Various tributes from many people have been distributed through media reports over the past couple days, but tonight, as I watched the Blue Bombers play the British Columbia Lions, I saw one that at first I didn't grasp.
The Lions head coach is Wally Buono. During the 2004 Canadian Football League season, Harris was one of his assistant coaches. In an excerpt from an interview with TSN, which is broadcasting the game, Mr. Buono discussed what happened immediately after his team had won a game and earned the right to play in the Grey Cup, the CFL championship game.
As a couple players carrying a Gatorade bucket approached Mr. Buono, Mr. Harris quietly but firmly told the players not to do it. What he knew but the players didn't was that Mr. Buono would be undergoing heart surgery at the end of the season.
As The Star Phoenix newspaper reported this week, had he been doused with that Gatorade, his heart might not have been able to handle the shock.
"Richard, as you know, always had a big, big heart for people," recalled Buono. "He was a very gentle and considerate man."
That consideration was evident when Harris, knowing that Buono was weeks away from a scheduled heart bypass operation following the 2004 Grey Cup game, intervened just in time as some Lion players were about to douse their head coach with a barrel of iced Gatorade after the West Division final. Harris, aware of Buono's tenuous condition, unlike the players, instinctively grasped that the cold shock from the traditional victory salute to the winning coach might affect a man living on borrowed time. Ironically, Harris died from cardiac arrest after collapsing in his office at Canad Inn Stadiums before practice. He was taken to hospital but could not be revived.
"Richard, being as sensitive as he is, sensed something," Buono said of that Gatorade intervention. "Thank God, at least I was able to deal with it (Buono said of his arterial blockage). Unfortunately, for Richard, it took him."Mr. Buono's words on the TSN broadcast said much the same thing.
Fate can be a cruel thing, can't it?
I didn't know Mr. Harris, but it certainly sounds like the world of football has lost a great man.