REGINA - The Saskatchewan Roughriders organization and their fans were reflecting on Monday on the life of George Reed, one day after news of his passing.
Reed, the legendary Riders running back who rewrote the CFL record book with the club, died just one day short of what would have been his 84th birthday. At Mosaic Stadium, flowers were laid at the statue of Reed located just outside the entrance gates.
Inside Mosaic Stadium, tribute was paid to Reed on the scoreboard and on the digital signage around the stands.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, Riders President and CEO Craig Reynolds as well as Reed’s former teammate Steve Mazurak paid their respects and shared their thoughts on what Reed's legacy was for the Riders, and the province.
“Yesterday was an incredibly sad day for Saskatchewan, the Canadian Football League and of course the Reed family,” Reynolds said.
“George is one of the most influential figures in the history of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He will be deeply missed. What he did on the field was without equal, but as impressive was what he did off the field for the community and the province of Saskatchewan.”
Mazurak described what it was like playing with Reed.
“Being in the huddle with George and seeing all those times when the whole world knew he was going to get the ball — when Ronnie (Lancaster) wasn’t going to throw the ball to me — over and over and over again. And that is the first thing that comes to my mind… standing in the huddle and George getting the ball once, George getting the ball twice, George getting the ball three times — and you’re sitting in a huddle going ‘when will it ever end?’ And everybody in the stadium, 25-or-50,000 people are saying ‘not again.’ Half a million or a million people (watching) on TV would be saying ‘they would never give him the ball again,’ and they give him the ball again and he goes and goes. So that was the kind of individual — never quit.”
Mazurak also recalled Reed’s role as President of the CFL Player’s Association, and how he was tapped by Reed to be the first executive director of that organization.
In that role, Mazurak said he watched Reed in collective bargaining talks “trade punches with the Norm Kimballs of the world who ruled the CFL in those days. And to learn the business of sport through George, business in general.”
“I’ll look over at the next game on the champions’ deck and look for George and he won’t be there… It was just a blessing to know the guy.”
“The word legend gets thrown around a lot, but that’s exactly what George was,” said Reynolds.
“He was an absolute living legend, and I’ve never seen an individual who walks into a room and everyone just turned towards him. He just lit up a room. He lit up our organization when he showed up, when he would come to games and he was taking the trek from the elevator to section 34. He’d stop and we’d all have a visit with him. And it was just an honour to be in his presence, and that’s how I personally felt. I know our staff felt with every interaction it was an honour to be around him. An honour to have him be a part of the organization and continue to come to the games and want to be associated with our football team.”
Reynolds said Reed was one of the most influential figures in the history of the Roughriders because “he inspired a generation to be football fans, and to be Roughrider fans.”
“And for me, that’s exactly what happened. He inspired my dad. My fandom grew from my dad and parents, as I know many Saskatchewan Roughrider fans had that same experience, and my dad revered George Reed. He would light up whenever he talked about George Reed. And so, I was born the year that George retired. I never saw him play. But the day I met George Reed was a day I’ll never forget. I called my dad, and I haven’t done that many times in this job, but I called my dad and said you’ll never guess who I met today. It was two weeks working in with the Roughriders… and George came in to talk about something in my office, and I was just so taken aback that I was sitting there having a meeting with George Reed.
“I just think he inspired a generation and that generation passed down the love of him, and the love of the Roughriders onto them, and will continue to do that to the next generation.”
Reed’s relationship to the community and province was cemented when he accepted an offer from SaskGaming to move back to Saskatchewan in 2008-09.
“One of the pivotal moments for the province was bringing George back from Calgary,” said Reynolds.
“Having George Reed back in the province was a win for the province. To see him interact with the community the way he does and always did, he always had time for the fans… Obviously, supporting his causes through the George Reed Foundation, the Special Olympics, Mother Teresa Middle School, where he was very passionate about those causes. He just was tireless.”
Fans in Saskatchewan now feel the same sort of profound loss that they did when the legendary quarterback Ron Lancaster passed away in 2008.
With this loss of Reed comes the passing of a Roughriders era: that of the ‘Ron and George’ show. The duo of Ron Lancaster and George Reed tore up CFL records in the Sixties and Seventies and gave the Riders their first Grey Cup win in 2966
“Those two were just together just like that,” Mazurak said. “It was always the Ronnie and George show and everything else was just not there. It’s very sad because you think he’s going to be there forever… I kick myself now, because I didn’t walk over there and say hello the last time I saw him on the deck. But things end, right? And it is sad.”
Vanstone thoughts on Reed
The Roughriders’ senior journalist and team historian Rob Vanstone also sees this as a final end of an era.
“The circle is complete,” he said. “George and Ronnie, Ronnie and George — they were just so interchangeable.”
What marked this passing, Vanstone noted, was that Reed was back in the community in Regina. “George was here… George moved back here in 2009 and there was a whole generation of young fans, fans period, who got to see George who never saw him play.”
As a result, people got a second chance to interact with Reed and know what meant to the community and to the Riders.
“We got these 14 bonus years with George Reed that were just so special to us, and he just came back and did what he did when he played — just immersed himself in the community and never said no. Even on days when he was not feeling the greatest.”
It just added to what Riders officials described as a sense of indestructibility, that Reed would always be around.
“Deep down you know this day is going to come, but you never think this day is going to come, if that makes any sense,” said Vanstone.
“I mean, we lost Ronnie 15 years ago, Sept. 18, 2008 and I still look at pictures of Ronnie around here or think of Ronnie, and it’s doesn’t seem like he’s we’ve lost him. And in many ways we haven’t, because so much of their life was lived publicly and there’s footage of great runs and touchdown passes. There’s audio and video of interviews and they’re going to live with us in so many ways forever. And that provides some solace, and even as the day evolved yesterday it’s like if I want to hear George’s voice I know I can hear it. If I want to see George run over a linebacker, I know I can see it…
“None of us who live here or follow this team know a life without George Reed. We always thought George was going to be here. And in so many ways, he always will. It’s just tough to comprehend this has happened.”
Plans still being finalized on how to honour Reed
As for how the Riders plan to honour Reed this week, those are still in development as the organization is still coming to terms with news of his passing.
This Saturday’s game at Mosaic Stadium against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was meant to honour members of the 2013 Grey Cup winning team. Now the indication is the game will honour Reed as well.
“We’ve been really meeting since we heard the unfortunate news. And so it’s really important for us to honour George in a very meaningful way throughout the week, honestly, and obviously the culmination will be at the game, but we’re just working through those plans right now,” said Reynolds.
“We had some loose plans around what might happen when that inevitably came but it’s come as a bit of shock to us. So we will continue to work with those plans, but we literally came out of a meeting on it and I’m just been really impressed with the team and the thinking, and how much this means to them and to the organization and ultimately the Reed family, too. We want to do right by them and honour George in the right way.”
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