O’Leary: Foxcroft readies for a Labour Day finale
Dave Foxcroft will check to ensure that his mic is warm, that his officiating colleagues can hear him and for one final time, will serenade the group as they get to work in Hamilton on Monday afternoon.
The OK Tire Labour Day Weekend will mark the end of Foxcroft’s 22-season run as a CFL official. Since he became a head referee, he has let the lyrics of a TLC ’90s mega-hit be the compass that the crew follows on game days.
“Ten seconds before every opening kickoff I go around, every referee holds their hand up in the air to signal that they’re ready,” Foxcroft said in a spirited conversation this week, “and I get on my ref-comm (radio) communication, and I say to them, ‘OK, impactful calls only,’ and then I sing: ‘Don’t go chasing waterfalls…’ and I go right around, pointing to each one of them. I can see they’re laughing back at me, so they’re hearing me. It relaxes them. It relaxes me. And it reminds us of the job that we have to do out there.
“We don’t want to be falling over any waterfalls because it’s a long drop down and we go down together.”
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Foxcroft’s run as a CFL official includes 354 games worked, including six Grey Cups — not to mention 150 more games in the CFL’s command centre. He laughs as he describes what his final week on the job has been like. Jake Ireland, one of Foxcroft’s numerous mentors as an official, told him earlier in the week that it’s not his last game; it’s his next game and to treat it like that. You get the sense that that’s happening, but the emotions and reflections on the people he’s spent now almost half of his life with are simmering beneath the surface, no doubt ready to boil over in the hours after Monday’s game.
Knowing that some attention is headed his way this week, Foxcroft is doing what he can to try to steer the spotlight to those on the field with him, both the ones in the present and over the past 23 years that have made him one of the top officials in the league.
He rattles off names like Ireland and how partnering with Jacques Decarie in his first CFL game showed him just how much he had to learn. Dave Hutton taught him to self-evaluate and how to be a good roommate on the road; Al McColman taught him game awareness, how to implement preventative officiating and how to be big-hearted with your colleagues. Don Cousens taught him how to relate with coaches and, as a police officer, taught him the approach of making impactful calls rather than every single little call on the field.
Ken Lazaruk taught him how to deal with adversity and the importance of work-life balance. He remembers Bud Steen giving up an assignment to be head ref in a game to allow Foxcroft the chance to take on the role, while providing him in-game feedback, a precursor to Steen taking on an evaluators’ role later. Dave Yule became his referee coach and the two developed a close bond. That kind of sacrifice and mentorship has helped Foxcroft do the same for new officials making their way into the game over the last few years.
He feels that officiating has moved to a good place in part from strong leadership from the league coming from commissioner Randy Ambrosie, Greg Dick (the CFL’s chief football operations officer), Darren Hackwood (the CFL’s VP of officiating) and Laurence Pontbriand (the CFL’s senior manager of football and officiating development).
There is of course his father, Ron Foxcroft, an officiating giant in the basketball world that invented the FOX 40 pea-less whistle, a tool that’s impacted officiating in sports around the world. The two talk after every game that Dave works and his guidance in officiating and in the business world have been immeasurable.
“He’s been my best mentor,” he said. “The thing I’ve always said is he can ruin me with praise or save me with criticism. That’s been important.”
Foxcroft has always presented a laced up, business-like version of himself on the field. He makes the calls, delivers the news and stays focused on the tasks at hand.
Behind the scenes, with his crew, stands a big personality that’s absorbed the many teachings of those around him. He’s brought levity to the pressure and stress that goes hand-in-hand with the difficult job of officiating pro football. Along with the TLC serenade, there’s a ‘Foxy Flair’ persona that his peers would be treated to, riffing on pro wrestler Ric Flair’s strut and woo-heavy routines.
“I’m a little crazy,” Foxcroft said, laughing. “The fans of the CFL don’t see that because I try to present the straight-laced figure when I’m doing my signals and announcements. Like I say, my dad, our trucking (company) slogan is, ‘If it’s on time, it’s a fluke’ and he invented a pea-less whistle. So it’s hard to grow up normal around a guy like that.”
While his time in CFL stripes is coming to an end, he’s not entirely finished working games. He’s had conversations with the Big Ten conference in the NCAA — he worked a Penn State game in April of this year, after getting his officiating start in the Big East back in 1998 — and figures he could be busier with the US college game in 2024. He’ll continue to work with official development in the CFL and will continue to work in the CFL’s command centre through this season.
That will free him up enough to allow him to work on his golf game — he’s part of a quartet that pairs his father, Ron with commissioner Ambrosie and Dave with his brother Steve. There will also be more family time. Foxcroft laments missing his son Carson’s high school graduation, due to having to officiate a CFL game. He will see his son’s university graduation this year, though.
The hundreds of games worked have blurred together for Foxcroft and like in other fields of work where you’re paired closely with your colleagues, it’s that camaraderie and those personal relationships that he’ll miss the most. He’s working to keep his focus on the game this week, like Ireland advised him to, but come Monday evening a chapter in his life will have been written and the page will begin to turn.
Fittingly, his crew will help him turn it.
“We normally exit the field very quickly because there aren’t many accolades for a referee after the game. But this game, I’m going to walk real slow. I know that,” Foxcroft said.
“I’m going to take my time. I’m going to look at the crowd and I’m probably going to go right to centrefield, look around and then slowly walk off the field.
“There’ll be emotions in the locker room, I know it. Then I have the crew coming back to my house and we’re going to tune in and watch the game from Calgary.”