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As far as Barry Rushon is concerned, Don McBain meant everything to the Sault Steelers football team.
“If it wasn’t for Don, there would be no Sault Steelers,” Rushon said on Saturday. “He was integral in keeping things going.”
McBain, a former Steelers linebacker beginning in the late 1970s, but best known as the team’s president or co-president for nearly 20 years, died Friday night after a short battle with cancer.
Rushon, who began coaching what was then known as the Sault Storm in 1996, also called McBain “the Steelers anchor.”
During the 1999 and 2000 seasons – especially – Rushon said McBain kept the franchise alive.
Player numbers were down, losses were up and Rushon was coaching alone.
He ran the offence, defence and special teams.
“I was totally by myself and he did everything for the team behind the scenes,” said Rushon, who stepped down as Steelers coach in 2010.
That involved fund-raising, marketing, handling the finances and all interaction with the Northern Football Conference.
Rushon said the two leaned on each other.
The former coach spoke of how McBain offered support for “anything I might need.”
If it wasn’t for McBain, “we wouldn’t have made it,” Rushon added. “He was very stoic, logical and genuine. He always took the high road and always did the right thing. We were the best of friends and I’m devastated. My family also knows Donnie and we’re all heartbroken.”
Sandra McBain spoke of her husband’s love of football and his background in business as making for a perfect combination.
“Football was part of his life. He loved it,” said Sandra, who also listed NASCAR among her husband’s sporting passions. “And with the Steelers, it was never about him. It was always about everyone else.”
Inducted into the Northern Football Conference Hall of Fame as a builder in 2008, McBain began feeling ill in this spring. He was diagnosed with cancer in June and died at Algoma Residential Community Hospice.
McBain was very private about his illness, leading to shock among many in the Sault’s football community.
“He didn’t want to burden anyone,” explained Sandra, who spoke of the love her husband had for her and their children, son Rory and daughter Sarah.
McBain was a player on the Steelers 1980 NFC championship team. But what made him most proud, Sandra said, was the fact the team captured three NFC and three Canadian Major Football League championships over a four-year span.
That run of dominance began in 2007. The Sault also secured NFC and CMFL crowns in 2009 and 2010.
Rushon said the highlight for he and McBain was the 2009 CMFL championship game, played locally at Rocky DiPietro Field.
Rushon said McBain and Jean Rushon, Barry’s wife, served as co-chairs for the event.
The Sault defeated the Edmonton Stallions 65-6 and Barry Rushon noted how “we had in excess of 5,000 people at the game. Donny worked hard to make that successful.”
After the team’s 2007 NFC and Canadian championships, McBain enjoyed seeing the Steelers win the H.P. Broughton Trophy, as the city’s sportsperson of the year, while being honoured as a city Medal of Merit recipient.
“When you stay with a football organization this long, there’s a reason for it,” McBain told The Sault Star after receiving his NFC Hall of Fame induction plaque.
“He was one of the most-genuine people and one of the people most passionate about football I’ve ever met,” Rushon said.
Sandra McBain said visitation at Northwood Funeral Home is slated for Wednesday.
However, as of Sunday night, times had yet to be finalized.