Remembering past CFL legends

One of the neat things about the CFL is the way its history remains an integral part of today's game. Eight of the nine teams that were in at the formation of the league are still in their original locations, and the exception (Ottawa) is expected to return in the next few years. Moreover, many of the league's early legends remain connected with the game and the current teams, and all they did and accomplished still feels very relevant. A quintet of figures closely associated with the league passed away in the last month, and it's worth taking a few moments to remember them and the contributions they made.

Keith Davey: Davey, pictured at left above with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1976, is most remembered by many for his time as a key Liberal Party figure. He organized the party's national campaigns in the early 1960s, served in the Senate from 1966 to 1996 and was also a key part of Trudeau's triumphant election campaigns in 1972 and 1980. However, Davey was also an important figure in the early history of the CFL. He served as the league's second commissioner, replacing Sydney Halter in 1966 and presiding over both the establishment of the CFL offices on King Street in Toronto, the divide from the amateur-focused Canadian Rugby Union (which gave the new league custody of the Grey Cup, and then became CAFA and then Football Canada), the creation of the players' pension fund and the rewriting and condensing of the rulebook. Davey's time with the CFL was brief before he returned full-time to politics — he was succeeded by Ted Workman on Feb. 23, 1967, and Workman was replaced by Allan McEachern before the year was out — but some critical developments happened during his tenure. He passed away Jan. 17 after a prolonged battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Gary Schreider: Schreider was a notable figure on both the CFL and CIS fronts. He first gained acclaim at Queen's University, where he played for the Golden Gaels from 1953 to 1955 and was a crucial part of the "Pony Backfield (take that, Craig James!) that led Queen's to victory in the 1955 Yates Cup (awarded to the Ontario/Quebec champions at the time) over the University of Toronto. He then went on to star in the CFL from 1956 to 1964, spending most of his time with the Ottawa Rough Riders as a linebacker, kicker and running back and helping them to a 16-6 victory over Edmonton in the 1960 Grey Cup. He was one of the league's biggest Canadian stars, and he helped prove that non-import players could hold their own with the Americans. Here's part of Earl McRae's superb remembrance piece on Schreider:

Gary Schreider. Did he matter? Here is that September 1957 story from my scrapbook that encapsulates why Gary Schreider mattered, game after game, year after year, for the Ottawa Rough Riders, and written by sportswriter Lloyd McGowan of the Montreal Star, the headline: "Schreider Sparks Riders Over Als."

"A few pertinent points were proved here Saturday aside from the 17-16 Rough Riders well-earned win over the Alouettes before a record 19,998 fans at historic Lansdowne Park."

"It proved among other things that Canadian football players are just as good, or better, than the Amerks once you get past the American publicity and coaching.

"For instance, Gary Schreider was the outstanding player in the game with 11 of the 17 points scored by the Rough Riders. In a Merriwellian performance, Schreider posted 10 points in the last quarter with a touchdown, convert, and last-minute 35-yard field goal that brought the fans surging on to the fine Lansdowne striped lawn.

"The result proved...that Canadians Gary Schreider and Bob Simpson are a match for anything the American game can offer.

Schreider made an impact off the field as well, graduating from Queen's with a law degree and serving as both the first president of the CFL Players' Association and the sole arbiter for disputes between the NHL and emerging NHLPA from 1976-1993. His legacy is certainly a strong one, and his story demonstrates both the importance of CIS schools as a developing ground and the quality of play Canadian players can bring to the CFL. He passed away Jan. 22 in Ottawa after a long fight with Alzheimer's.

Jack Matheson: It says a lot about Matheson, a legendary Winnipeg sports editor and columnist, that the Blue Bombers' most famous coach Bud Grant always cared about what he wrote:

"He sure could write," Grant said. "And he got to be a good friend."

Someone who'd never break the coach's trust.

"He honoured it down the line. He would never overstep anything."

Six months of the year, Grant and Matty would share a love of football and the Blue Bombers. For the other six, they'd share beers after curling together.

Through it all, the writer became a must-read, even for the coach.

"When you opened the paper that was the first thing you turned to - what did Matty say about it?" Grant said.

Matheson is also fondly remembered by the many newspaper people whose lives he touched over the years; Gordon Sinclair Jr. of The Winnipeg Free Press has a nice remembrance of him here. Moreover, though, he and other legendary writers like Jim Coleman and Milt Dunnell did a tremendous amount to promote the CFL in the early days; the league's enduring popularity and current success has a lot to do with the coverage they and other media members provided over the years. Matheson was inducted into the Football Reporters of Canada wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1986. He passed away Jan. 24.

Herb Gray: Another legendary Winnipeg figure, Gray shone for the Blue Bombers from 1956 to 1965. Ed Tait writes that a case can be made that Gray was "the greatest defensive lineman in Winnipeg Blue Bomber history," and he'd definitely have to be considered among the elite. Gray played both ways and was selected as a West Division all-star six times at defensive end and once at guard. He also became the first defensive player to capture the CFL's top lineman award in 1960. The Bombers named him their top defensive player of the half-century in 1980 and selected him to their All-Time team in 2006. Gray starred at other levels, too; he was a legendary player at the University of Texas and had the opportunity to go to the NFL in 1956 after being drafted by the Baltimore Colts, but spurned their offer to take a better one in Winnipeg. In the process, he became one of the club's most notable players and was named to the Winnipeg Football Hall of Fame, the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and the University of Texas Longhorn Hall of Honor. He passed away Jan. 24.

Tony Proudfoot: Much has already been written about Proudfoot here, but there was something notable that came out since my last piece on him that deserves its own mention. Allan Maki wrote a terrific piece in The Globe and Mail on Proudfoot's inspiring final act, donating his brain and spinal cord to research. Dr. Angela Genge, the ALS director at the Montreal Neurological Institute, and Dr. Charles Tator, who has been a key figure in the fight against concussions, will be among the scientists analyzing the results. Proudfoot's career and his courageous decision to take his battle with ALS public were extremely notable in their own right, but this final act of his may provide even more help for the football players of today and tomorrow. It's just one more incredible move from an incredible man.

Have your own remembrances of these or other CFL figures who recently passed away? Feel free to leave them in the comments below. You can also always get in touch with me by e-mail or Twitter.