J.I. Albrecht is in bad shape. At76, the former general manager of the Argonauts and a number of other CFL clubs is bedridden at Lincoln Place Nursing Home in Toronto and unable to walk after suffering both a stroke and a heart attack in the recent past.
Earl McRae, a brilliant columnist with the Ottawa Sun, visited Albrecht the other day and wrote this: “I am not prepared for the J.I. Albrecht before my eyes. His sunken body covered in a white sheet from his neck to his toes. His unshaven face thin and pale. His good eye (Albrecht is blind in one eye) red and hurting. His left arm and hand immobilized from the stroke. His toothless mouth misshapen by the stroke. His aching legs unable to walk. The catheter so that he can urinate. The diaper for his uncontrollable bowel movements. The oozing bedsore on his buttocks. The medication he’s on since the heart attack. The pain killing drugs for the damaged prostate, the pain of which makes him scream out to God during the day and in the middle of the long, dark night.”
Last Christmas, one of Albrecht’s three sons committed suicide. Rod Albrecht was 47. Police found him in his van, dead from an overdose of pills.
Two years ago, J.I’s wife, Kathryn, died from cervical cancer.
Life has been rough on Albrecht. His image took a beating several years ago, when he ran the Argos and when the team sputtered under his management and under the ownership of his cousin, Sherwood Schwarz.
But it was Albrecht who hired Michael “Pinball” Clemons as the Argos’ coach, a move that immediately drew overwhelming criticism but ultimately has drawn overwhelming praise. It was Albrecht who gave the B.C. Lions’ Wally Buono his CFL start, and Buono mentioned that when he accepted his coach-of-the-year honours in the winter.
None of Albrecht’s detractors can deny the truth — that he was responsible for discovering, grooming and/or recruiting countless CFL luminaries — Terry Evanshen, Sam Etcheverry, Johnny Rodgers, Marv Levy and Leo Cahill, to name only a handful.
Truthfully, Albrecht deserves a spot in Canadian football’s Hall of Fame —ASAP, while he still is here to reap the joy. He deserveskudos in the twilight of a life that has brought far too much suffering.
“It’ll never happen,” Albrecht once told me.
“I’ll never be in the Hall. Too many people in the CFL hate me.”
Too many people in the CFL are stupid. It’s time for them to smarten up.