Davis: Leo the Lip is gone

Leo the Lip is gone.

One of the CFL’s most colourful characters during a golden era, Leo Cahill was the Toronto Argonauts‘ gregarious head coach for two stints before serving as an analyst on CBC’s television broadcasts. He subsequently re-joined the Argonauts as their general manager. Cahill died Friday at age 89.

Cahill’s final year with the Argos was my first year as a CFL beat writer for with the Regina Leader-Post. We didn’t have a long-standing professional relationship. I vaguely remember a 1988 media conference at CNE, the stadium’s final year before being replaced by SkyDome, in which Cahill had the assembled media laughing loudly at the fact that one of his players couldn’t be found.

That was a different time, when the dressing rooms and offices were always open and it wasn’t taboo to be friendly with the reporters who covered the games and the oversized personalities involved in the CFL. Cahill, Norm Kwong, Don Matthews . . . throwbacks to that era who we’ve recently lost. And it’s tremendously sad to be losing that generation of players and administrators, even if they didn’t always get along.

“I did the CBC when he was coaching and I wasn’t exchanging Christmas cards with him,’’ Cahill told a reporter in 1996, during his lone season as the Ottawa Roughriders’ general manager, about Matthews. “I certainly talked to him on numerous occasions, when I could get sign language through.”

Because I’m the old guy among the 3DownNation contributors, I get called upon to reminisce about the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, when we lose someone from that era because I grew up in Saskatchewan, where we all seemed to know the league’s newsmakers, like Jake Gaudaur, Ron Lancaster, Annis Stukus, Norm Kimball and Bernie Faloney.

Cahill ranked right up there. He helped the Argonauts fill their stadium, but never led them to a championship. The closest he got was 1971, when Argos running back Leon McQuay lost a late-game fumble in a 14-11, rain-soaked loss to the Calgary Stampeders. Fired one year later, Cahill famously said, “Leon slipped and I fell.” Toronto’s quarterback was Joe Theismann, one of the many flamboyant, high-profile and talented players Cahill recruited during his lifetime in football. Cahill certainly made the Argonauts interesting, which in turned helped the team and league flourish to a level that hasn’t since been matched in Canada’s biggest market.

 As Cahill’s health waned, Toronto Sun writer Steve Simmons admirably helped raise funds to support him and would regularly lobby to have his friend inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Cahill was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2013 and there’s an argument to be made about his worthiness for the CFHOF. If it was decided solely on an inductee having a larger-than-life personality, Cahill would be a shoo-in.
Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.