Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The professor gets an A

Frank Clair passed away this week, the football icon of Bank Street who brought many, many great moments to a stadium that would finally bear his name.

Known as the Professor (and an absent minded one at that) Clair resuscitated a floundering franchise in the Capital in the late fifties and into the sixties and turned it into the kind of team that the word dynasty is used about. He has been described as possibly the best coach to ever prowl the sidelines of a CFL franchise and it would be hard to come up with many other names to add to the list. His team appeared in four of ten Grey Cups in the 1960-1970 period, winning three, losing two.

Clair's Rough Rider teams of the late sixties were by far probably the best assembled squad to every play the three down game. With Russ Jackson, Whit Tucker, Ron Stewart, Margene Adkins, Bo Scott, Vic Washington to name a few, the Black and White unis of the Rough Riders put fear into the hearts of those that made the mistake of traveling to Lansdowne Park. Back in the day the Defense was known as Capital Punishment, the Riders were a well rounded machine that should have won more than those two Grey Cups they collected in the last half of the sixties.

Somewhere in a pile of papers I have a yellowed newspaper clipping, the Riders have just returned home to the Airport in Ottawa with the Holy Grail, the Grey Cup. A wide eyed ten year old is in among the crowd watching his heros bring the treasured trophy home. My Dad had taken me down to the airport to welcome the Riders back home, the wait was long, the arrival seemed far too short, but for a brief moment there I felt on top of the world. It was a much simpler time I guess, the athletes seemed to play the game for the love of the game, not for the endorsement value or the chance to move on to greener pastures.

The Riders would win only one more Grey Cup after Frank Clair's spectacular teams of the sixties, the team would eventually fold, return and now linger in some kind of limbo not quite broke but certainly not stable nor solid at the moment.

Once again the team needs someone like the Professor to take charge and return Ottawa to football glory. Unfortunately, someone like Frank Clair doesn't pop up every day. He was truly one of those "one of a kind" characters that seem impossible to measure up to. His ability to beat the bushes and find talent had no equal, his knowledge of the game and his respect for the Canadian player changed the face of the CFL.

Not many people truly deserve the title of Legend, but in the case of Clair the title is more than appropriate. The halcyon days of the CFL were those riveting years of the late sixties, the league owes a huge debt of gratitude to "The Professor", perhaps the latest team to wear Black, White and Red, can go back and learn from his study plans, a great game has lost a great architect.

I think I'll go look for a yellow dog eared clipping, I lived and died with my Riders from the sixties to their very end. It's said that the Clair family plans on sharing his ashes with the people of Ottawa, bringing them to the park he loved so much. I'll raise a glass in toast to the man who made football the sport to watch in Ottawa. Here's a hope that the current team can find a way to live up to that spirit that will be watching from the stadium that has his name!

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