It was September, 2008. My home phone rang and Marc Trestman, the first-year head coach of the Montreal Alouettes, introduced himself.
“I think we met earlier this season, Darrell,’’ he said. We had, two months earlier and only briefly when his squad visited and lost 41-33 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the team I covered as the Regina Leader-Post’s beat writer for 21 seasons. Montreal’s general manager, Jim Popp, landed his first CFL job in Saskatchewan about 15 years earlier, so I quickly caught the connection.
“Jim Popp told me about your family. I wanted to call to tell you that Jim and I and the Alouettes consider you part of our family. I realize you’ve been part of the CFL for a long time and you should know that a lot of people in this league are thinking about you, your wife and your boys.”
We chatted for a few minutes, about families and football and the specialness of the CFL.
We haven’t had a one-on-one conversation since. There have been some media scrums in the interim, plus Trestman went to work in the NFL for a few years before returning to Canada this year to coach the Toronto Argonauts. Popp is Toronto’s GM. Their team is playing the Calgary Stampeders in Sunday’s Grey Cup game so I really don’t want to distract them from their task at hand. But it doesn’t mean I can’t reminisce.
My wife was dying of cancer when Trestman called. Our sons, Austin and Tanner, gathered at home with other relatives to make her as comfortable as possible. She died Sept. 28, while the Alouettes were beating the visiting Roughriders 37-12. We had been getting messages from across the league, from players, coaches, administrators and fellow reporters and broadcasters, to go along with support from friends, family and co-workers. All were special.
We scheduled Eva’s funeral on Oct. 3, in the afternoon, so Austin, Tanner and I could attend the Roughriders game that night against the visiting Calgary Stampeders. It was the first time I was going to sit in our season-ticket seats after my two-decade exile in press boxes across the country.
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon was in Regina on league business, so he attended Eva’s funeral with Roughriders president Jim Hopson, general manager Eric Tillman, personnel consultant Joe Womack and alumnus Roger Aldag. GM Jim Barker and Mike Petrie, from the Stampeders’ office, were there. On the eve of a big game, Saskatchewan head coach Ken Miller and Calgary’s John Hufnagel sent condolences. Saskatchewan won 37-34 and afterwards, Tillman dedicated and delivered the game ball to our family.
As a sports journalist trying to be honest and objective, I was taught that I couldn’t cheer for a team or a player. But in the CFL, a professional league where everyone seems like a family member, it’s impossible to cheer against any of them.