Claim to fame: Football player, CFL
Birth: 14 October 1938 (Fairchance, Pennsylvania., USA)
Death: 18 September 2008 (Hamilton, Ontario)
LANCASTER, Ronald (CFL Legend) Peacefully, on Thursday, September 18, 2008, in his 70th year. Beloved husband of Beverly. Cherished and adored father of Lana and her husband Larry Mueller, Ronnie and his wife Paula, and Bob. Doting grandfather of Marc, Brittany, Brie-Anne and Alexis. Son of Dorothy and the late Elmer. Brother of Jean, Bill, Carol, Betty, Dorothy, Janet, Shelby and the late Allen and Marvin. Ron will be sadly missed by his many family, friends and fans. A Commemorative Gathering to Celebrate Ron's Life will be held at BAY GARDENS FUNERAL HOME, 947 Rymal Road East (between Upper Gage and Upper Ottawa), HAMILTON (905-574-0405) on Monday, September 22, 2008 from 2-5 p.m. Cremation has taken place. In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate memorial donations to the Juravinski Cancer Centre. Please sign the online Book of Condolence at www.baygardens.ca
Tributes pour in for 'Mr. CFL,' legendary Ron Lancaster
THE CANADIAN PRESS
HAMILTON–For three years they were rivals, young guns battling to establish themselves as the starting quarterback for the Ottawa Rough Riders in the 1960s.
But Russ Jackson will forever remember Ron Lancaster as Mr. CFL.
"Ron Lancaster's whole life has been the CFL," Jackson said. ``In my eyes he's Mr. CFL and someone who did so much for the league."
Lancaster first came to Canada in 1960 as a quarterback and defensive back in Ottawa. Over the next 48 years, he would establish himself as one of the league's top passers, head coaches and executives.
Lancaster died Thursday at the age of 69. The news came just over a month after he announced he was being treated for lung cancer.
"Ron and I first crossed paths in 1960 in Ottawa," Jackson said in an interview. "We sat beside each other in the locker-room but it was never a situation where `I hate you, I don't want you to do well.' I think that was because of our personalities and that we both appreciated each other's ability and understanding of the game."
Despite being rivals, Jackson said he and Lancaster wanted to help each other out.
"If the team did well, then we all did well," said Jackson. ``In those days, you played with many of the same players for years and developed relationships with them. Later on, Ron and I became very close friends when he was coaching the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and I was working on the radio broadcasts because we'd spend a lot of time talking about football."
Jackson and Lancaster were teammates for three years – creating one of the best two-quarterback systems in CFL history – before Lancaster was dealt to Saskatchewan. In Regina, he quickly emerged as one of the league's top passers and earned the nickname The Little General for his ability to lead the offence.
Lancaster played 16 seasons with Saskatchewan, leading the team to five Grey Cup appearances and their first CFL championship in 1966 when Saskatchewan upset Jackson and the Rough Riders 29-14.
Saskatchewan had just one losing season with Lancaster at quarterback, in his last season when they posted a 4-11-1 record.
Lancaster won the Schenley Award as the CFL's outstanding player in 1970 and 1976 and was a finalist in 1966. Four times he was a league all-star and a West Division selection seven times.
"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," Riders president Jim Hopson said. "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."
In 2006, Lancaster was voted seventh overall in the CFL's Top 50 poll conducted by TSN.
"Our league has lost its Little General, and our country has lost a giant of a man," CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said in a statement. "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."
It's been a tough year for the CFL with the loss of former commissioner Jake Gaudaur, Hamilton Ticats player Jamaica Jackson, B.C. Lions president Bob Ackles, commentator Leif Pettersen and Hall of Famer Earl (Earthquake) Lunsford.
During his heyday, Lancaster earned a reputation of being a player's coach. He'd often give his troops the freedom to have fun, but demanded discipline and dedication on the field.
"Ron was a person people gravitated to," said former punter Sean Flemming, who played for Lancaster in Edmonton. "Loyal to his players almost to a fault, genuine to those he didn't know.
"Ron always said that the biggest compliment you could give a football player was to call him just that, a player someone who went out and did their job without any other reason but for the love of the game and for those around him. Ron was all that and more. He was a player, he was a coach, but most of all he was a great man."
Just a couple weeks ago Lancaster, who survived bladder cancer in 2004, was on the golf course with a couple of his former players.
"I golfed with Ron, Damon Allen and Danny McManus in St. Catharines two weeks ago and he was still playing great golf," said Rob Hitchcock, the former longtime Ticats safety who played for Lancaster in Hamilton. "It was great because at the end of the day he wanted the scorecard because Danny and Damon had passed him (in all-time CFL passing yardage) and he had coached me for a long time.
"I didn't think anything of it at the time but then on the drive home it hit me that I was playing golf with three legends of the game and yet for Ron to do that, well, it was special."
Hugh Campbell, a former teammate of Lancaster's in Regina who later served as Edmonton's president during Lancaster's tenure as the club's head coach, said Lancaster always wore his emotions on his sleeve.
"Ron Lancaster was exactly what you got," he said. "His words and body language were unfiltered.
"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."
Lancaster was born in Fairchance, Pa., but grew up in the blue-collar steeltown of Clairton. He excelled as a high school quarterback but due to his small stature was overlooked by the big U.S. colleges. He instead played for tiny Wittenburg University, a private liberal arts school in Springfield, Ohio. He led the football team to a 25-8-1 record from 1956 to 1959, helping it capture a national championship in 1958.
Upon arriving in Canada, Lancaster quickly showed he could thrive in the pass-happy CFL with its longer, wider field. When he left the game as a player, he was the league's career leader in pass attempts (6,233), completions (3,384), yards (50,535), touchdowns (333) and interceptions (396).
Al Ford, a former teammate of Lancaster's in Regina who later served as the Riders GM, was on the receiving end of a Lancaster TD pass in the 1966 Grey Cup win. He said Lancaster is among the best ever to play in Canada and made those around him better.
"If you're looking for that handful of individuals that are the face of the Canadian Football League and what it stands for, Ron Lancaster is certainly in that group," he said. "That is the sign of an individual that he's going to set records, he's going to do everything, but he also makes everybody else better around him.
"He was certainly an unselfish player who never gave up."
Lancaster remained in the game as a coach with Saskatchewan until 1980 before embarking on a successful career as colour commentator on CBC's CFL telecasts. He was part of a trio that included Don Wittman doing the play-by-play and former Toronto Argos head coach Leo Cahill doing colour commentary along with Lancaster.
Lancaster later returned to coaching with Edmonton, posting an 83-42 record from 1991 to 1997. He led the Eskimos to a Grey Cup title in 1993 and is the club's career leader in coaching victories.
"A profound loss," said Eskimos president 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. Our deepest condolences to his family and many friends."
Lancaster became Hamilton's 17th head coach in November 1997 and enjoyed immediate success, leading the club to consecutive Grey Cup appearances in '98 and '99, winning the latter. He stepped down as coach following the 2003 season to become the club's GM but returned to the sidelines on an interim in 2006 when Greg Marshall was fired.
He left coaching for good following the 2006 season when Charlie Taaffe was hired for the position. But Lancaster remains fifth in CFL history in regular-season wins with 142.
Lancaster had been working as a colour analyst on Tiger-Cats radio broadcasts this season in addition to serving as the club's senior adviser to organizational development.
Hitchcock said Lancaster always encouraged his players to have fun.
"From the first day he came to Hamilton he stressed to us (players) that if you're not having fun then you're not playing the game right," said Hitchcock.
"In 1998 we faced Calgary in the Grey Cup and they (Stampeders) were in lockdown with a curfew. Ron told us, 'You've made it here so you're going to enjoy the festivities.' So for the first four days he let us to out and have fun and enjoy ourselves. We ended up losing to Calgary, but we made it back to the Grey Cup against them the next year and Ron did the exact same thing and we ended up winning."
Lancaster was famous for holding court with reporters, players and fans alike and telling great stories of his playing days.
"Ronnie was the best storyteller, the best person for the CFL and one of my all-time favourites both as a player and as a friend," said former Riders president Tom Shepherd, who will be inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame this weekend.
Lancaster was inducted into the Hall in 1982 and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1985.
Lancaster is survived by his wife Bev, three children Lana, Ron and Bob, and his four grandchildren. There were no immediate details on funeral arrangements.