This article was originally written On July 8th, 2008 and on the anniversary of Bob Ackles passing I wanted to share it again.
The Lion King
When the phone rang and I got the news, I was stunned. Bob Ackles had passed away at the age of 69, dying suddenly of a heart attack after docking his yacht. I hung up the phone and just sat there, not knowing what to do. I quickly fumbled through my cell phone, looking for someone to call. I called my friend Brian Edwards in Edmonton, and I lost it.
I wanted to write this article Sunday night, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t believe the news never mind force myself to write about it that evening. More and more details started trickling in. I saw the usually firm and all business Wally Buono break into tears. He wasn’t the only one.
Tribute after tribute, story after story, made you truly realize what a great man Bob Ackles was. From his humble beginnings to his lofty achievements, Ackles touched the lives of many. I had the privilege of meeting Bob on a number of occasions since his return in 2002.
It’s hard to think of things to write when so much has already been said in the last 48 hours. I didn’t know the man well enough to tell you old stories. But yet I felt I knew him well. I think it was easy to feel that way with Bob. You may have noticed I am referring to him as Bob, but that’s because he wouldn’t be addressed any other way. He never wanted anyone to feel beneath him. Angus Reid relayed the story that so many of us experienced with Bob when he told of the first time he met “Mr. Ackles” and Bob replied “Call me Bobby. If you call me Mr. Ackles again you’ll find yourself on waivers so fast it will make your head spin”
At Grey Cup in 2007 he came to our table at the Lions Den and had a beer with us and posed for pictures, proudly sharing with us his Grey Cup ring from the year before. At training camp that same year he took it off and put it in my hand. He was one of the guys.
I e-mailed Bob a few times over the past few years as well. I always got a reply. He didn’t always address the issue himself, but he made damn sure he directed you to someone who did.
Ackles’ small stature portrayed him as a kind and gentle man, and he was. But he also had a fiery side, and was capable of making tough decisions in the best interest of his organizations. There was no one who didn’t respect Bob, and what he had contributed to the game of football at all levels, and in two countries.
His contribution to grassroots football was, and will continue to be immense. He created the Orange Helmet Awards Dinner to support minor football, and the event has grown into a huge success, with such guest speakers as Warren Moon, Joe Theismann, Rocky Blier, Brian Williams, Pinball Clemons and Chris Berman.
“It started after I was here for the first year, and I felt there should be something in the off-season or the non-football season where there should be some football,” Ackles once told the Georgia Straight in a telephone interview. “So I…discussed the possibility of a fundraiser for amateur football in the province which would also celebrate football in B.C. It was something I felt was needed, because most sports have a celebration of what their teams and coaches and the people who support it have done over the year.”
Recently Ackles had been laying the foundation for a new BC Football Hall of Fame. One that if there is any justice in the world will eventually bear his name, and he should be the first person inducted.
But his real contributions were a product of his love for the CFL. He was leading the fight to keep the NFL out of Canada. He had connections in the National Football League that no one could match and he had their ear. Edmonton Eskimo icon Hugh Campbell recently summed it up nicely in his comments following Ackles passing.
“47 football seasons ago, I met Bobby Ackles at my first CFL game when BC played Ottawa at Empire Stadium. His enthusiasm for the game and knowledge of the League were huge factors in me eventually joining the CFL. His influence on football in Vancouver has been monumental and he’s been a CFL standard bearer throughout the last half century. All CFL fans should know that our League would not be here today were it not for the work of Bob and the foundation he helped build.”
On Friday July 18th, 2008 the Lions held a halftime tribute to Bob Ackles. It’s something he probably wouldn’t have wanted, but the fans needed it. They needed to say thank you and they needed to say goodbye.
Bob Ackles lived the dream life. He never treated his job as a job, because it wasn’t one to him. It was his passion. It was his hobby. All of us should be so lucky in life. He had a soul mate in his wife Kay, who he had written into his contract that she travelled with him on the road. They were inseparable.
To Kay, his sons Scott and Steve, and on behalf of Lions/CFL fans everywhere, we send our thoughts and prayers, as well as our thanks. We were all better for knowing Bob Ackles, and our league is better because of him.
The Lion King may be gone in body, but make no mistake, his contributions and accomplishments will never be forgotten. So come on and roar you Lion roar, that’s what a Lions roar is for. From the mountains to the sea, you truly were and always will be the pride of all BC.