Canadian Football Hall of Fame calls out former provincial writer Ed Willes

“If you make it, it’s because everyone can see that you deserve it,” says CFL luminary Wally Buono. “That speaks volumes about Ed’s expertise”

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Asked if former provincial sports columnist Ed Willes has been inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame this week, former BC Lions coach Wally Buono didn’t hesitate to say he was a big fan of the news.

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“If you make it, it’s because everyone can see that you deserve it, that you deserve it,” he said. “That speaks volumes about Ed’s expertise.”

Willes was named on Tuesday to be part of the induction class of 2022, one of two members of the media wing this year. Former player and longtime TSN commentator Glen Suitor, who hails from Metro Vancouver, is the other.

Five players – Ricky Ray, Chip Cox, Paul McCallum, Tim Tindale and Dick Thornton – as well as a trio of builders in Dave Ritchie, Keith Evans and Roy Shivers also head to the hall this year.

“Getting along with my heroes, guys I’ve admired, is something very special,” Willes said Thursday, listing former colleagues like Terry Jones, Cam Cole and Steve Simmons.

“To talk to them. to be in the same room. And there’s Jim Taylor, Jim Coleman,” he added, highlighting the two former provincial columnists.

“All these guys, I know their importance and their place in our history.”

Provincial columnist Ed Willes (right) sums up BC Lions head coach Wally Buono in an interview at BC Place Stadium in November 2011, the month the Lions won the last of their six Gray Cup championships.
Provincial columnist Ed Willes (right) sums up BC Lions head coach Wally Buono in an interview at BC Place Stadium in November 2011, the month the Lions won the last of their six Gray Cup championships. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /png files

TSN’s Farhan Lalji proposed Willes’ name for consideration this year.

“I was just surprised he wasn’t there yet. He’s covered the league in this country for a long time,” Lalji said.

“Even though the media overall has gone down as we’ve had less time to cover things, but you knew he was passionate about it.”

Former provincial sports editor Jonathan McDonald said he was thrilled with Wille’s selection.

“Ed is a tremendous authority on Canadian football. He’s been a fan of it since he was a little boy,” said McDonald, who was sports editor for The Province from 2007 to 2017.

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“He’s such a beautiful storyteller. He always did such a wonderful job bringing the CFL to life and painting beautiful pictures.

“He’s always been one of the best writers we’ve had, not just in sport but in the entire newspaper. It was always a guarantee that it would be one of the top two stories in the newspaper. If you put together a book from his top 50 columns, it would be around 20 years from now.”

Buono said that while he doesn’t always agree with Willes’ opinions, he respects them because he knew Willes put in the work to develop his reporting and opinions.

“I’ve always thought Ed was very, very fair. I can’t say that with all the media I’ve dealt with,” Buono said. “He doesn’t make things personal, he has no vendettas as far as I know. He would win, lose, or come into the facility in a draw. He was usually up to date on what he wanted to talk about.”

Ed Willes gets acquainted with a Canadian soccer ball at his home in North Vancouver this week.
Ed Willes gets acquainted with a Canadian soccer ball at his home in North Vancouver this week. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Buono said he always appreciated Willes’ willingness to stand up for his columns and answer the phone when Buono called.

“He wasn’t a wimp. he would not give in. If he had an opinion, he would share it with you,” Buono said.

“Now that I think about it, he had a tremendous amount of pride. The league was important to him. The media can affect everyone’s perceptions, positively or negatively. He respected people. He realized he was the channel.”

Lalji said that Willes’ profound knowledge deserves his respect.

“It’s an interesting dynamic that the CFL has with their media. Other sports have hometown home runs, but the CFL doesn’t have that in the same way — they have CFL home runs, media that wants the league to be successful. So if they’re critical, it’s because they care,” he said.

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McDonald agreed.

“I wouldn’t call Ed a booster. He loves the Canadian game. But he’s always written about the CFL with tremendous candor,” McDonald said. “Hell, he wrote a book about the CFL’s expansion in the ’90s. That was the CFL’s Gong Show time. It’s such an honest take on her desperation to stay alive and relevant.

“Ed would love nothing more than to see packed stadiums, but he always writes honestly about why that hasn’t happened in so long as the league has tumbled from one mess to another. I love that he didn’t put a pretty bow on it,” he added. “He was one of the sport’s most honest critics.”

“The US expansion book is hilarious, there’s so much in it,” Lalji said. “Whether you read him, worked with him or played golf, there was always passion. There were clubs thrown, but always a passion and an intensity.”

Willes called his CFL book End Zones and Border Wars, published by Harbor Publishing in 2013, his “love letter to the CFL.”

It describes the wild 1990s when the CFL expanded into the United States. It was a campaign full of missteps, but it wasn’t a disaster in the end.

“The CFL came out of it so much stronger, I think that was a golden era for the league that started around 2000,” he said. “The league has been stagnant for so long. it generated some energy and out of that came (Lions owner David) Braley. And (Bob) Wetenhall buys the Alouettes. And TSN is born. And all these things happen.”

Willes said he received the induction into the Hall of Fame from his old friend Darrell Davis, who he worked with years ago on the Regina Leader post. Davis is Secretary and Treasurer of the Football Reporters of Canada and a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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“Having the call from Darrell and Farhan nominating me is a great honor,” Willes said.

“If I may back down a bit, all the people I mentioned, they’ve always been attracted to the CFL, I think that’s because it was an amazing collection of stories and characters. They just serve it on a platter in the CFL. Some of these stories a writer couldn’t dream up on their best day.”

Ed Willes joined The Province in 1998 as a sports columnist.
Ed Willes joined The Province in 1998 as a sports columnist. Photo from PNG files

Willes’ family had deep roots in Regina. His mother grew up about five blocks from Taylor Field, home of the Roughriders.

“All my cousins ​​were devoted fans growing up and so was I,” he recalled. A great childhood memory was the pass down the road from Ottawa Rough Riders quarterback Russ Jackson.

Willes began journalism at Medicine Hat News in 1982 before moving to Leader-Post for a few years in the late 1980s to cover the Roughriders.

Willes began an eight-year hiatus from the CFL when he joined the Winnipeg Sun to cover for the National Hockey League Jets in 1989.

He freelanced for the New York Times for a season, then landed in Vancouver in 1998 as a general sports columnist. That’s when he really started covering the CFL again.

Willes remained with The Province until his retirement in September 2020.

“When I settled in Vancouver I had a kind of Lions squad including Farhan and Giulio (Caravatta) and the boys from The Province. Paul Chapman was a fan and was great to work with. “LU” (Lowell Ullrich) was always so hardworking and always fair. And Bob Marjanovich. It was really special to have this group,” he said. “You were important.”

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Willes was particularly pleased to be in the same introductory class as Paul McCallum, whom he has covered for so many years with the Lions – “nice kicker, such a clean shot. Thoughtful and great insight” – and Dave Ritchie, who coached the Lions to the 1994 Gray Cup and who Willes knew from his days as defense coach for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“That was perhaps the greatest defense in CFL history,” he said.

“Not everyone is that good,” Buono finally said. “God bless him, he was a notch above.”

“Ed was a master of the arts. I think he enjoyed what he did, he was good at what he did. He brought his articles to life. Nobody lasts as long as Ed by being average.”

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