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Devion's Views #217

THE DAY 'WE' (ALMOST) KILLED THE CBC PRESIDENT (posted Sept. 11, 2020)

                                                                        A TRUE STORY

Sadly, among the many, many casualties of the invisible deadly virus (COVID-19) is the Canadian Football League (CFL) and its championship final, the Grey Cup/Coupe grey.

The season-ending game is considered one of the few remaining events that ties the country together for one day each year. Millions of Canadians gather together to party and watch, on television, the classic East vs West rivalry for the Canadian professional football championship.

                                                         SOME BACKGROUND, TO SET THE SCENE...

From 1955-1995, monsieur Ronald, spent much of his time toiling in the ample bilingual-bosom of 'Mother Corps'; Canada's public broadcaster, CBC/Radio Canada. One (bosom) was English the other French. Which (bosom) would be given preference depended (largely) on the mother tongue of the respective presidents appointed by the PM to serve a five-year term.  

In the latter half of the 1970's, monsieur Ronald was having a blast, enjoying the third year of a fun-assignment; Program Director of CBC-TV's flagship English language television station, channel 5, CBLT, Toronto. Befitting the exalted designation 'flagship', CBLT staff and 'petit-fromage' (moi) were crammed together on two floors located above a 'Mac's Milk convenience store' on Church street, one block from Harold Ballard's cathedral of hockey, Maple Leaf Gardens. 

(NB: In the early 1970's, prior to the CBLT assignment, monsieur Ronald was a part of Norn Garriock's network management team; affectionately known inside CBC television circles, as "GARRIOCK'S FLYING CIRCUS". Norn was a terrific boss, mentor and friend.)

Out of the blue came a phone call from the 'Grand-Fromage' of CBC television, Norn Garriock..."Ron, we want you to head up the sports department". The tone of his voice signalled he was not asking, this was an order. 

"We have a problem. The head of the sports department (John Hudson) suddenly quit. He's gone to Labatt Breweries. Labatt is increasing their involvement in sports ownership.They hired John to help develop a plan for Canada's first cable sports network. We want you to replace him...next week!"

The stint as head of CBC Sports was back in "those good old days"; when CBC was the leader in Canadian sports television, providing 500 hrs. of network sports programming annually.

During my time there, and before leaving for another assignment at CBC Vancouver, we managed to increase the annual sports program output on the network to 700 hrs. The large audiences attracted to sports television always brought with it concomitant revenue from advertisers seeking to associate their brand with high-quality CBC sports programming.

Coincidently, with my time with CBC Sports, Saskatchewan born Albert Wesley "Al" Johnson (a career pubic servant and civil servant) was serving as president of Canada's public broadcaster, CBC/Radio Canada.

President Johnson (never could call him "Al") struck me as the kind of guy who would, if he had the choice, attend an arts event rather than a sports event; especially a football game...unless by virtue of his job it was obligatory.

                                                  FACTOIDS TO ADD CONTEXT TO THE STORY...

What: The 67th Grey Cup/Coupe Grey

When: November 25, 1979

Where: Montreal, Olympic Stadium

Stadium Attendance: 65,113

Temperature: Freezing cold 

Teams: Edmonton Eskimos (West) vs Montreal Alouettes (East)

Television audience: Millions

Who won: Edmonton Eskimos, 17-9

                                                                          THE STORY

Back then, at every Grey Cup/Coupe Grey, CBC hosted (at a hotel) a pre-game champagne breakfast (called Canadian sunshine) and post-game banquet for sponsors and VIP's.

The guests are shuttled to the game site (in rented buses) accompanied by CBC brass, sometimes including the president.

The weather conditions that day were typical of a late Montreal November. It was -20 degrees. The kind of day that would freeze the balls off of a brass monkey. The field surrounding the stadium was knee-deep in snow.

As the VIP buses approached the site, our guests clutching their complimentary thermos (comfort flask) containing a secret 'Hot Toddy' recipe, and bilingual '67 Grey Cup/Coupe Grey toques, we announced the bus they were assigned to would leave from the parking area below the stadium promptly (repeat promptly) one half-hour following the end of the game. 

CBC President "Al" Johnson was on my bus.

Following the end of the game, the buses pulled away from the stadium and proceeded to the main roadway...at which point I noticed President "Al" was not on my bus. 

I contacted one of my staff, Glen Gelette, who was on the other bus, enquiring if the president was onboard his bus. He looked around and responded "No, isn't he on your bus?"

My heart sank...where the hell was "Al"?

Glancing back toward Olympic stadium from where we had come, I observed the figure of a man in a hooded parka wearing nerdy glasses attempting to run in knee deep snow, frantically waving his arms.

My heart stopped when I recognized who it was and ordered the driver to stop.

As the 'hooded parka' finally reached the roadway, the president put both arms on the front of the bus, gasping for air..."Al" is asthmatic.

My CBC career was over...no if, and or but.

The bus driver opened the door. The president slowly climbed aboard still gasping for air and frantically searching his pockets for his puffer.

Sucking on his puffer, eyes bulging through fogged-up nerdy glasses, CBC/Radio Canada's 'Tres-Grand-Fromage' finally drew in enough air to speak, "Ron, thank you, thank you for stopping. At the end of the game I went to the nearest washroom, coming out and turned the wrong way. By the time I got all the way back to where the bus was parked, it was gone. Thank goodness you saw me running through the snow and stopped."

It's sometimes amazing and mysterious how things turn out. Being thanked for almost killing the CBC president was totally unexpected.

P.S. I don't recall ever seeing President "Al" at another Grey Cup/Coupe Grey.

Hopefully, in these troubled times, this story brings a smile as it does for me remembering it.

Ron Devion, No Guts, No Glory