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CFL legend was ‘Just Incredible’

<p>He may have been the top talent recruiter in CFL history, but when he died yesterday, J.I. Albrecht still hadn't been inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.</p>




He may have been the top talent recruiter in CFL history, but when he died yesterday, J.I. Albrecht still hadn't been inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.





"That hurt him," lamented J.I's son, Dean Albrecht. "He often said he couldn't understand why he wasn't in the Hall. He thought someone, somewhere had something against him."





Probably. Just Incredible Albrecht - yep, his real name - never backed down from a healthy spat during his decades as the chief shot-caller of four CFL teams. He never lacked adversarial relationships.





"He was stubborn, headstrong and stepped on toes," Dean said, "but he still did so much for the CFL."





He sure did. Perhaps no one did more for it. You can check out details of J.I.'s fascinating life at his Wikipedia page, but rest assured, some of his CFL contributions were legendary. He signed countless stars, including Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers, and gambled on chaps such as bodybuilder Lou (The Incredible Hulk) Ferrigno and ex-NFLer Dexter Manley, drawing headlines in unprecedented fashion.





Despite losing an eye in his youth, J.I excelled at spotting talent. Coaches, too. He advised Wally Buono, a player he signed for the Montreal Alouettes, to pursue coaching. Today, no CFL coach has a higher winning percentage than Buono, who's with the B.C. Lions.





Marv Levy and Leo Cahill were coaches under Albrecht, too.





And, when the Argonauts struggled in 2000 and when he was being widely criticized as their GM, J.I. took a chance by hiring a head coach with no experience. The coach's name: Michael Clemons.





"People either laughed or attacked me for appointing Michael," J.I. remembered last year.





"His coaching success is among my greatest thrills."





Clemons recently was promoted to CEO of the Argos, a franchise that likely would have gone defunct were it not for J.I. In 1999, the CFL couldn't find an owner for the Argos. Albrecht persuaded his cousin, New Yorker Sherwood Schwarz, to buy them for $100,000.





"If my dad didn't step up," said Dean, an Argo executive under his dad, "Toronto was folding."





Albrecht died in Toronto after a horrifying couple of years in which he suffered a stroke and a heart attack, his wife died of cervical cancer and one of his three sons committed suicide. J.I. spent all last year bedridden at a Toronto nursing home.





"His death was actually a blessing," Dean said. "He was suffering."





The CFL should have made J.I.'s life more enjoyable by inducting him into the Hall of Fame. Here's hoping it smartens up now and puts him in while he rests.





J.I. was 77.




marty.york@metronews.ca

 
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