February 12, 2018

The Sugarfoot Story

The book runs 283 pages.

The life lasted 97 years.

“I think,’’ says author Daryl Slade, “what’s really interesting about Sugarfoot is the variety of his interests and achievements.

“The football is a big part of it, yes, but there’s so much more to the story.”

The pioneer in black players integrating into the game, alongside pals Woody Strode, Kenny Washington and a pre-baseball Jackie Robinson.

The part-time Hollywood actor.

The six-seasons spent in Calgary Stampeders red and white after being coaxed to Canada by Les Lear.

The jazz musician/bandleader. The disc jockey, turning Calgary on to R&B on station CKXL in the early-to-mid ’50s.

The service station owner. The heavy-machinery mechanic. The aging yet spry oracle overseeing countless practices at McMahon Stadium.

The icon.

The man who ventured north to catch a few footballs and stayed over half a lifetime.

It’s all here.

When Ezzrett (Sugarfoot) Anderson passed away on March 8, 2017, an entire city – the vast majority not old enough to remember No. 00 latching onto passes – felt the loss.

With full co-operation of the Anderson family, the independently-published “Sugarfoot” was launched Saturday at Nick’s Steakhouse, across from Sugar’s old football haunt, McMahon Stadium.

“What was important for dad,’’ says son Barry, “is that when he came up in 1949, he thought he was just here to play some football for a couple years and go back.

“The CFL was trying to bolster the league with some American players at the time.

“But what he found – and I know this sounds like a stereotype, a cliché – is that he loved the people, he embraced them and they embraced him right back. That was totally unexpected. He didn’t think he would fit culturally.

“So he spent decades here as part of this community. So when Daryl was interviewing him and we were talking about the book, it wasn’t just about him, it was about Calgary and the heritage of the football team. About everything he’d contributed but also everything he’d gotten out of it.

“How he loved it.

“We as a family have been blessed to be part of this community.”

The book is the result of six years of exhaustive research, chats with Sugar and the people populating his life, scouring yellowing newspaper articles of his football career at the University of Kentucky starting in the 1940s, through Sugar’s days with the L.A. Mustangs, Hollywood Bears, Los Angeles Dons and Long Beach Bulldogs.

The move north, to Calgary, and six seasons as a Stampeder, including the heartbreaking 1949 Grey Cup loss.

But, as the author says, there’s so many layers to the tale.

During his spell in Hollywood moonlighting in the movies, for instance, Sugarfoot worked with, among others, Shirley Temple, Gregory Peck, Cecil B. DeMille, Ava Gardner and Barry Fitgerald.

He played catch with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in the backlot and once gave Elizabeth Taylor his recipe for chilli.

“Sugarfoot” teems with such tales.

One picture that stands out in treasure trove of photographs populating its pages is one of Sugarfoot and Marilyn Monroe.

“Marilyn Monroe was in Banff, shooting a movie called River of No Return with Robert Mitchum,’’ relates Slade. “So they brought her in for a tour of Calgary one day and took her to Stampeder practice at Mewata Stadium to meet Sugarfoot, because he knew all the same people, having been in some Hollywood movies and having played for the Los Angeles Dons, which was owned by, among others, Bob Hope and Don Ameche.

“Anyway, Marilyn and Sugaroot chatted about Hope and everybody, all these people they had in common, and they took the picture.

“When I was sorting through the stuff I found this 3×5 snapshot. That was the first time I’d ever seen it.”

Over the passing of the years, as Sugarfoot’s name went up on the Stamps Wall of Fame and he went into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, the kid from Nashville, Ark., became a part of the fabric of this town.

“You know,’’ says Barry, “this book started out as a story about football. But in the telling, it became a story about life, about media, about culture, about struggle – which is a very important aspect of dad’s life, too – and very much a story about Calgary.

“My favourite Sugarfoot Anderson story? I remember being at picnic one time, at Happy Valley, and lot of people were coming around getting dad’s autograph and he was playing catch with some of the kids.

“I would’ve been seven or eight at the time. Say, 50 years ago.

“He was running at full tilt to catch a ball and a little girl popped out from the picnic tables. And, I’ll never forget this, he dove up in the air and twisted in ways you cannot imagine to keep from running her over and really, seriously injuring her.

“And he broke his wrist getting out of the way.

“The people who were there that afternoon had viewed him as a sports star. But after that they thought of him as a kind of heroic guy.

“From that time up until now, I’ve thought of him that way, too.”


One name is all you need.

A life well lived.

A tale well told.