with with 3,384 pass completitions, 6,223 pass attempts and 50,535 yards passing.
He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1982 and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1985.
In a recent poll of CFL experts conducted by TSN, Lancaster was voted the seventh-best player in the league's history.
"Ronnie was one of the greatest football players and even more important, one of the greatest human beings I have had the privilege to know," said Riders President/CEO Jim Hopson in a statement. "His loss will be deeply felt in Saskatchewan and across the nation as Ron touched so many people through his playing, coaching and commentator work.
"We could never thank Ron enough for everything he did for the Roughriders and the community. He left behind a legacy to this province as arguably the greatest and most popular player of all time."
As a coach, Lancaster was twice named CFL Coach of the year and won Grey Cup titles with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1993 and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1999. He finished runner-up in 1996 and 1998.
"I have seen very few people cry in football but I'll always remember the tears of joy rolling down Coach Lancaster's face after we won the '93 Grey Cup," said former Eskimo Larry Wruck. "He was just so passionate about the game of football."
Willie Pless had high praise for his former coach. "Ron was the best head coach I played for in my 14 years in the CFL," Pless said. "He had been in the trenches himself so he was a players coach, who put a tremendous amount of trust and faith in his veteran players."
Former quarterback Danny McManus had many fond memories of Lancaster. "He wasn't just a coach, he was a golf partner and a guy you could talk about anything with. He used to send me jokes on my email. It's definitely like losing a family member."
Lancaster had been serving as Hamilton's senior adviser to organizational development and providing analysis on the team's radio broadcasts. He stepped down after being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.
"We are all shocked by Ron's sudden passing and on behalf of everybody in the Tiger Cats organization and all of our fans in TigerTown, we wish to extend our utmost sympathies to Ron's family," said Ticats president Scott Mitchell in a statement.
"Despite all the tremendous accolades that come with such great accomplishments, he was the most sincere, honest and straightforward person you could ever meet. He treated owners the same way he treated the part time volunteer staff and had a modesty about him that was truly uncommon. One of the great storytellers in sports history, with a great sense of humour, Ron never pretended to be anything other than what he was; A family man who loved football."
The Ticats will have a moment of silence and show a photo tribute to Lancaster on the ArcelorMittal Dofasco Tigervision prior to kickoff of Friday night's game against Winnipeg.
Former teammate Hugh Campbell, who first met Lancaster 45 years ago, was saddened by the loss of his close friend.
"Ron Lancaster was exactly what you got. His words and body language were unfiltered," Campbell said. "Ron's love for Bev and family was always at the center of his life. He believed in hard work and thoroughly enjoyed his interaction with the huge variety of people in his life. Ronnie would turn a simple conversation with someone he knew forever or a fan he just met into a fun experience. I have a really good book's worth of info going through my head, but it's a struggle to put it into words. We were kids when we met and our families have been great friends."
"This is a profound loss," said Eskimo President and CEO Rick LeLacheur. "He was a tremendous competitor, leader, mentor and friend. There are few people who have left as big an impact on our league as Ron Lancaster."
Lancaster is survived by his wife Bev, three children Lana, Ron and Bob and his four grandchildren.