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Four decades of involvement entitles a man to indulge in a little nostalgia.
“In professional sports,’’ muses Stan Schwartz, “you certainly experience your share of ups and downs.
“One day you’re at the top of Mount Everest planting the flag and the next day you’re at the bottom of Death Valley …
“Looking for water.
“But it’s been a great ride.”
Since arriving on scene as an assistant coach on Bob Baker’s Calgary Stampeders’ coaching staff in 1976, he has been a constant, reassuring, calming presence out on Crowchild Trail North.
The term ‘end of an era’ tends to lose much of its impact nowadays due to overuse.
In this case, though, it fits.
The Stan Schwartz Era at McMahon Stadium has included turns as Stamps’ Executive Vice-President and President, senior consultant, president, GM of Administration, assistant coach and Senior Executive/Manager of the McMahon Stadium Society that oversaw activities in the facility during the hugely successful 1988 Winter Olympic Games.
“You start reflecting back,’’ says Schwartz, “on all the characters, the different ownership, players and staff you’ve been involved with … I mean, that’s the difference-maker.
“The people you’ve met along the way.”
People like Frank King and Bill Pratt with the Calgary Olympic group, so many of the lifelong friendships he’s developed on the football side of his life.
A teenaged Stan Schwartz first laid eyes on McMahon Stadium back in 1963, as a high-school player from Medicine Hat invited to attend a camp devised by Rogers Lehew.
“The facility was quite different back then,’’ he recalls of a structure that would become his second home. “The clubhouse had the breezeway. The other side was the ticket office and locker rooms. The seats were only to the goal line and the upper deck hadn’t been installed yet, not until ’78 or ’79.
“I remember they put us up at the dorm at Mount Royal and fed us. Gave us the same kind of attention the Stampeder players would get for training camp.
“I still have the letter inviting me. Can you imagine as a high-school kid, getting a letter on Stampeder letterhead?
“Hey, that’s pretty big-time.
“I could never have dreamed at the time that I’d be back in a professional capacity someday, of course.”
Or for such an extended stay.
As the days to his departure lessen, he’s been collecting volumes of data to write a memoir, already 300 pages along, which opens with his being named after an uncle who, at 18, joined the RAF and was shot down over France by a German Nightfighter on Apr. 17, 1943.
The book title?
“My Unpredictable Journey.
“Because everybody’s journey is unpredictable.”
Thirteen years following that wide-eyed initial visit to McMahon in ‘63, Schwartz joined the Stamps. His connection was the late Gene Stauber, defensive coordinator at Indiana State at the same time Schwartz, a graduate assistant, helped coach the Sycamores’ running backs.
When Stauber was hired by Calgary head coach Bob Baker, he recommended Schwartz, then teaching at Henry Wise Wood High School.
“And that opened the door,’’ he says. “I resigned from Wise Wood and the rest, as they say, is history.”
A history that included collaborators such as the late Jack Gotta – the Stamps’ head coach – and mentors like Tony Anselmo.
“Jack was not the most organized guy,’’ Schwartz recalls of the former Stamps head coach. “But I don’t think anybody managed the game as well as he did. He could really follow the play. A reporter would ask him at the end of the game ‘Jack, about that third quarter …’ and he’d be like ‘Oh, we were first-and-10 on the 40-yard-line and our left tackle …’
“Jack was good for the game. Larger than life. A real treat to work for. Always gave his coaches pretty well complete ownership. It was a great honour to coach with him.
“And Tony Anselmo, he offered me the job of managing McMahon Stadium back in 1982. Always so supportive.
“Certainly a big part of my journey.”
During his administration role with the McMahon Society, Schwartz oversaw a $30-million expansion to the stadium in the lead-up to the ’88 Games.
“Probably the most gratifying and most difficult thing I’ve done,’’ he reckons, “was staging the opening and closing ceremonies here. We started five years in advance.
“I found it hard. Very time-consuming. I lost quite a bit of weight, wasn’t eating properly.
“But when the Closing ceremonies were over, and you knew they’d been this great success, the sense of satisfaction was there.
“Then we had to do the clean-up.”
His era is chock-a-block with the names, a virtual Who’s Who, of Stampeder gridiron greats.
“So many wonderful people, wonderful characters,’’ he reminisces wistfully.
“Willie Burden. John Helton. Jack Gotta, as I’ve mentioned. Rogers Lehew. Then as time moved along, I really enjoyed getting to know Jeff Garcia. Special guy. Not only for what he accomplished on the football field but for what he did off it. During the fall for two years, Jeff and I would go to two schools a night. Jeff would give a little five-minute talk to the coach and all the players, then he’d spend 10-15 minutes with the QBs. Then we’d go to another school.
“On the field, I don’t think there was anyone mentally tougher. Ever. Quiet, unassuming when you meet him but he puts a helmet on and …
“Look what he’s accomplished. Did very well in the NFL, invested his money very well. A real success story.
“Doug Flutie was another interesting guy.
“I got to know Doug better after he left the game. We had some conversations, then he came up that one year and we put him on the Wall (of Fame).
“Doug’s not the most engaging person. He’ll go to a function, do everything asked of him and then later on say ‘You know, I don’t know if I want to do that again.’ In fairness to him, though, when Doug was here, he never had a moment to himself.
“It got to the point where he and his family would go get takeout and eat at home because if he went to a restaurant everybody would be asking for his autograph.
“And Doug is a fairly private person.
“Randy Trautman was probably the toughest guy we ever had here. Great person but tough as nails. Young Tommy Forzani was quite a jokester. Willie Burden drew cartoons. Travis Moore …
“Oh, so many.”
Over Schwartz’s tenure in the red-and-white fold, the Stampeders won four Grey Cups, appeared in four others and staged the big game in 2009.
Asked to select one special group, one special year, as representing the best of Stampeder football, he hedges a moment.
“Any of those teams from ’92 through ’94 or ’95, when Doug was here,’’ he finally replies. “If I had to choose one, I’d say probably say ’92.
“If we’d won the Grey Cup this year, that choice might be different. Because we didn’t, people forget about that 15-2-1 record. An amazing record and the game might go down as probably one of the greatest Grey Cups of all time.
“If we’d won, we might’ve been considered the greatest team ever.
“But we didn’t.”
This early summer, when the familiar sights and sounds out at McMahon Stadium begin to again, it’ll be a different, vastly different landscape, not seeing the familiar gentleman off to the side, quietly taking it all in.
Not that Stan Schwartz plans on being idle.
He’s contemplating helping out as position coach with a high-school program and plans on continuing as a director for the Greater Calgary Amateur Football Association.
He’s promised wife Shirley a vacation. And there’s the memoir to dig into.
Day-to-day dealings in football matters, stadium business are, however, the affairs of others now.
“Because of all the positions I’ve held here — coach, president, general partner — you’ve kinda just got to let it go,’’ he says, “and let these people carry on.
“It’ll be different for me.”
A soft, familiar smile.
“But I’ll be fine.”
After four decades out on Crowchild Trail North, the Stan Schwartz Era draws to a close, as all eras must.
As the proposed book title suggests, his journey, like everyone’s, has been unpredictable.
Still, these final pages have been anything but, filled with the trademark class, grace and quiet authority one man has brought to McMahon Stadium over the past four decades.