REGINA -- The magnitude of Cal Murphy's career, and of the void created by his loss, is reflected by the manner in which people have approached Paul Robson in recent days.
"He's idolized in Winnipeg,'' Robson, who hired Murphy as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' head coach in 1983, said following Friday's funeral mass for the Canadian football legend.
"When I've been walking down the street in Winnipeg, people have come up to me and said, 'Paul, my condolences on your loss.' It was the family's loss. It was my gain that I got to work with him.''
Murphy led the Blue Bombers to three Grey Cup titles. He was the head coach of the 1984 CFL championship team -- Robson was the Bombers' general manager at the time -- and served as the GM when Winnipeg won the title in 1988 and 1990.
In total, Murphy received 10 championship rings during an illustrious football career.
He earned one Grey Cup ring as a head coach, two rings as a general manager and six more as an assistant coach. A 10th ring was added to the collection after the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, for whom Murphy was a scout, won the 2007 Super Bowl.
Murphy was employed by the Colts at the time of his death Saturday at age 79 -- nearly 20 years after he received a life-saving heart transplant.
"He was a devout family man and a devout Christian,'' Robson said after Friday's service at Holy Cross Parish, which Murphy and his wife, Joyce, had faithfully attended since moving to Regina in 1997.
"Professionally, I've said that he probably was the most complete coach who ever coached in the Canadian Football League.
"He understood the Canadian game, in all of its nuances and complexities, better than anyone who ever coached in the league.''
Robson said that Murphy's understanding of three-down football encompassed the entire spectrum of the game, from offence to defence to special teams to strategy to personnel to administration.
"There was probably not a better in-game coach than Cal,'' Robson continued. "He was always ahead of wherever you were. Tactically and strategically, he was without par.''
A keen eye for talent also worked to the benefit of Murphy and the teams he coached and administered.
"He had an ability to look at an athlete, recognize what he did well, and project that,'' Robson said. "He was relentless when it came to getting good people and good players around him. When I say relentless, I'm talking about 365 days a year.
"And he had one of the world's great laughs -- a great sense of humour.''
CFL legend Cal Murphy dies - Allan Maki - Globe and Mail - Feb. 19, 2012
Somewhere in the great beyond, Bob Ackles and Cal Murphy are having a riotous talk, reliving those days when they went at each other hammer and nail.
Ackles, the former B.C. Lions’ general manager, will be chortling over the time he cut off Murphy’s sideline communications during a 1985 playoff game due to a CFL rule. And Murphy, who was the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ head coach back then, will be shaking his head and remembering how he repeatedly called his foe “a weasel” for doing it.
Rule breaker. Weasel. Oh, how they’ll be laughing.
We lost another member of the CFL’s good old guys on Saturday. Murphy passed away in Regina, where he had been hospitalized for broken ribs after suffering a fall earlier this month. He was 79.
Feisty, combative, jovial, quick-witted, Murphy was a favourite among fans, players and media alike. He spent more than three decades as a coach and GM in the CFL and was widely regaled for his ability to spot a football player. He took one look at University of Calgary football player Dan Federkeil and said, “You’re good, but you’ll never make it to the NFL. Have you thought about playing on the offensive line?”
Murphy was scouting for the Indianapolis Colts and liked Federkeil’s footwork. Sure enough, Federkeil was signed by the Colts and played in the NFL.
But the best thing about Murphy was that he was proudly, fiercely Canadian. He coached at the University of British Columbia before joining the Lions and being named their head coach in 1975. Midway through the following season, Murphy was canned by the man who had hired him, Bob Ackles.
“I remember the time Bob fired me,” Murphy said when Ackles died of a heart attack in 2008. “A few months later, I was in Fort Lauderdale at the NCAA coaches’ convention. Bob was there and asked me if I wanted a couple of tickets to the Canadian dinner. Then he said, ‘You want to have a drink?’ I called my wife and said, ‘I’m in the bar having a drink and you’ll never guess with who?’ I told her it was Bob Ackles and he’s buying.”
Murphy guided the Blue Bombers to the 1984 Grey Cup championship then coached the rival Saskatchewan Roughriders as well as in NFL Europe and the XFL. Eventually, he became a regular visitor to every CFL stadium press box, where he scouted for Indianapolis and his friend, former Colts’ GM Bill Polian, who once worked with Murphy in Winnipeg.
Ackles was one of several CFL figures who died in 2008, including Ralph Sazio, Earl Lunsford, Joe ‘King’ Krol and broadcasters Don Wittman and Leif Pettersen. (In December of 2007, former commissioner Jake Gaudaur and broadcaster Don Chevrier also passed away.) Ironically, the guy who suffered two heart attacks and underwent a heart transplant in 1992 out-lasted them all. That was Cal Murphy. Rule-breaker.
His buddy, the weasel, ought to get a chuckle out of that.