Somewhere in the great beyond, Bob Ackles and Cal Murphy are no doubt 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 when Murphy died at the age of 79 in Regina, where he lived with his wife, Joyce. He had been hospitalized for broken ribs after suffering a fall.
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 highly regarded 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, the player was signed by the Colts and played in the NFL.
Murphy was proudly, fiercely Canadian. He coached at the University of British Columbia before joining the Lions and being named their head coach in 1975. Then he 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.”
Ackles was one of several major CFL figures who died in 2008, including Ralph Sazio, Earl Lunsford, Joe (King) Krol and broadcasters Don Wittman and Leif Pettersen. Ironically, the guy who suffered two heart attacks and underwent a transplant in 1992 outlasted them. That was Cal Murphy. Rule breaker.
“Everyone in both the immediate, and extended, Blue Bomber family is deeply saddened by this news,” Winnipeg president Garth Buchko said. “Cal was a great ambassador for our game and for Canadian football in Winnipeg and Manitoba.
CFL offensive lineman Rob Murphy echoed those sentiments on Twitter.
“Every time Cal would see me in the last 12 years, he would say these two things: ‘How are you still playing?' And ‘You're too fat.' I will miss that man.”
Murphy, whose father died of heart disease, had a history of heart trouble. In February, 2010, he was admitted to a Regina hospital with a heart ailment and for a time was on life support.
“Cal Murphy lived and breathed and loved football – and our league was so much better for it,” CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said in a statement. “He was a fierce competitor, with a keen eye for talent, and an ability to mould great teams.
“His teams could amass points, but they were often defined by their toughness – reflective of a man who refused to let a severe heart condition stop him.”
Murphy, born March 12, 1932, in Winnipeg, suffered his first heart attack in 1979 while he was an assistant with the Edmonton Eskimos, and underwent quadruple bypass surgery. A second attack followed in 1985.
In 1992, he underwent emergency heart bypass surgery before having a successful heart transplant.
Murphy was part of nine Grey Cup-winning teams. He spent 24 seasons in the CFL as an assistant coach, head coach and general manager. He is best known for his 14 years with the Blue Bombers, where he served as the club's head coach and GM and led the team to five Grey Cup appearances, winning three.
“Cal was one of the most influential figures in our organization's history, and that dates back over 80 years,” said Bombers GM Joe Mack, who worked with Murphy in Winnipeg from 1984-1987. “His dedication and desire to win was second to none.”
But Murphy was also seen as hopelessly old-fashioned when he banned reporters from the Bombers dressing room after CBC radio assigned a woman to the football beat.
But he took criticism in stride.
“You can't be everything to everybody,” he once said.
Murphy was a driving force behind the successful bid to bring the Grey Cup game to Winnipeg for the first time in 1991, a move that may have saved the community-owned franchise.
The Bombers reaped $1-million in revenue from the Grey Cup, which barely covered team losses that year.
Murphy began his CFL coaching career in 1974 with the Lions as an assistant under head coach Eagle Keys. He became head coach in 75, and then was fired midway through the 1976 season.
“Cal was an outstanding coaching mind and a wonderful person,” Wally Buono, Lions GM and VP of football operations, said in a statement. “He was a man that meant so much to the development of our league and its players.”
He joined the Montreal Alouettes as an assistant under Marv Levy in 1977 as the club won the Grey Cup that year. The following season, Murphy became the offensive line coach with the Edmonton Eskimos under head coach Hugh Campbell.
Murphy's timing was impeccable – Edmonton won an unprecedented five straight CFL titles with such stars as quarterbacks Tom Wilkinson and Warren Moon, a member of both the Canadian and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
Murphy joined the Bombers in 1983, taking over from Ray Jauch as head coach. He compiled a regular-season coaching record of 44-21-1 and was named the CFL's coach of the year in 1983 and 84, the year he led the Bombers to their first Grey Cup victory since 1962. There were two more CFL championships in 1988 and 90 after he replaced Paul Robson as GM.
It was with Winnipeg that Murphy also showed an eye for talent, finding such stars as linebackers Tyrone Jones and James (Wild) West.
He also showed he wasn't afraid to make a big deal, dealing all-star quarterback Dieter Brock to Hamilton for veteran Tom Clements. The move didn't pay immediate dividends, as Clements suffered a season-ending collarbone injury and Winnipeg lost to B.C. in the 1983 West Division final.
But the following season, Clements led the Bombers to a 47-17 Grey Cup win over Brock and the Ticats, Winnipeg's first CFL crown in 22 years. Murphy finished his illustrious CFL coaching career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders from 1997 to 1999.
“Cal Murphy is a legend in CFL coaching, but more importantly he was a wonderful person,” Riders president and CEO Jim Hopson said in a statement.
In 2000, he spent time with NFL Europe's Frankfurt Galaxy, as well as the Chicago Enforcers in the XFL.
Murphy, one of seven children, was a football standout while attending Vancouver College, an independent Catholic boys school. A left-hander, he went on to play quarterback and defensive back at the University of British Columbia.
He had a brief stint as a defensive back with the B.C. Lions in 1956 before returning to Vancouver College and becoming the school's head football coach in 1960.
After spending time as an assistant coach under Dave Holmes at Eastern Washington University, Murphy followed Holmes to the University of Hawaii in 1968. In 1973, Murphy left Hawaii for San Jose State to work under head coach Darryl Rogers, who Murphy hired to be the Bombers head coach in 1991.
Murphy was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
With a report from The Canadian Press