Johnson: Calgary Colts GM’s 47-year career is astounding
Local junior football team plans to toast/roast Keith Evans on May 30
At least any illusions as to what he was getting himself into were short-lived.
“The first weekend,” Keith Evans is reminiscing, “we had an organizational meeting and a fist fight almost breaks out. Over . . . something. Then some guy hands me a chequebook and says ‘Do you want to take care of the team?’ I kind of blink and say ‘Fine.’ Nobody bothered to tell me we had no money in the account.
“Anyway, we went up to Edmonton to play a game that weekend and we actually won it. But Monday I get a call from the guy that ran the Juniper Lodge, north of Red Deer. He wanted to know what do with the 40 steaks that no one showed up to eat.
“I hadn’t been told anything about it.
“I got the guy pacified. I told him we had no money at the moment but that if he gave us some time, we’d take care of it. I think eventually we settled on something like $5 a steak. I guess he had them all cooked and nobody showed up. Don’t know what he did with them.
“I’m thinking somebody ate good that weekend and it wasn’t us.”
Keith Evans arrived in Calgary in 1965 from Houston, a geologist for Pan American (now Amoco) Petroleum. Today, nearing 80, not only is the Brandon-born Evans still here, on site, 47 years after that first meeting, the near donnybrook, the incredible bouncing chequebook and the escapade with the Alberta beef, he, amazingly, remains GM of the junior Calgary Colts.
Two national championships, in ’89 and ’90, a string of players that went on to CFL careers — John and Johnny Forzani, Darcy Kopp, Lyle Bauer, Scott Diebert and Spenser Wilson among them — are only a part of the tale. There’s a little matter of lifelong friendships forged, the politicking, the fundraising, the shifts in the club’s board of directors, the sleepless nights and, naturally, the on-field successes.
On May 30th at the Thorncliffe Greenview Community Centre, for nearly a half century of service, the Colts will pay homage to their most indispensable individual at the annual fundraising dinner (“Some people tell me it’s a toast, some people tell me it’s a roast,” says Evans, shrugging. “I guess I’ll have to be ready for either”).
This is someone who says he “didn’t play a whole lot of football” but did line up at tight end for Brandon College and butt heads with likes of Cornell Piper and Gerry James.
“We had the old Snoopy hats and equipment that our coach borrowed from some friend of his in Minneapolis. I didn’t really have any involvement in the football program at Rice, except to get paid $25 an hour in 1962 to tutor players, to keep them eligible.”
The sporting landscape, even the junior football terrain, has changed exponentially since Keith Evans was conscripted long ago. That first season, the cost of running the Colts was, he reckons, around $37,000. Now it’s up to $400,000.
“There are always high points and low points. Basically, what attracted me to it from the beginning is that it’s a helluva program for young guys.
“We’ve had lot of great kids come through. Go back to the two national championships. We had a running back then that Peter Connellan didn’t think was good enough to play by the name of Stevie Thompson and he just rewrote all the bloody records there were.
“He’s just one. There were so, so many of them.”
Evans admits there were days over the past 47 years when, frustrated to the point of implosion, he was close to calling it quits.
“Usually you arrive at those moments because of something that’s boiled up, but if you make a point of thinking about it for more than a day, you step back. I did my share of stepping back. By and large, what I tell people about junior football, though, is that I’ve been seen any other sort of organization where guys can where the other hat quite as well. All of ’em come from a team background and Sundays you’re on the other side of the field.
“The rest of the time there’s a great deal of co-operation. I’ve got a lot of good friends with the Huskies, Wildcats, Hilltops. Even when the Mohawks were here, we had it out on Sundays, but a couple of those people were very, very good friends of mine. I think that’s kind of unique, really.”
The man’s longevity is nothing short of astounding.
How have I lasted so long?’ ” he laughs. “Well, who else would want the job?
“Besides, I haven’t found anybody that’s really prepared to carry the thing forward. And at this point in time, I’d hate to see it fail. A lot of people come to meetings. They think that’s all there is to it, to come to meetings.”
The dinner at the end of the month is to someone whose done so much more than go to meetings. Who’s helped keep the Colts vibrant, existent, in this community for as long as anyone can remember. A caretaker of the game who’s fought the boardroom battles, the financial wars, and persevered.
“I was just looking at some pictures with Fred Wilson, who’s sort of chairing this event on the 30th,” muses Evans. “It’s been easy to go along the rows and recognize the faces but it’s getting harder to put names to those faces. But, you know, 40, 45 years is a long time.”
Yes, it is. Junior football has never had a better friend. And vice versa.
“Oh, sure, there’s been a lot of satisfaction. Most of it comes from the players. Most of them are really, really good about recognizing the opportunities they’re given. They’re not at all reluctant to say ‘Thank you.’
“That’s a wonderful thing.
“Has it been worth it? Sure. You know, if you’re walking down the street and two guys who remember you from their time playing junior football run through three lanes of traffic just to shake your hand, well, that’s kind of nice.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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