Image“Tricky” Dick Thornton was one of the most exciting and colorful players to roam the stadiums of the Canadian Football League in the 60s and early 70s. The Chicago native, attended Northwestern University; was an All American and high draft choice of the Cleveland Browns and that was when the NFL only had 12 teams. The Browns subsequently traded his rights to St. Louis, but Thornton chose to play in Canada because Bud Grant and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers offered him more money (US$12,000 + a $US5,000 signing bonus compared to the Cardinals offer of only US$10,000).

Winnipeg also gave him the proper respect bringing him up to Manitoba for a formal visit and showing him that they really wanted him to be part of their franchise. Tricky was the sobriquet given him by his former coach with the Toronto Argonauts, Leo Cahill. And among his many accomplishments, Thornton might have been the first player to ever spike a football in the end zone.  He is enshrined in the Blue Bomber Hall of Fame, was selected in 1993 to the CFL All-Time All-Star team as one of the best 28 players in the history of the league and is currently listed on the CFL Website as one of the “Legends Of The Game.”

Turning to the here and now, Dick is an International Merchandising Specialist working as a contract consultant with Thai Pure Drinks Ltd, the bottler of Coca-Cola products here in Bangkok. Just before 9-11, he was scheduled to go to the Middle East having just finished an 18-month contract with the Empresas Polar Group in Caracas, Venezuela. The Latin American based company had spotted him speaking at a retail trade show called Global Shop in Chicago and asked him to coach their three main Strategic Business Units. His workload temporarily came to a sudden halt with the terrorist attacks though until one day while lounging at his penthouse condo in Manila he received a phone call from a former colleague, David Cuirlionis, who is a senior Vice President with TPDL. He asked Dick to come to Bangkok and build a new merchandising culture within his organization and Thornton immediately accepted the challenge.

Dick’s expertise is the art and science of merchandising; how a company presents its products to the consumer at the point of purchase, taking into accounts basic principles like putting equipment in the right location, making sure popular brands and packages are always available, that there is pricing and point of sale (signage), rotating the products because all soft drinks have relatively short expiry dates, and housekeeping (keeping all selling areas sparkling and clean). “Basically what I preach is common sense,” he says.

“In this fast paced, every changing world of high technology, many companies have overlooked or even forgotten the fundamentals of any business: customer service and consumer convenience.”

Back to football:  The media and even the league itself, often classified Thornton as a somewhat controversial athlete during his playing days, but he was loved by the fans because he couldn’t be stereotyped and was always way "ahead of the wave." Once, while playing for the Bombers, he changed his uniform number from 14 to 28, because he felt he needed to play twice as good…heading into the playoffs. The media often referred to Tricky as a hotdog, a flake, a character and flamboyant, but he sold tickets and that’s the name of the game.

In a way, Dick Thornton’s entire life has been dictated by a series of strange and weird events that consistently altered the course of his life. Some refer to it as fate, others as luck and a few might even call it destiny. But whatever you call his has definitely been a most fascinating journey.

Thornton’s football career almost never got off the ground. He originally attended Lane Tech, which was a high school of 7,000 male students. In the first two years, he was cut, mainly because of his size. He never even got a chance to put on a uniform.

His father then took a bold step and moved the entire family to the northwest side of Chicago. There, he enrolled at Taft High School as a junior and immediately made an impact on the Eagle football program. Taft made the city playoffs two years running, steamrolling Lane Tech in the process and Dick eventually was named City of Chicago Prep Player of the Year, gained All-State recognition and received a host of scholarship offers from big name schools all across the USA. However he elected to remain close to home and play for the Northwestern Wildcats. Why? Coach Ara Parseghian: “He was the most charismatic person I had ever met at that point in my life. I spent ten minutes with Ara, and said ‘I want to come play for you.’"

Thornton had to play both ways back then, because NCAA college rules stipulated if a player went to the bench before any quarter was over, he couldn’t come back into the game until the next quarter began. So playing quarterback, it was obviously essential he stay in the game, so when the defense came on to the field, he played free safety. But not only did he play those two key positions, he also saw action on all special teams as the punter, the holder on extra points and field goals, and he returned both punts and kickoffs. He was truly Mr. Everything and never left the field of play the entire game.

ImageIn 1959, his junior year at Northwestern, Thornton broke his left ankle and fell victim to what was commonly referred to as the Sports Illustrated jinx. It seemed that something weird happened to almost everyone who made, or was about to make, the front cover back then.

The pre-season number #1 ranked team in the nation, the Oklahoma Sooners had traveled to Northwestern’s Dyche Stadium and been trounced by the Wildcats 48-13, so suddenly Northwestern, noted mostly for it’s academic stature, was the talk of US collegiate football as was Thornton who had had a fantastic game; passing for three touchdowns and scoring two himself including running back a kickoff for a TD. As a result Sports Illustrated wanted to do a major story on the Wildcats, and put Thornton on its Cover.

The next game against Iowa, however, for some strange reason, Coach Parseghian put Thornton on the 20-yard line for the opening kick-off. The ball came right to him and he took off running. Almost breaking it, he eventually ran out of room at the sideline, cut back and was sandwiched (hit high and hit low by two different players), and ended up with a green stick fracture, forcing him to miss the remainder of the year. He would have been ready for the Rose Bowl, but the Wildcats lost their last two contests and finished second in the Big Ten. And unfortunately Sports Illustrated lost interest.

In his senior year, more bad luck. He tore a thigh muscle in training camp, the same injury French soccer star Zidane sustained before the World Cup and missed three games, but he still preformed admirably and attracted the attention of many pro scouts.

He was now married, his wife was about to have a baby girl, and he was due to graduate in June, when Ara called and told him the NCAA had granted him another year of eligibility. Most of Northwestern’s star players were graduating though and the key to the team’s success had been the continuity and cohesiveness of the unit for four straight years. So Thornton’s choice was: return to college for one quarter just to play football or turn pro, make the big money and support his new family.

Thornton recalls his teammates weren’t dumb jocks: “Back in those days, you had to go class and stud, there weren’t any courses like underwater basket weaving, right & left handed door opening or how to be an assistant basketball coach; I don’t even think Northwestern had a P.E. department. I studied literature, languages, poetry, drama and creative writing along with the usual biology and chemistry science subjects and had a 3.25 overall grade point average.”

Image


So Dick decided to turn pro in 1961 and signed with the Blue Bombers. Little did he realize then, that by living and working in Canada, he would be honing his international skills for a future job with the Coca-Cola Company.

His coach, Bud Grant, was the exact opposite of Parseghian. “Bud didn’t have much of a personality, he didn’t say much either, but he knew his football, his player’s abilities and he had a tremendous eye for assessing talent. He stuck with the people that won for him as long as they played up to his standards. There were a couple years with the Bombers where we I don’t believe we made any roster changes. But then again, that was way before free agency.”

Thornton also proved to be one of the most confident athletes the Bombers ever had. One example was in the second game of a Western Conference Final in 1965 against Calgary, Kenny Ploen, the Bomber QB, went down with a minute to go in the first half, when he was sandwiched on a sack. Coach Grant told Thornton to "run out the clock." But Tricky just looked at him and said, ‘Hey, we’re three points behind, see the scoreboard, there is no tomorrow. Sorry, but when I come off the field we will be leading 7-3.’ Again Grant commanded, "Run out the clock." Thornton yelled "You’ve got no choice, I’m the only quarterback you’ve got left," as he ran onto the field. And sure enough, Thornton scored on the last play of the half with a 37-yard burst around right end and ended up leading the Bombers to a 15-11 victory. Winnipeg also won the decider in the best of three series and went on to play the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Grey Cup that year.

When Grant went on to coach in the NFL the next year, he asked Thornton to think about joining the Vikings. But Dick recalls, “By then I had spent six years in Canada, made a solid name for myself, and felt…why start all over again?” Thornton also didn’t have the same type of relationship with Grant’s successor, former offensive coordinator, Joe Zaleski, and didn’t do himself any favors with the Bomber press by saying things like, “the best thing about Winnipeg is the road leading out of town.” So he was eventually traded to Toronto.

Recalling that time, Thornton says, “It was a short period in my life where I had to make a name for myself and learn as many lessons about life as I could. We didn’t make the kind of money that today’s athletes do, where they never have to work again once they retire.”

“And as a defensive back, the only recognition I got was by taking someone’s head off or by intercepting the ball. These were hard to come by later on, because the better cornerback I became, the fewer opportunities I would have because quarterbacks would rarely throw the ball in my direction.”

“Sure I was a nuisance at times to management because I questioned certain policies and procedures and was always way ahead of the wave. However, Winnipeg was a great experience except for the winters, which is one of the main reasons I’ve lived in Asia for the past nine years.”

He became just as controversial in Toronto. He often wrote freelance articles for the Globe & Mail and other publications, and in 1970, the publishing company, Longman’s, contacted him and asked him if he would write a ‘true life story’ about professional football in the CFL. He readily agreed, sensing it was a perfect opportunity to "tell it like it is" and named it Get it while You’re Hot, Cause Baby, You’re Going to be Cold for a Long, Long Time. It was about a week in the life of the Argos with all of the team’s trials and tribulations.

It took a year to complete and when finished the publisher sent copies to all the newspapers in an effort to help promote it. Thus, a galley proof soon crossed the desk of John Bassett Sr., owner of the Toronto Telegram, who also owned the Argonauts.  He immediately passed the manuscript on to Coach Leo Cahill. “First of all, the book was a satire on the game, filled with humor and sex. The world was changing, young people were beginning to speak out and voice their opinions and I wrote about several subjects that were taboo back then. I loved Leo but said some true things about the guy such as ‘he’s the greatest coach in the world except during the course of a game, when he got so emotional, he would over-react and oftentimes lose control.’”  

Image“Anyway, Leo read the book, then called me into the office and said, ‘If this book hits the streets, you’re history, and if you change your mind, your chances of making the team are still slim and none and slim’s out to lunch.’  Just to make sure, the Argonauts also put pressure on the publisher and Longman’s soon canceled everything, but they let me keep my advance payment. However, my budding writing career was quickly put on hold and my football career was in serious jeopardy.  

“Naturally, other publishers immediately approached me with lucrative offers because this juicy scenario was getting lots of media publicity. But I learned early in life to never buck the power. The thought also occurred to me that I could always publish the book at a later date, but any football player’s days are numbered. Two weeks later, I went back to the stadium and said, ‘Ok, Coach, bet you I can make the team as a wide receiver. Forget about defense, I’m tired of defense anyway. Treat me like a rookie receiver in training camp and if I don’t earn the position, then cut me.

“Guess, who started the season at flanker?  I had something like five touchdown catches in our four exhibition games, and played half the season on offense, catching at least three passes in every regular season game and making a lot of key blocks on running plays.  Then, Jim Tomlin our starting cornerback was suddenly traded to British Columbia and I found myself back on defense. I hadn’t lost any of my skills in that area either, because in the initial game against Ottawa, back at my regular position, I intercepted three passes, running one back all the way for a touchdown. It was my finest year as a pro and never got any recognition because I was never at one position long enough to build up the proper statistics.”

The play Thornton is probably most remembered for with the Argos came in the 71 Grey Cup final against Calgary. Near the end of the game, with the Argos trailing by a field goal, Thornton intercepted a pass on the Argo 42 yard line and ran it back to the Calgary 11, before being tackled by the QB, Jerry Keeling. Two plays later, the Argos’ Leon ‘X-Ray’ McQuay fumbled and the Stampeders went on to win the championship.

"I take full blame because I cut the wrong way. If Jim Stillwagon (who was trying to block Keeling) hadn’t been there I probably would have had a better chance to score, because I’d have had a one-on-one situation in the open field.  I came within eleven yards of being the Grey Cup MVP…but awards, cash and cars don’t go to players on the losing team.”

The next year the Argos fell apart and Thornton recalls what happened: “In 1972, Joe Theismann and Greg Barton fought tooth and nail throughout training camp for the starting quarterback job. The year before they had alternated at the position, but it never really quite worked out, so Leo realized he needed a true, number one quarterback. Up until the start of the first game, he still hadn’t made the announcement as to who it would be. Then minutes before we go out on the field, Cahill walked by and said, ‘Joe, you’re starting,’ and that was it.  Joe had more mobility and was thus more suited for the wider field although Greg had a better arm.

“At that point, Barton just fell apart and started crying. Now my locker was in between theirs, so I was there when Leo walked by, and I said, ‘Greg, look, you can’t get down, because you never know, Joe might break his leg in the first quarter, and then you will have to go in. This is a crazy game.’ So what happens?  Joe breaks his leg in the first quarter. Barton never did recover, throwing a number of interceptions and we lost the game.

“He started the next four games too, but had totally lost his confidence and Cahill eventually brought back Wally Gabler to replace him. We lost six games that year by a total of nine points. We had the same team with the same desire to return to the championship game, but many key players came up hurt, we got some unlucky breaks and even Joe, upon his return to the lineup came up sub-par. He threw nine interceptions in the last two games, we didn't even make the playoffs and that season, it cost Leo Cahill his job and mine as well.

“Leon McQuay had a lot to do with the slow destruction of the 1971-72 teams.  He was an unproven commodity, yet making more money than anyone else. And although he had unbelievable talent, he was immature and selfish. When I was coaching, I’ve always chosen kids with lots of enthusiasm and a positive attitude over those with more talent but who didn’t know how put it all together.”

“Then in 1973, the Argos brought in John Rauch, a former coach of the Oakland Raiders, and the first thing he did was cut every guy over thirty years old. I walked in to the dressing room after the first exhibition game and my locker was empty, with a sign that said, ‘See the coach, and bring your playbook.’ That’s the key indicator your career has ended with that team.”

Thornton put himself on the open market but had no takers, Dick couldn’t go South either. The Chicago Bears had expressed a keen interest in him, but because there was a rule back then that if you participated in a single practice in another league, you couldn’t play in the NFL that year, that option was eliminated.

When one of Hamilton’s defensive backs went down with a broken leg, he called the Tiger Cats GM, but was told thanks but no thanks. Dick had been blackballed out of the league, for reasons that he still doesn’t understand today. So George Gross, the sports editor of the Toronto Sun, called and offered him a job writing about the Argos for his paper. “I used to get 10-20 fan letters a week, with people saying it was about time someone who knew the game from the inside-out, could actually write about it." Dick's first assignment was to interview the coach who cut him, John Rauch.

“Then while I was working for the Sun, I got a call from Johnny F. Basset saying that he was part of a new concept called the World Football League and he had the franchise in Toronto called the Northmen. He said he needed a couple of solid veterans (I was 34 at the time) to provide core leadership because the league was mostly going to be made up of young guys who don’t make the NFL. Bassett signed Leo as his GM, John McVay as his head coach (he is now with the San Francisco 49ers) and he also signed former Argo linemen Ron Mikolajzcyk and Charlie Bray.

“So I moved to Hawaii to get in shape, by running up mountains and along the beach every day. Then one day I picked up the paper at the Hilton Hawaiian Beach Hotel and it read, “Canadian Government kicks Northmen out of Canada - Team now based in Tennessee. So I ended up in Memphis, was elected captain and we went 17-3 winning the Division Title.

“We played the semi-final in a typical southern thunderstorm and lost to the Florida Blazers. We had beaten Birmingham, who won the first and only World Bowl, 48-6, three weeks earlier. Bassett, by the way, was a player’s owner; he was often on the sidelines and never had a harsh word for anyone. He was definitely a hands-on owner, so very different from his father, the former Argo boss, who was a ghost. We only saw him one time and that was when the team went ‘on strike’ for more pre-season pay and benefits in 1969.

“Then one game, we were playing the Jacksonville Sharks, and I called a safety blitz. To use one of Leo’s expressions, ‘it opened up like overalls at quitting time.’ I thought I had the quarterback nailed but it ended up being a draw to the fullback and he and I collided going full speed with both of us ending up with ‘blue-light specials.’ I said to myself, ‘I’m getting to old for this.’”

“So John Bassett and John McVay helped me get a marketing job with the Hawaiians, the WFL’s Honolulu franchise. I was doing everything; setting up road trips – booking hotels, pre-game meals, arranging practice fields, even some scouting and assistant coaching. I was also coordinating the promotions, in charge of the content of the game program, and doing the color commentary on the radio broadcasts. It was a dream job. I was still totally involved with the sport I loved and also living in the beautiful state of Hawaii. But the league folded 21 Oct 1975, lasting only a year-and-a-half.  Memphis started the demise of the league when they signed Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield to million dollar contracts. Other NFL stars began to switch leagues and it finally got out of control, which created a financial crisis.

“I looked for a job locally but the market was tight at that time, so I decided to move back to Memphis. The girl I had been dating picked me up at the airport and suggested we go to a new bar called P.O.E.T.’s Corner to celebrate my return to Tennessee. There were only two seats left in the place, so we sat down, and the guy beside me said, ‘Aren’t you Dick Thornton of the Grizzlies? I really enjoyed watching you play and it’s really too bad about the league going under.’ "Yeah,” I said, "I’m out of a job." He then proceeded to tell me that a Division III school, called Southwestern At Memphis, was looking for a head coach and athletic director. He suggested I immediately contact Freeman Marr, head of the search committee, about this opportunity. With that, he paid his bill, walked out and I never saw nor heard from him again.”

Thornton eventually beat out 63 other candidates and was hired for the 1976 season. His philosophy was to try and mesh Parseghian’s charisma with Grant’s assessment of talent and Cahill’s ability to walk that fine line between being a mentor and also the headman.

Dick installed a CFL style offense because it was a highly academic college and had some real bright kids. “I had a quarterback who could throw, four guys who could catch, a couple of backs who could run, and some real hitters on defense; we just out finessed, outsmarted and oftentimes simply terrorized our opponents."

Dick broke new ground again in his new position. He discarded the team’s established nickname, the Lynx, and simply called the team SAM after the initials of the college. (Southwestern At Memphis). His first year, the theme was “SAM Is Coming” and the team went 5-4. In 1977, it was “SAM Has Arrived” and they went 9-1-1, recording the best record in the school’s history, and they were ranked as high as Number #3 in the nation.

That one and only loss was to Wabash College in Indiana; a game played in the aftermath of a tornado, definitely hampering Thornton’s squad, which relied so heavily on its passing attack, throwing 35-40 times a game. The Wabash game was pretty even though as they had seven interceptions and Southwestern had seven fumble recoveries, but the final determining factor was the roster size. Wabash had over 150 players on its roster; while Thornton’s squad had just 28 and Wabash eventually just worn them down. Ironically, Wabash went on the win the NCAA Division III title that season. The third year, the slogan was naturally, “Play It Again SAM,” and Thornton had pictures of Humphrey Bogart pasted all over town and the team's record in 1978 was a very respectable 7-3 mark.

“In Division III, any sport was secondary to academics, so the kids played just for the love the game. I changed my mindset, and my main goal was to help them learn through athletics. I survived by understanding and practicing key words like discipline, pride, enthusiasm, positive attitude, dedication, self-confidence and motivation, so I tried to instill those characteristics into my players.”  It is also interesting to his former players include RJ Harper, a top executives at the Pebble Beach Golf & Country Club in California, and Wayne Holley a leading heart surgeon, practicing in Georgia.

After coaching Division III for three years, most of his skill players had graduated so Thornton started thinking about taking it to the next level, and approached some big name university programs.  He was interviewing for the offensive coordinator’s job at the University of Louisville, when the head coach there, Vince Gibson, asked, "Can you do anything else?" I said, "Sure." "Then my advice to you," he said, "is do it."  His point was the game was changing, the players were now inclined to think more about football than academics and Thornton’s high-powered, intricate offensive schemes could not be executed.

“I had also been Athletic Director at SAM too, so I was in charge of the suppliers, the maintenance of the playing fields, the swimming pool, the whole works. Coca Cola was one of our main sponsors, so one day they came to me and asked if I had ever thought of coaching salespeople instead of athletes.” Dick readily accepted that challenge and ended up working for The Coca Cola Company for the next 15 years. He took early retirement in 1994 and part of his ‘golden parachute’ was to continue working as a consultant in order to implement the company’s current corporate strategy.

During his tenure with Coke, he began working in market development and was a Senior District Manager with CokeUSA, based in Memphis, where he got heavily involved in bottler merchandising and training. By chance, he met the marketing director of Coca-Cola South Pacific and ended up working in Sydney, Australia, for almost two years and was then transferred to London, England with Coca-Cola Northwest Europe where he coached bottlers from Iceland to Ireland to Greece to Cyprus, and almost every country in between for the next seven years.

Then in 1992, he was brought back to Atlanta to create, coordinate and direct an international training program because the company needed to accelerate the development of young international managers. The program he designed was four weeks of intensive classroom training on the fundamental management skills such as marketing, finance, marketplace execution, external affairs, communications, influencing and presentation skills.

“I would then immediately do international projects all over the world. The days of classroom teaching are gone. You can’t put 20 people in a room for a few days and then say, ‘Now you know what you have to do, good luck, I hope it works.’ You have to instruct in sections, and then get people out immediately practicing what you preach.

I designated sites throughout the world in places like Manila, Buenos Aries, Harare, Mexico City and Jakarta for the participants to hone their new skills.”

Dick’s official title during this time was Director of Leadership for Marketplace Excellence (LME). He ended up in Manila because he was the project leader for one of the teams that went to the Philippines in 93. He liked the country and it’s people so much that when he went out on his own in 1994, he based himself there, living in the business district of Makati City.

But he continued to take assignments for Coke throughout the world such as a stint in Seoul, Korea, and others in Guam and Saipan, as well as a yearlong project in India. His office was in Bombay, but he traveled extensively to all parts of the sub-continent.

Then it was on to Kuala Lumpur where he directed "Operation Red Storm," the largest Market Impact Team Blitz ever attempted in Asia. A total of 582 people including 171 from 14 other Asian countries participated and they covered 13,500 stores throughout the entire country in a three-week period, achieving an immediate sales growth of +28%. Thornton is planning to do a similar program here in Bangkok sometime within the next few months, which was the main reason he came to live and work in Thailand for TPDL.

From Malaysia, he went to Singapore to coordinate “Mission Possible” and in 98 lived in HCMC in Vietnam, starting a whole new merchandising department, consisting of 159 people from scratch.

Afterwards, he started to branch out to other companies, because people started to learn about his many strengths and his ability to motivate and impact others. His first job outside of Coca-Cola was for Asia Pacific Breweries in Singapore in the fall of 98.

He spent most of 99 working in Italy and Greece for Seagram Wine & Spirits but also did a few weeklong workshops for APB in both Cambodia and Myanmar. So he spent the last eight years as a successful merchandising and marketing specialist working all over the world impacting companies, people and the marketplace.

Today, his main purpose is helping others succeed. “I continue to work with young people, giving them the confidence to grow within themselves, which is my ultimate reward,” he says.

In doing so he looks for three things: enthusiasm, attitude, and a desire to better themselves. ‘People are my business,’ he says, and he’s honed his observation, listening and body language skills. He has helped people like Lucy Wang, who was his translator in Tianjin, China, go on to become a very successful marketer and Albert Chan, who went from filling coolers in Singapore to a successful career in channel management.

In the last 23 years, he’s worked in a remarkable 74 countries, territories and islands on five continents. So how did this yearn to travel come about?

“One day, near the end of the 67 season, while I was in the whirlpool at the Argo dressing room, I was reading the sports section of the Globe & Mail. We had had a good year, and had gotten the Argos back to respectability and there was an article about the 1968 Winter Olympics being held in Grenoble, France. So I said to some of my teammates, ‘Hey, Let’s go to Europe.’  About ten guys thought it was a good idea, but in the end, I was the only one who boarded the airplane in January. I still maintained some ties in Chicago, so I got WGN Radio to cover by airfare and expenses, for doing some live reporting for them of some of the bigger events.”

While at the Games, Thornton met a guy, again by chance, by the name of Ian Miller.

He had just graduated from Oxford and was hitchhiking alone around Europe, so he asked Dick to join him, and his first reaction was, “Hitchhike, man, I’m a professional athlete, I fly first class…I’m also too old for that kid stuff.” But somehow, Miller convinced him to at least try it, and they set out for Marseilles.

The first lesson they learned was the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily a straight line. The road between Grenoble and Marseilles was over the French Alps and they got caught in a snowstorm and ended up sleeping in a hayloft.

But by now Dick had the taste of exploring different cultures, food and entertainment and he was hooked.  Having a penchant for nicknames, Thornton gave the tag of "Rags" to his new buddy, because he always wore the same clothes.

Their trip eventually took four months; through parts of Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia and Greece, then on a ten day cargo boat ride across the Mediterranean to North Africa where they visited Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, before crossing back over to Spain.

When they arrived on shore, they ended up in the town of Marbella, and in no time at all, Thornton had made friends with the owner of a local pub, who soon after had to go to Malaga on business. He left Dick, Rags and another new friend, a draft-dodger from the Vietnam War named Bobby to look after the bar in his absence. When Herman, the owner returned, they continued to work as night bartenders and during the day, Dick would go cruising with Bobby on his motorcycle.

One day they were up in the mountains and found a beautiful, natural made pool, totally hidden from view. Dick went skinny-dipping, but as this was a no-no in Spain at the time, he ended up being tossed in jail by the Guardia Civil for three days. By this time he was already late for training camp, so after being released with a $100 fine, he flew to London and headed back to Toronto.

The next year, 1969, Dick sold in an idea to Canadian Pacific Airlines to give him a stand-by ticket to Asia and while there visit Osaka, Japan, site of Expo 70 and also journey to Thailand, the Philippines and Hong Kong. The concept was to tour these countries, take pictures, make notes and then come back and give talks to local Toronto business organizations about the unique cultures of the Far East and to push CP airline tours to that part of the world.

Then in 1970 he visited South Africa for two months, the highlight being a week in Kruger National Game Reserve. In 1972 he went on a tour of the Caribbean islands, staying for a few weeks at ports such as Barbados, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago. Dick was going to places the majority of his teammates had never even heard of.

Because of his unique personality and his not fitting the standard mould during his playing days, he has ‘unofficially’ been blacklisted from the CFL Hall of Fame. However, he is enshrined in the Blue Bomber HOF (being elected in 1988), and the CFL fans selected him to the All-Time All-Star Team as one of the best 28 players in the history of the league.  That ceremony took place during the 93 Grey Cup weekend in Calgary.

What instance does he recall with fondness? “We were playing Montreal, and we were ahead by six points. We had the ball at midfield, so I went up to Leo on the sideline and said, ‘We might lose this game if we don’t score, so why not put me in at running back and I guarantee I will score a touchdown.’ He says, "Are you kidding?" I said, "Bet you 100 bucks." He said, “You’re on.”

“So I ran into the huddle and told the guys that I had just bet Leo a hundred bucks that I would score on this play and the beers were on me if I make it to the end zone. So I called a 48 sweep left, and looked at guard Charlie Bray and said, "Charlie, I want you to knock the hell out of the god dammed corner linebacker." "Tricky," he said, "Just follow me baby, I’ll clear the path, all you have to do is run." So I just stayed on Charlie’s tail, and he wiped out the corner linebacker knocking him back into the middle linebacker, I deeked the defensive back and ran 49 yards untouched. Leo never did pay up though.”

Looking back, what does he miss most about football?  “The roar of the crowd, the emotional high of winning a close game and camaraderie of my teammates.”

And how did he become possibly the first pro football player to spike the ball in the end zone? The year after the Bombers traded him to Toronto, Winnipeg came to CNE Stadium. Thornton had one of his best games blocking a punt for a TD, throwing for another score, rushing for six points as well as intercepting a pass on the way to 53-0 Argo route. The spike happened when on Thornton’s last scoring play he reached up and pointed the ball at the Winnipeg media sitting up in the press box because they had called him over the hill and then slammed the ball down to the ground in defiance.

Therefore, it was as if fate always played a role in Thornton’s future. Each seemingly unfortunate incident, led to another unique challenge, oftentimes in a different direction.

And as Dick puts it, “I wouldn’t change a thing!” 

Image
Thornton, with one of his many fans

Ed note: A gentleman by the name of Craig Wallace, who works in the Human Resources Department of the Toronto General Hospital wrote a book on the 67-72 Argos called A Slip In The Rain, the Toronto Argonauts and the Fumble into Oblivion. When Wallace was nine years old, Thornton was his idol and has always remained one of his favorite players. Wallace eventually got hold of Dick by e-mail and told him he thought there had never been a football team like the Argos of that era, and wanted to write a book about them. As Thornton graduated from Northwestern with a degree in communications and minor in journalism, it was only natural for him to assist with the project.

Ed note 2: Sadly Dick Thornton passed away in Manila on Dec 19th 2014: http://www.thestar.com/sports/argos/2014/12/20/former_argonaut_dick_thornton_dead_at_75.html 

 



Find me on...

facebooktwitterinstagram