Danny McManus, Darren Flutie and Ron Lancaster are together again, permanent fixtures on Canadian football's greatest team.
The former quarterback will join Flutie and Lancaster in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame this weekend. The 2011 class also includes former players Joe Montford, Chris Flynn, Ken Lehmann and Terry Vaughn while Don Matthews and Gino Fracas (posthumously) enter as builders.
The bust unveiling and induction dinner will be held Friday in Calgary. The Stampeders host B.C. in the Hall of Fame game Saturday.
Lancaster was inducted in 1982 following a brilliant playing career and later won Grey Cups as a head coach with Edmonton and Hamilton before his death in '08 at age 69. McManus played for Lancaster with the Eskimos ('96-'97) and Ticats (1998-'03), winning the '99 CFL crown.
The sure-handed Flutie, McManus's favourite target, was enshrined in 2007. They became teammates in '93 with B.C. and won a Grey Cup there in '94 before playing in Edmonton ('96-'97) under Lancaster then following him to Hamilton.
"It would've been great if Ron could've been there," said McManus, adding Lancaster's son Ron Jr., an offensive co-ordinator in Edmonton and Hamilton under his father, will attend. "But I know he"ll be watching.
"I don't know how Darren and I happened but I do know we were both very competitive but not so much that we forgot about the big picture. We both wanted to win and enjoyed performing well but the biggest thing was it didn't have to be about us. It was team first. Whatever came after that was second."
McManus spent 17 CFL seasons with Winnipeg, B.C., Edmonton, Hamilton and Calgary before retiring in April 2007. The former Florida State star earned three Grey Cup titles and was the league's outstanding player in 1999. He's third all-time in pass attempts (6,689), completions (3,640) and yards (53,255).
"What I loved to do was throw the football," McManus said. "I fell in love with the Canadian game right away, I never had any ideas about going back to the U.S. and trying it there.
"But at times like this you think back to all the years you played and all the guys you've played with. Football is a team sport and getting an individual honour is something I'm uncomfortable with so I'm going in with all my teammates. In my mind we're going in together."
The 46-year-old Florida native enjoyed many stellar CFL moments but a favourite was rallying B.C. to victory in the '94 West Division final after relieving injured starter Kent Austin.
McManus hit Flutie for the game-winning TD in the snow at McMahon Stadium against a favoured Calgary team that posted a league-best 15-3 record with all-star quarterback Doug Flutie, Darren's heralded older brother. McManus replaced Austin again in the Grey Cup at halftime, leading the Lions to a thrilling 26-23 win over Baltimore at B.C. Place, the last team to win the CFL title at home.
"We weren't supposed to even be in the playoffs and were on the road and the chances of playing in the Grey Cup in front of our own fans was something you didn't even think about," McManus said. "But for Darren, it was a chance to finally get the spotlight over his older brother.
"Doug had a great career, by far he was the greatest in my opinion to play in the CFL. But this was a chance for Darren to get recognition and it was great to be a part of it."
McManus is currently Hamilton's head U.S. scout after serving as an offensive assistant and regional scout with the club.
"It gives me a chance to step back and learn from guys like [GM] Bob O'Billovich, [president], Scott Mitchell and [owner] Bob Young about how teams are run," he said. "As a player I was always interested in that but didn't know what it was all about and I'm finding out more and more and continually learning and that's great."
Sharing the honour
Montford, 41, was one of the CFL's most relentless pass rushers. Over his 12-year career with Shreveport, Hamilton, Toronto and Edmonton, he registered 135 sacks (fifth all-time) and three times was the CFL's top defensive player. In 1999, he had a league-leading 26 sacks — just a half sack behind James (Quick) Parker's single-season record — and capped his year with the first of two Grey Cup wins (other was 2005 with Edmonton).
Like McManus, Montford wants to share his honour.
"When you get older you can see the bigger picture," Montford said. "You look back and think about people like (former Hamilton defensive linemen) Mike Philbrick and Jeff Cummins and other guys who made tremendous sacrifices or created situations so you could make plays.
"It's definitely an honour but hopefully those guys can see me as a branch of themselves."
Montford enjoyed his most productive years in Hamilton (1996-'01, '03-'04) but credited Hamiltonians with embracing a young man from Beaufort, N.C., and making him feel welcomed in a new country and community.
"That's where I was raised as a Canadian," Montford said with a chuckle. "Canadians have a certain way of putting a brand on themselves and Hamilton has a strong brand of people that live in that city who are diehard Canadians, diehard CFL fans and diehard people.
"I found the people of Canada have a genuine love for the human race."
Matthews spent 22 seasons as a CFL head coach with B.C., Baltimore, Saskatchewan, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal, amassing 231 career wins, second-most all-time. Matthews' teams made nine Grey Cup appearances and he won a record five as a head coach after earning five rings as an Eskimos assistant (1978-'82).
But Matthews, 72, was more than just a successful coach. He was a larger than life figure who loved the spotlight. His high-risk, high-reward philosophy defined him as one the CFL's most prolific head coaches.
Matthews was regarded as a player's coach who encouraged his troops to be individuals. However, winning was paramount and Matthews never let emotion stop him from making tough personnel decisions.
Vaughn was the first CFL receiver to surpass 1,000 career catches over a 12-year tenure with Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton and Montreal. The 39-year-old retired prior to the '07 season with a league-best 1,006 catches — since surpassed by Ben Cahoon's 1,017 career receptions — for 13,746 yards and 73 touchdowns.
The two-time Grey Cup champion also posted a league-record 11 straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
"He was a headache for anybody," Montford said. "We used to call him Mr. YAC [short for yards after catch]."
Flynn guided Saint Mary's to a 27-2 record and two Vanier Cup appearances. The native of Buckingham, Que., was a three-time Hec Crighton Trophy winner as Canadian university football's top player and is the first CIS-only player named for induction.
Lehmann, 69, played middle linebacker for Ottawa from 1964 to '71 and B.C. in '72 and was part of two Grey Cup-winning squads (1968-'69). A four-time league all-star, the Louisville, Ky., native was a finalist for the CFL's top lineman award in 1966 before winning it two years later.
Fracas played halfback and linebacker at Western and helped the school win the '52 and '54 Yates Cup. Ottawa's first-round pick, Fracas spent eight seasons with Edmonton (1955-'62), winning two Grey Cups.
Fracas began coaching at Alberta in 1963, leading the team to the '65 Vanier Cup. The native of Windsor, Ont., helped establish the Windsor's program in 1967 and over 19 seasons there was twice named the Ontario University Athletic Association's top coach.
Fracas died in 2009 at age 79. The CIS volunteer football coach of the year award is named after him.