Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Difference-maker Ed Laverty going into Canadian Football Hall of Fame

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Alongside the best of the best — CFL stars like Damon Allen, Doug Flutie, George Reed, Jackie Parker, Junior Ah You, Matt Dunigan, Ron Stewart, Ron Lancaster, Sam Etcheverry, Tony Gabriel, Warren Moon and Russ Jackson — a humble, hard-working Ottawa guy, who always put the good of the community first, is going into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

It was announced Friday that Ed Laverty, who died in 2017 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, is part of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2024 as a builder, along with five CFL players — receivers Weston Dressler, S.J. Green and Chad Owens, cornerback Marvin Coleman and defensive end Vince Goldsmith — and coach Ray Jauch.

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The media wing of the Hall of Fame will welcome the CFL’s associate vice-president of football analytics, Steve Daniel, and one of the country’s most prolific sports reporters, TSN’s Farhan Lalji, whose football legacy also includes more than 30 trailblazing years as a high school coach.

What Ed Laverty did, how many lives he touched in Ottawa, is being recognized with Canadian football’s biggest honour.

President of the Ontario Touch Football League for nearly 10 years and a key figure in establishing Touch Football Canada, he took over the Ottawa Nepean Touch Football League (started by Eden Windish in 1963) with less than a hundred players and grew it into something that’s huge on the Ottawa football map — with summer and winter leagues that provide football for between 700 and 1,000 players.

Under Laverty’s watch, the league went from six teams to hundreds. The league became a trailblazer for diversity in football, offering divisions for men, women and co-ed teams. 

A longtime Rough Riders season-ticket holder, his passion for enriching the lives of those living in this big community was shared by his wife Trudy, daughter Tammy (her father called her Tammy Toes) and son Gordie (known by his dad as Gordo).

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For years, Ed poured his heart and soul into the job — as a player (he was a two-time national champion as a quarterback) and as an administrator. Nicknamed the “Godfather” of touch football, he was inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.

Laverty was 74 when he died peacefully at the family home in St. Claire Gardens.

And, now this: A Hall-of-Fame moment.

Ed Laverty not only helped turn the Ottawa Nepean Touch Football League into a huge success off the field, he was also a very good quarterback.
Ed Laverty not only helped turn the Ottawa Nepean Touch Football League into a huge success off the field, he was also a very good quarterback. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The backstory: Gordie and Tammy had submitted an application five years ago. But time went by and they understood that maybe this was more a hall of fame for former star players and championship-winning coaches.

Said Tammy, who was told about the Hall of Fame induction in a phone call a couple of weeks ago: “Could you ask for anything better, to get a call like that? I screamed. I was like, ‘Oh my God, oh, my God.’ To get that call, out of the blue, was huge. Sometimes, it’s tough to be without my dad. This lifts us up. It was unexpected, off our radar.

“When I told Gordie, he just sat back in a chair, looked around and said, ‘Whoa!’ We were both moved to tears.”

“I was stunned, I didn’t know how to react,” said Gordie, who took over as Ottawa Nepean Touch Football League president when his dad stepped aside in 2014, after 50 years. “It didn’t register, ‘What do you mean the Canadian Football Hall of Fame? We’re touch football.’

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“When I think about the Hall of Fame, I think about (Hall of Famers like) Russ Jackson. My earliest football memories are watching Russ Jackson with my dad. This is really freaking mind-blowing.”

Ed Laverty has long been a trailblazer well beyond the borders of the nation’s capital, along guys like with Barry and Bryan Hughes and Papi Lanthier, all local legends in their own right. They were pioneers, with their hard work laying the framework for a league thousands could enjoy.

With Laverty as a major catalyst, girls and women’s touch football took off in popularity. It was largely because of him the sport got going for girls in local high schools.

As Alzheimer’s — a fatal disease that’s irreversible and destroys brain cells, causing thinking ability and memory to deteriorate — tore away at him, Ed had comforts that would bring back the twinkle in his eyes.

Music was one of them.

When Tammy was married to Sean Hall, Ed walked his daughter down the aisle. The first dance at the reception was to Roch Voisine’s I’ll Always Be There.

“When my dad was sick, I moved back home and stayed with him,” Gordie said. “I’m a night owl and he’d be up all hours of night. I’d be playing Fallout 4, it was a video game where there was a lot of older music that my dad loved. So, he’d sit beside me. If he heard Bing Crosby or Dean Martin, he’d smile and say, ‘Oh, that’s a good one,’ … as I’m blowing some super giant mutant’s head off in the game.

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“When I started watching the (Fallout) series (available on Amazon Prime), I broke into tears because it reminded of my dad sitting beside me. He hated video games, but he’d sit there because he loved the music so much. It got me choked up thinking about it.”

Ed, a longtime Northern Telecom employee who later owned several real-estate properties, remained humble to the end. He knew the importance of his role, but he also knew he had lots of shoulders to lean on, especially at home, where Trudy played such a big part in the welcoming of a constant flow of visitors, and Gordie and Tammy were keen helpers.

“It was non-stop, people coming in and out of the house all day long,” Tammy said. “It was Grand Central Station for football all the time.”

Ed Laverty's wife Trudy was by his side as he worked around the clock to ensure the Ottawa Nepean Touch Football League could grow.
Ed Laverty’s wife Trudy was by his side as he worked around the clock to ensure the Ottawa Nepean Touch Football League could grow. SUBMITTED PHOTO

How much did the sport and teammates and the leagues he helped flourish mean to him? He was late for his own wedding because he was playing touch football.

“He was up at 5 clock in the morning and he’d work until midnight, doing schedules, meeting people, making the league better,” Tammy said. “One of the things that stuck with me was one of the notes of condolence (after he passed), it said: ‘This is my synopsis of Eddie Laverty, I was at Commerce High School, there was a guy there, wearing a little ball cap. It was 6 in the morning and he was lining the field, by himself.’ Those are the extra miles, those are the things you don’t see.”

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To the end, to the final days, while Ed’s memory was failing and the disease was taking its toll, he never forgot the ones he loved the most. Those around him got tell him how much they loved him … over and over and over.

A week before he died, he was tossing a football around.

“The last few days, he wasn’t really awake,” Tammy said. “He was peaceful, wrapped up in his cozy blanket. When they came to take my dad away, they put a football in his hands. He went off as the Godfather of Football.”

For Trudy, Tammy and Gordie, the feeling of emptiness, the grief, the loss of a husband and father, has never gone away, it probably never will.

“There are some days where it’ll come over you, a wave of grief,” Tammy said. “You think about how young he really was. It was really tough, a powerless feeling to watch someone decline because of a cognitive impairment. Does it soften with time? It does. But that hole in your heart will always be there.

“We do lots of things to channel the grief, we do something good and lasting in his memory. When we see men, women and kids learning the game he loved, to carry on the touch football legacy means everything to us. The way we look at it: If we miss him that much, then let’s make sure what he loved, what his passion was, is ours. It’s a big part of what our identity is.

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“We love the game, we love the people — it’s how we were raised. Football is our life and it’s because of our dad. We both still play. That’s our dad living on through us.”

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And now, the Hall of Fame, the place where the best of the best are recognized, has called.

“He didn’t want any applause or acknowledgement for what he did,” Tammy said. “He was an incredible quarterback, organizer and initiator. He’d be very humble, proud and very appreciative, but I know, he’d be, ‘OK, but there are so many other deserving people.’ He deserves this, it warms our football hearts and it means everything to us. This cements his legacy in a way you can only dream of.”

“(The Ed Laverty Fields) are named after him,” Gordie said. “My sister had mentioned it to him 20 years ago, getting fields named after him. He wanted no part of that. When he went into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame, he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. But he was still with it enough to recognize what was happening. He was really, really humbled by it. He felt very lucky, very honoured.

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“He would never ask for it, it’s not like he would ever say, ‘I should be in the Hall of Fame.’ But he’d be blown away by this. People running these amateur leagues, it’s the most thankless job. It’s not easy to do. My dad could get people to volunteer for him like nobody else. He had a magnetic personality.”

To honour their father, Gordie and Tammy will hold their fourth annual Ed Laverty Legacy Skills event June 9 at Algonquin Sports Field, between 11 a.m.-3 p.m., for male and female players, ages 6-18, of any level of football experience. The cost is $40. For more information, go to edlavertylegacy.com.

Family and friends will be in Hamilton Sept. 13 for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It’s not surprising Tammy and Gordie will not be at Tim Hortons Field the following day for the Hall of Fame game between the Ticats and Ottawa Redblacks. There’s business back home to focus on.

“We have our league playoffs that Saturday,” Gordie said with a laugh. “My dad would chastise me right from the grave if I stayed (in Hamilton) and missed our football games.”

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