Clichéd as it may sound there's wisdom in the thought we shouldn't leave things unsaid because we never know when the chance to say them might be snatched away from us.
"Coach Harris, I'd go somewhere to meet him and when I arrived he'd say, 'there's my son Doug. He knows I love him like a son and I tell him. But he's too immature to tell me he loves me.' I'd kind of laugh. But he was right," says Blue Bombers defensive tackle and future CFL Hall of Famer Doug Brown. "I'm not the kind of guy to say those things so I never told him. But I loved him. I hope he knew that."
Brown is not given to shows of emotion. The above words came out slowly and faded into a near whisper as he spoke with a reporter on the phone. Maudlin isn't in Doug Brown's lexicon. Callous and aloof after years of residing at the top of his sport wouldn't be unfair labels for Brown. But Richard Harris saw through the veneer Brown used to keep others out.
"He knew how to challenge me and to get me to come out of myself," said Brown. "He had that charisma -- and not just the ability to always know what to say to someone but the willingness to do so. He wanted to help others and it made him happy to do it. He loved people and he loved his players. I'm not like Tom Canada. I couldn't hug him 10 times a day. But I did hug coach Harris from time to time. Just not enough."
Harris, who died of heart failure on Tuesday at the age of 63, was far more than a football coach. He took his Louisiana roots and planted them in our city. Harris was one of us. He slogged through the winters, bought his clothes here and ordered his Chinese food here. Harris might have been a Blue Bomber but to a greater extent he was a Winnipegger.
"Coming from Shreveport, well, let's just say there aren't very many affluent black people there and back in Richard's youth even less. I can only guess at what he saw coming up but it would have been rough," said former Bombers receiver Milt Stegall.
"Something in Winnipeg attracted him. Whether it was the people or the place -- Richard loved that town."
Tonight, when the Blue Bombers and B.C. Lions take to the field for a regular season game that will be anything but regular, Brown says Harris will be honoured.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know if anything we can do will be enough. Sure, we can win the game and that would have made coach Harris happy, but that doesn't meet the measure of the man," said Brown. "And God forbid if we lose. The Lions have an attachment to him too from his time there. So it's hard to know what to expect. I'm worried about it. I'm worried how I'm going to react."
Brown wanted to underscore Harris was among the best coaches he ever worked under, whether it be the NFL or CFL.
"I can't put the respect I had for him in words. To be the first defensive player taken in the first round in his draft year and then to have the career he did, you always wanted to prove to him you could measure up," said Brown. "It's like when Ricky Williams or some other player comes up here from the NFL, you want to prove you can play with him. Well, I always wanted to prove to Richard that I belonged. Did he make me better? Before he came I went three years without being an all-star and every year I played under him I was an all-star. He got the best from me."
The longest serving current Blue Bomber and one of the best players this organization has ever had, Brown usually says a few words before each game.
"I'm not the rah rah type. But usually after we stretch I like to set the table. I'm not sure if anything will need to be said. This has permeated everything we do the last couple of days," said Brown. "This will be all about coach Harris. I don't know what it's going to be like. Going to the bench and not having him there. There will be reminders all night. It's in my subconscious and I know it will be there all game. We're going to have to control it. I just don't know what to expect. I thought I'd seen everything in football but this is something I never wanted to have to deal with."
Brown says he'll change his pre-game routine tonight by including Harris in a ritual he's had for years.
"I take a quiet moment to remember all the loved ones that are gone. I visualize their name and then their face," said Brown. "I'll add coach Harris to my list. I've been lucky enough not to have lost a parent. But now I think I know what it feels like."