By Cam Tait
March 13th, 2015
Reaching into his suit pocket, Al McCann fetched a pen, clicked the nib, reached for an unused napkin at the dinner table.
“You were asking about the I-formation in football, right?” he asked.
I nodded my eight-year-old head.
“OK, this is how it works.”
And then, at the father-and-son banquet for the 116th cub pack held in the Lynwood Community Hall on 156 St., Al drew a diagram of the football formation I heard him mention countless times when he covered the Canadian Football League for CTV Sports.
Al’s son, Darren, was in the same cub pack as I was. My father and I were excited to have Al and Darren walk through the door before the banquet.
We were even more thrilled when they sat at our table and shared conversation.
The kindness of Al — and I’ve certainly seen it countless times — came back earlier this week when we all learned of his passing. He was 85.
As a young boy I remember the Zenith black and white television on at 4 p.m. on CFRN-TV — now CTV Edmonton — for Popcorn Playhouse. The popular kid’s show — remember Muskeg the Moose? — ran until Eyewitness News at 6 p.m.
Dad walked in the door from work just after the news began. I didn’t pay much attention to the news, but when the sports came on, my eyes were glued.
Al read the supperhour sports. And for years the three of us — Al, Dad and I — shared thousands of sports stories at the table.
It was a part of growing up.
In the 1960s and well into the ‘70s, there were only two television stations in Edmonton.
Al was a trusted voice on television. His easy-going personality came through over the airwaves but he always delivered the sports in a professional manner.
Lance Brown grew up the same time I did on the city’s south side. After attending NAIT’S Radio and Television Arts before working in Edmonton, Regina and Vancouver. He has worked in Toronto since the mid-1980s and is currently the sports director of CTV Toronto.
“Things weren’t going well at work a few weeks ago and I was complaining about the job to a friend who is also from Edmonton,” Lance said Friday from Toronto.
“My friend said ‘Before you get too down on yourself I think you’re the Al McCann of Toronto.’
“That really set the table for me and things didn’t seem so bad.”
Al had many friends and was loyal to them.
When CFRN Radio acquired the Edmonton Eskimos rights in 1989 they needed to hire a play-by-play announcer.
The legendary Wes Montgomery was a giant as a morning man on Edmonton radio. But his dream was always to call CFL football on radio.
When Al was putting the broadcasting team together, he tapped his dear friend Wes on the shoulder and made him play-by-play announcer.
That was the kind of man he was.
Long before social media where we had to wait for the 6 p.m. television news, the people reading news, sports and weather were a part of our families.
How couldn’t they be? They shared supperhours with us.
When they pass, maybe we feel a personal loss because the connection we had with them.
I was lucky. I met Al McCann as a young boy — and his way with people is something I’ll never forget.
(Cam Tait is the special projects advisor for Challenge Insurance)
Cam’s Tribute page HERE