For Larry Fairholm the 1960s represented a simpler time in the Canadian Football League. A time when a man was measured by the respect he gave the game and his fellow competitors.
“Even though we were playing against each other there was really a sense of camaraderie with your opponents. George Reed, Ron Lancaster, Ken Ploen … the names go on and on,” said Fairholm. “We played against these guys and we had a real strong respect for each other. We played hard and we had a lot of fun together.”
Times have changed since Fairholm laced up his cleats for the Montreal Alouettes as a safety playing more than 100 games for the club between 1965 and 1972.
“I do think it’s a little bit different. I don’t want to say it’s a little bit more of an individualistic attitude today, but as a team back then we had a really strong camaraderie and still do. Even our opponents are people we respected and had a lot of fun with. I think it’s a little bit different now … It isn’t quite the same closeness.”
Perhaps the opponent Fairholm respected the most was the Ottawa Rough Riders and their quarterback Russ Jackson.
“I used to stay up and have fits coming up with defensive signals to combat Ottawa. They had a fabulous offensive team, brilliant really. You really had to screw it on pretty good when you were playing against them.
“I used to enjoy that and enjoyed that mental fight with Russ because he’d be looking at me and I’d be changing signals and he’d be checking off at the line and for sure he won a lot more than I did, but they were a great team.”
You have to forgive Fairholm if it sounds like he’s nostalgic; after all, in many ways his football career was a dream come true.
“I was from the East end of Montreal, kind of a lower-middle-class neighbourhood that was very close-knit. I know the people of Montreal and I know their sentiments so it was a privilege to have that opportunity to come back and play in front of them and for my hometown. Not many kids get that opportunity.”
Fairholm was twice named an East Division all-star (1968, 1969) and was a CFL all-star in the latter year.
What set Fairholm apart was a tremendous work ethic tied to a desire never to be beaten mentally.
“I never really was upset if I got beat physically, because if somebody made a better move, whatever, he had a little more ability. But, I used to pride myself on not getting beat mentally. If I hadn’t prepared properly, studied properly, was in the wrong position then that was a mental error that was a no-no in my books and still is.”
Even after he retired Fairholm kept getting pulled back toward the CFL. In 1989 he was even asked to be commissioner.
“They had a search committee and I was asked to give my opinion as to what type of commissioner the league should have. I guess I opened my mouth a little too much and they thought I was a strong candidate and as a matter of fact the job was offered. I had a couple companies on the go and I was involved in my business quite a bit so it was very tempting to take the position, but I had to refuse.”
Despite never serving as commissioner Fairholm still had a good reason to follow the CFL: His son, Jeff, played in the league as a wide receiver with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (1988 to 1993) and Toronto Argonauts (1994 to 1996).
“Jeff is very disciplined, he was a very conscientious player and he was brought up in that environment. His statistics speak for themselves: he was one helluva a football player,” said Fairholm. “From my perspective I just tried being a good father and being supportive of his desires. I never pushed him.”
Fairholm now lives in Vermont a couple hours down the road from Montreal. Looking back at his career he said there is no secret why he was successful.
“I had good coaching, a good upbringing and I think if you have the good mental attitude, discipline and if you are always prepared there’s not much to overcome.”