Leo the Lip may have angered more than his share of CFL fans, opposing players and coaches during his glory days but they proved to be a generous bunch when adversity struck the former Toronto Argonauts head coach and general manager.
Leo Cahill, 88, is still fighting for his life after abdominal surgery last month in Atlanta, where he lives with his son Terry. More than $17,000 was raised by Friday evening, two days after a GoFundMe campaign was started to pay for his medical expenses. The donors are a high-profile group that includes Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, former Argos owner David Cynamon, former CFL players Leo Ezerins, Roland Mangold, sports executives and even media people.
The campaign was started by Tampa sports radio-host J.P. Peterson, whose connection with Cahill is not known. Peterson could not be reached for comment. The campaign at gofundme.com says Cahill "is gravely ill and in need of financial help with medical expenses. The Atlanta hospital that has been treating him is discharging him [Wednesday] to a facility that will be unable to meet his medical needs. We are trying to raise $25,000 to pay for his medical expenses and extend his life. When he gets the proper care he does well. This discharge would surely mean his passing."
Cahill's complicated personality, a rare blend of humour, pugnacity, verbosity, generosity and an enormous ego, is undoubtedly behind the quick response to his plight. While he could enrage opponents and sometimes his own employers and players with his outbursts during two turns as head coach of the Argos, in 1967-72 and 1977-78, and one as GM from 1986 to 1988, Cahill was one of the most likeable characters in the league.
The Argo teams Cahill helped put together in the late 1960s and early 1970s ended the team's long run of losing but were never able to win the Grey Cup. They were also known for the number of colourful characters on the roster, most of them recruited by Cahill, who quickly became famous across Canada for his equally colourful outbursts.
After the Argos beat the Ottawa Rough Riders 22-14 in the two-game, total-point Eastern final in 1969, Cahill declared: "It will take an act of God to beat us [in the series]." And so it did, as sub-freezing temperatures hit Ottawa before the second game. The enraged Rough Riders were already motivated by Cahill's remark but they also were smart enough to wear broomball shoes on the icy field and walloped the slip-sliding Argos, who wore their regular football spikes, 32-3. The Riders won the series 46-25 and advanced to the Grey Cup game.
The closest Cahill and the Argos came to winning the team's first Grey Cup since 1952 was a 14-11 loss to the Calgary Stampeders in 1971 in Vancouver, a game famous for Argo running back Leon McQuay's late-game fumble. A year later, Cahill was fired and came up with the memorable line: "Leon slipped and I fell."
A couple of years ago, Cahill admitted to the CFL blog 3 Down Football that most of his outbursts were simply for the purpose of selling tickets. "I got a lot of criticism for things I said and did," he said. "Most of the things I said was to get into the newspaper and get interest for the football team and have people talking about us and thinking about us."
Jamie Dykstra, senior director, media and communications for the Argonauts, said Thursday the team is aware of the crowd-funding campaign and made a private donation directly to Cahill's family. The Argos also posted a notice about the campaign on its Twitter account, as did the CFL Alumni Association.