Sports Editor, Toronto Sun
Those who remember John Ferguson as the tough guy who used to patrol left wing for Montreal Canadiens, may find it puzzling that Fergie became involved in lacrosse rather than in hockey after retiring as an active competitor.
Those people, however, aren’t aware that lacrosse played a large part in John Ferguson’s life—before he became a hockey star. He was one of the top lacrosse players in western Canada and, in his last year, he not only won the Most Valuable Player Trophy, but also scored 52 goals for the Nanaimo Labatt’s, second only to lacrosse great Jack Bionda.
So when Jim Bishop started to work on the idea of forming a professional lacrosse league with teams from Canada and the United States, he didn’t have to do much of a selling job to get Ferguson involved with the Quebec franchise.
And by looking at the standings—and gate receipt figures—one has to tip the old bowler to John Ferguson for a job well done. And what’s more, Fergie is convinced that things can improve even more in the future.
“I see a bright outlook for the future of the National Lacrosse League,” said Fergie the other day. “I expect, for instance, Cincinnati and Long Island to join the league next year and there’s a good possibility of a franchise in Boston.
“It’s not so strange to see the interest in a franchise in some cities. Maryland averaged between 7,000 and 11,000 fans per game. Philadelphia’s average is over 10,000 and in Montreal we averaged almost 7,000. So you’ll have to admit these are respectable figures for a first year of operation.”
The casual critic admitted it could be that way. But the casual critic also asked Fergie quietly: “Yeah, but how about that Toronto franchise?”
Fergie, stopped for a second, then admitted in his customary honest fashion:
“Yeah, I’m disappointed in Toronto. I can’t understand why the fans didn’t support the team. It’s possibly the best summer sports attraction in Toronto and the people around Jim Bishop did an excellent marketing job. But, I suppose the people in Toronto didn’t want to go to Maple Leaf Gardens in the summer because it’s not air conditioned.
“Perhaps the sports fans in Toronto will wake up when it’s too late. By that I mean it’s quite possible the franchise might move to another city and that’s when the fans might come out promising to support the team. But that would be too late.”
Fergie is particularly intrigued by expansion to Nassau County Coliseum, home of the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League. He said he was talking to a fellow in Pittsburgh recently who was very keen on doing public relations on behalf of the National Lacrosse League. When Fergie asked him if he would like to have a league office in New York rather than in a Canadian city, the reply was an emphatic “Yes,” even though Fergie didn’t mention the names of the potential franchise holders in New York.
This could be interpreted that Fergie is looking towards new franchises than to shifting of the Toronto franchise to Long Island, something that had been bandied around for the last few weeks.
“We want to help each other in this league,” said Fergie, “but we also are businessmen. That’s why we’d prefer to obtain the $500,000 franchise fee from potential new owners in Long Island, rather than have the Toronto Tomahawks move there.”
Fergie is even deeper involved in his own Montreal Quebecois team. Having been a fierce competitor himself, he wants to see his team succeed. And when things started to go sour, Big John took over as coach to make sure his proteges respond to the task.
“I’m very happy with our team, both as far as the performance and the attendance are concerned,” said Fergie. “Our big advantage is that all the players live in Montreal as we can hold daily two-hour practices. I’m a very busy man, but I don’t mind spending two hours with the team. It’s paying off.
“Actually, I didn’t want to end up coaching the team. But, unfortunately, at the start of the season when our record was 1 and 4, playing-coach Bill Bradley made some statements that didn’t go over well with some of the media people. So in order to rectify the situation, I took over the coaching of the club and Bill Bradley continued as a player. It’s working out well.”
This isn’t surprising to those of us who have known him for several years. For John Bowie Ferguson detests nothing more than failure in sports.