Football

Mansbridge: Remembering Ronnie

If you were watching The National last week on the day Ron Lancaster died, you may have noticed — if you looked very closely — that the story affected me more than most.

If you were watching The National last week on the day Ron Lancaster died, you may have noticed — if you looked very closely — that the story affected me more than most. There's a reason for that.

When I was 12 years old, some of my friends and I often hung around the Ottawa Rough Rider practice field at Lansdowne Park. If you were lucky, when practice ended and the players headed off the field, you got to carry one of the players' helmets.

Well, one day in that summer of 1960, I got to carry number 16's helmet. We didn't talk much — he was too focused on the game and I was too scared to open my mouth. At the time, I knew his name although I didn't really know much more about him. But it didn't take long to find out.

He was a young defensive halfback and backup quarterback by the name of Ronnie Lancaster and even then it was clear the CFL was a game this Pennsylvania import was born to play.

That moment was a thrill I've never forgotten and it cemented Lancaster in my mind as my favourite player.  My Dad was a Russ Jackson fan and like many Ottawa families in those days that difference of opinion made for some awful dinnertime arguments. 

When Ron was traded to Regina a few years later, I was devastated but chose to move my loyalties west, too.  Over the years I followed his every move, every win and every loss, and then finally his retirement. 

When he started broadcasting at the CBC with Don Wittman, I'd often bump into the two of them in airports — and when I did, I was as nervous with Ron then as I had been that day when I was just 12 years old.

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