It was a perfect day for football and, therefore, a perfect day for the mayor of Canada’s largest city.
Sun. Eight degrees. Dry field. Not a lefty councillor in sight.
A little after 3 p.m., Rob Ford led his undefeated Don Bosco Eagles into Esther Shiner Stadium, jogging out ahead. A loss would end his season. A win would put them in the city semis, and reinforce football’s role as lifelong balm for Mr. Ford’s personal and political trials.
He started this team 11 years ago, around the same time he became a widely mocked rookie councillor, building it from a rag-tag crew of tough kids from rough backgrounds into an emerging football powerhouse.
He pulled his team in for a prayer, then let them loose.
“All right men, let’s get these guys,” he said before kickoff as his team jumped and taunted their opponents, the Richview Saints, the best team in Toronto until Don Bosco upset them 34-0 two weeks ago.
His Eagles started well, relying on running back Travis Jennings to carry them down the field before a fumble put the ball back in Richview hands.
The two teams see-sawed for the first quarter, squaring at 0-0 after 12 minutes.
The mayor left no doubt who was in charge. Bedecked in a green and yellow Eagles varsity jacket, Mr. Ford continually barked orders from the sidelines, both at his players and the referees, a departure from the restrained political character he’s become since taking over as mayor.
“How stupid can you get?” he yelled at one player who tried catching a kickoff headed out of bounds.
“He’s firm, there’s no question there,” said Althea Alexander, mother one of the Don Bosco players. “But on the coaching side, the team could be better.”
Mr. Ford is both coach and founder. A decade ago, he put $25,000 of his own money into reviving the dormant program and later started a foundation to keep it running and introduce the game he credits with his personal success into other schools. The funds now supports 80 students, half of whom live in public housing, to play high school ball. He encourages them to call at any hour for any problem.
“If they have troubles, they chat with the coach,” said Jennifer Williams, mother of offensive tackle Wilton Williams. “Even though he’s mayor he didn’t leave the boys behind. He still takes them all out for dinner, he still takes their calls.”
In the second quarter, Don Bosco gave up three unanswered touchdowns. Mr. Ford slapped his clipboard against his thigh again and again. “What’s going on, let’s play football out there,” he screamed to a team that wouldn’t respond. It was 20-0 at halftime. The mayor sprinted ahead of his team to the locker room and trotted them back out for the third, his team sulking slowly behind.
Inside the first minute, Don Bosco scored on another pin-balling Jennings run.
“Yes, yes, yes” the mayor said pumping his clipboard and running onto the field.
The Saints answered with a quick touchdown. The Don Bosco team was clearly deflated.
“Never give up,” he shouted, as his players sulked to the bench. “Never give up, men. You can never, never give up.”
The Eagles have produced a number of scholarship players, including Denzel Philip, now at York University.
“You learn how to play smash-mouth football, to lay the other team out,” said Mr. Philip of his time with coach Ford, as he watched his former team from the stands. “Yes, smash-mouth in football, self-discipline in life.”
When the teams nearly came to a brawl, Mr. Ford waded in, pulling back players.
“Come on,” he howled when they were all together. “You win some and you lose some in your life. Take the high road. Show some class. It’s nobody’s fault. We’re Don Bosco. We stick together. We’re family. People are watching.”
At the final whistle, Mr. Ford looked at the heavens. He’d coached his last game for the season and gone down 41-22. A senior defensive end, Jeremy French, ran crying into his arms. “You’ve been a dominant player for five years, son,” said Mr. Ford, bear-hugging the young man for nearly 10 seconds. “You've had a great career. You played well. You’re out on a high note.”Report Typo/Error