Doug Mitchell’s impact on Canadian football has been unparalleled

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There are few people who have done more for Canadian football than Doug Mitchell.

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Maybe none.

His brilliant legacy extends far beyond the football field, of course. Mitchell, who died this week, was a “legendary lawyer” according to current CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie. Mitchell and his wife, Lois, were community leaders in Calgary and strong advocates and supporters of amateur and college sport.

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But even though his legacy was solely linked to football, it had a terribly impressive impact.

Mitchell served as CFL commissioner from 1984 to 1988. He played for the BC Lions in the 1960s and was part of a group of local businessmen who bought the Calgary Stampeders in 2005 He continued to be a minority owner for the rest of his life.

There’s a lot more too. Mitchell was a football man, and the Canadian football community was better for it.

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“You think about everything he’s done, him and his wife Lois, everything they’ve done for football,” Ambrosie said Friday morning. “I think one of the reasons Doug and I connected was that we both had the same belief that football changes people’s lives for the better. Doug believed passionately that football brings Canadians together and I think Doug fundamentally believed that football helps shape and develop the character of those who play it.

“His passion was deeply rooted in fundamental principles. That’s one of the reasons I believe he was so capable of being so passionate. He believed in it almost down to the molecular level, he believed that the game was important.
Before being inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame last month, Mitchell opened up about his life in football. He remembers being an extra with the Colorado College Tigers and then playing with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.

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These experiences marked him, and Mitchell devoted countless hours to college sports.

He created the BLG Awards in 1993 to honor Canada’s top university athletes. The Mitchell Bowl, one of Canadian university football’s annual national semi-finals, is named after him, and the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Center at UBC is named after him.

“I’ve been so lucky with so many things and, really, it’s all because of football,” Mitchell said last month. “I showed up at Colorado College, walked and made the team, and the rest is history. The coach gave me a chance to continue and didn’t know me from Adam, and the rest is football.

“It was kind of a drastic change in my life.”
If football changed Mitchell’s life, well, Mitchell also changed football in Canada. The sport was lucky to have him.

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His leadership helped the CFL survive a turbulent decade in the 1980s. His commitment to the Stampeders helped them bounce back from a terrible streak in the early 2000s and win the Gray Cup in 2008, 14 and 18. D Countless young college players have benefited from his commitment to celebrating the college game.

“He left a legacy,” Ambrosie said. “One who is perhaps as great or greater than anyone before him and now it’s up to all of us to live up to that legacy.

“Doug wanted us to grow the game, he wanted the CFL to have a bigger, brighter future. When I heard the news (of Mitchell’s passing), I felt a certain sense of responsibility not only to the job I have, but also a responsibility to Doug’s legacy to do whatever I can to honor him.

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