When some of us oldtimers close our eyes and listen carefully during Grey Cup Week in Edmonton, it sounds like so many past CFL championships, with Hugh Campbell downplaying his role and calmly explaining the details that allowed his team to vie for another crown.
Wait a minute . . . being told that’s not Hugh Campbell. It’s his son, Rick Campbell, head coach of the Ottawa Redblacks.
“Absolutely, 100 per cent!’’ said Bryan Hall, a long-time Edmonton radio sportscaster, former play-by-play voice of the Eskimos and a master of hyperbole. “They sound exactly the same.’’
Terry Jones, the Edmonton Sun’s veteran columnist who covered the Eskimos when Campbell won five straight Grey Cup as their coach (1978-82) before becoming the team’s general manager and president, concurs with Hall.
“I used to phone Hugh’s house,” said Jones. “Rick was nine or 10, and even back then I thought I had Hugh on the phone.’’
Rick Campbell was born in the U.S. in 1970 but grew up in Edmonton. This is such a sweet homecoming that he’s even aware his alma mater, Harry Ainlay High School, is also playing for a football championship this weekend. His father, mother and three sisters are expected to gather for a rare family reunion, something they didn’t do when Rick led the Redblacks into their two previous Grey Cup games, a victory in 2016 (against this year’s opponents, the Calgary Stampeders) and a loss to the Eskimos in 2015.
“I don’t know if I’m just trying to keep my emotions in check and do my best job for the team as far as getting ready for the game,’’ said Rick Campbell. “It is a special place to me and a big part of me growing up. It’s awesome being here but I’m going to do my best to focus on the game.”
The Redblacks haven’t been practising at Commonwealth Stadium this week, but plan to move their final walk-through there on Saturday. Thirty-eight former Eskimos have their numbers immortalized on the team’s Wall of Honour, but Hugh Campbell was a receiver for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and never played for Edmonton, so his son won’t see any visible tributes to his Canadian Football Hall of Fame dad.
“I guess you have to win more than five straight Grey Cups,’’ Rick Campbell said with a smirk.
Hugh Campbell didn’t really want his son on the team’s coaching staff while he was running the Eskimos, but relented when Don Matthews wanted to hire Rick. Through subsequent moves to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Calgary Stampeders and back to Edmonton, Rick worked with six different head coaches in the CFL before the expansion team in Ottawa gave him his first opportunity to be a head coach in 2015. He was asked if the Campbell name helped his career.
“I’m sure it did initially when you know people involved,’’ said Rick. “The thing with football is you can’t fake it, no matter who you are as a player or a coach, if you’re not a contributor, if people don’t view you as someone who can help the team win, it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re not going to last very long. I’m sure initially it did, but I believe I can hold my own.”
Leroy Blugh was a defensive end with the Eskimos when Campbell was the general manager. Blugh is now on Ottawa’s coaching staff as defensive line coach.
“Hugh Campbell had a way of talking to you that was always calm, always to the point, easy to understand,’’ said Blugh. “Rick’s dad is fair. He’s like Rick. That connection is one of the reasons I was thrilled to join Rick’s staff.
“They both believe the simple things, that you have to put your time in every day and have passion.”
Father and son seem laid-back, with an aw-shucks attitude that hides the competitive fires burning inside. And what did Rick learn from his dad?
“The biggest thing was how you treat people,’’ he said. “A lot of people can do Xs and Os and do schemes and all that stuff. Especially in football, which is the ultimate team sport because you have so many different people from different backgrounds, with different body types doing different jobs and trying to get a group of people trying to pull in the same direction with a common goal. That’s what I learned: It’s really about highlighting peoples’ strengths and to put them in position to succeed.’’
As for the voice…
“I like to think he sounds like me,’’ said Rick, with a laugh that also sounded like his father’s.
Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.