Analysis: Hamilton-raised David Braley could be gruff but always had soft spot for CFL

Published October 27, 2020 at 9:02 am

It’s hard to imagine the CFL existing in its present state without David Braley.

The longtime B.C. Lions owner and chairman died Monday at his home in Burlington, Ont. He was 79.

Braley, a Montreal native who was raised in Hamilton, routinely stepped in to assist the league during times of crisis. Its longest-serving owner, Braley was a staunch supporter of the CFL.

He owned three different clubs — the Lions, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts — and often when those franchises were in a precarious or desperate state financially.

He purchased the Tiger-Cats in 1989 from the late Harold Ballard, who repeatedly threatened to move the franchise during his tenure.

During Braley’s first season, the Ticats reached the Grey Cup game before dropping a heart-breaking 43-40 decision to Saskatchewan in front of more than 54,000 spectators at the then-SkyDome.

He sold the franchise to community ownership before the ’92 season but returned to the CFL in 1997 when he purchased the cash-strapped Lions. Under Braley’s ownership, B.C. captured three Grey Cup titles (2000, 2006 and 2011).

In 2010, Braley bought the Argos from Toronto businessmen Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon. That gave him the unique distinction of owning separate CFL franchises simultaneously, the only person in league history ever to do so.

Braley recorded his fourth — and final — CFL championship in 2012. Toronto defeated Calgary 35-22 in the 100th Grey Cup game before 53,208 fans at Rogers Centre.

Braley owned the Argos until 2015 when he sold the franchise to Bell Media and Toronto businessman Larry Tanenbaum. Braley also served as chairman of the CFL’s board of governors as well as interim commissioner in 2002 from March to November.

In 2012, Braley was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

Away from football, Braley owned and operated Orlick Industries, an auto-parts manufacturer in Stoney Creek, Ont.

While he was a savvy businessman, Braley could also be very stubborn and often exuded a gruff personality and demeanour. He had a reputation of being a very tough negotiator, especially if he had a specific figure in mind.

Many within the franchises he owned complained that Braley could be very tight with the purse strings during the off-season, providing limited resources to help them market the team.

But those close to Braley also said he had a soft side and that the CFL was always near and dear to his heart. There were persistent reports Braley also stepped up and helped other league franchises when they were in trouble but when asked, Braley either refused comment or quickly changed the subject.

Braley also had a love-hate relationship with some football reporters and was often very guarded in his public comments. But when the conversation was just about football and off the cuff, he could be quite engaging and, at times, even humourous.

There was no questioning Braley’s generosity as he reportedly donated over $125 million to various organizations. The David Braley Athletic Centre and David Braley Health Sciences Centre carry his name at McMaster University as do the David Braley Athletic and Recreation Centre at Mohawk College and David Braley Research Institute at Hamilton General Hospital.

Braley received the Order of Canada in 2019.

“I was very saddened to hear about the passing of Mr. Braley,” Calgary Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson, who was a quarterback with B.C. from 2003-07, said in a statement. “We certainly were not in touch as often as we were in the previous decade, but I will always know he is forever embedded in the fabric of the CFL.

“Life must move on, but I think it is important to reflect on the passing of a CFL giant. Thank you for all you did, and let there be hope that somebody reading my words will try and follow your enormous footsteps. We could use someone with your energy and your heart. Rest in peace.”

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising