Ron Lancaster: CFL Great
There has been some discussion on the CFL site recently about quarterbacks. The current best, and the best five of all time have been up for debate.
But a lot of great performers have been missing from these lists. Particularly the top five list. The league has been around for 62 years, and the Canadian game for over a century, so any limited list will of course miss off some greats.
Plus there is the conisderation of how much the game has changed down the years. Statisitics can only tell so much of the story. Volume can be padded by longer seasons and styles of play too. So I thought it might be fun to look back at some great CFL quarterbacks and celebrate their careers.
A great starting point is with ‘The Little General’ Ron Lancaster. He may have played for two teams in the CFL, and, although he started out with the Ottawa Rough Riders from 1960-1962, he is synonymous with his time with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. This is the man after all who led the Riders to the promised land of their first ever Grey Cup win.
At college Lancaster quarterbacked at tiny Wittenberg University, in Springfield, Ohio, and led his team to a 25-8-1 record and Ohio Conference championships in 1957 and ‘58.
Although he is most closely associated with Saskatchewan, Lancaster spent his first three years in the CFL with Ottawa. He joined the Rough Riders in 1960, but they already had an incumbent at the QB position in the great Russ Jackson.
So Lancaster started out at DB. However, part way through the season Jackson went down injured. Ron stepped up and went 101 fo 201 for 1843 yards and 16 TD’s. That sat alongside the 3 picks he had as a DB in the 1960 season.
By the time of the 48th Grey Cup Jackson was starting once more. But Ron Lancaster picked up his first Grey Cup ring for this game as a backup, and he had certainly made a contribution to the Ottawa cause througout his debut season.
As his contract was coming to an end Lancaster found himself being traded to Saskatchewan. He would have a productive and successful time with the green Riders as he took posession of the starting QB role with them for the next sixteen seasons.
Ron Lancaster – leading the green machine
Successes in Saskatchewan was immediate and sustained with Lancaster at the helm. Alongside him were powerful runing back George Reed and ultra reliable receiver ‘gluey Hughey’ Hugh Campbell. It meant they were immediately able to compete.
By the end of his career, Lancaster had completed 3,384 passes for 50,535 yards and 333 touchdowns. At the time of his retirement he was the first QB to pass 50,000 yards and the all-time leading passer in league history.
He was the Canadian Football League’s passing yards leader in 1970, 1973, 1975, 1976 and 1977. Amassing more than 2,500 yards every season from 1965 to 1978, with a completion rate of better than sixty percent in 1966 and ‘76.
Along the way he picked up the Schenley Award as most outstanding player in 1970 and 1976, was an All-Canadian in 1970, 1973, 1975 and 1976 and a Western all-star in 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1975 and 1976.
Perhaps more impressive than all that was the record of success during his time leading the team. From 1963-76 Lancaster led the Roughriders to the playoffs for 14 consecutive years and made it to the CFL’s Western Football Conference final 12 times. During that period, Saskatchewan played for the Grey Cup five times (1966, 1967, 1969, 1972, and 1976) and won it once, as noted above, in 1966.
After the Gridrion
The on field general became the off-field coach on retirement. He had been a player coach in 1977-78 and in 1979 he toook over as Head Coach. Back to back 2-14 seasons ensued as the Roughriders languished at the bottom of the West Division. That could have been that for coaching, but Lancaster would be back.
In the meantime he was quickly snapped up by CBC-TV producers to become a colour analyst on CFL games. Lancaster was with the CBC between 1981 and 1990. His main focus was football but that didn’t stop him being a member of the CBC team at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, doing the play-by-play for basketball.
Another coaching opportunity arose in the nineties. His former sure handed receiver Campbell was now in managment in Edmonton. He brought Lancaster in to coach. He would go 83-43 over seven seasons and deliver the 1993 Grey Cup.
In 1998, Lancaster found a new challenge. Taking over a Hamilton team that had gone 2-16 the year before. In his first season in charge they went 12-5-1 and made it to the Grey Cup losing 26-24 to the Stamps.
The following year, he led an 11-7 Ti-Cats team to the top. They won the franchises’ last Grey Cup, ousting the Stamps 32-21.
A 1-17 2003 season was the end of Lancaster’s regin in Hamilton. Although he did return as interim Head Coach in 2006. He finished with an overall record of 55-66-1 with the Ti-Cats.
Thanks to his playing and coaching career’s Ron Lancaster picked up 4 Grey Cup rings. Each one with a different team.
Ron Lancaster was a charter inductee of the Saskatchewan Roughriders plaza of honour. He is also a member of the the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
Lancaster passed away in 2008. That season he was posthumously awarded the Commissioner’s Award for outstanding contribution to the CFL.
If you liked this
If you enjoyed a bit of CFL history and don’t just want to focus on the O, then we did run a series of article making ‘the case for the D’ and focusing on special teamers too.
The case for the D focused on CFL defensive greats like Herb Gray, Willie Pless, Angelo Mosca, Dickie Harris, Norm Fieldgate, Wayne Harris, Bill Baker, & Jim Corrigall.
The focus on special teams included the likes of Pinball Clemons, Henry ‘Gizmo’ Williams, Lui Passaglia, Bob Cameron, & Dave Cutler. Go take a look if you are interested!
Banner Image Lancaster (#23) hands the ball off. Image from nuvomagazine.com
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