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'Engrained in every part of this province': Sask. remembers Rider great Jim Hopson

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Saskatchewan is remembering former Roughriders player and executive Jim Hopson.

According to Hopson’s family, he died surrounded by family and friends on Tuesday, April 2.

Hopson was first diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in April of 2021 and announced in January 2024 that he was no longer undergoing treatment.

Regina Leader-Post columnist Darrell Davis co-authored ‘Running the Riders’ with Hopson.

“When you asked him who he was he would say, ‘I’m just a Regina guy who’s lucky enough to have played all my football here,” Davis recalled.

Born in Regina in 1951, Hopson played high school football for Thom Collegiate. After graduating, he moved on to the Regina Rams junior football team and eventually the Saskatchewan Roughriders, where he was an offensive lineman for four seasons from 1973 to 1976, playing alongside the likes of Ron Lancaster and George Reed.

Hopson announced his retirement as a player following the 1976 Grey Cup game.

He was named the Riders’ first full time president and CEO in 2005, a role he held until he announced his retirement in 2015.

“I call him a franchise-saving CEO,” Davis said. “[The Riders] were doing the same thing over and over and they weren’t winning.”

“How did they change, well they hired the right guy at the right time,” he added.

Under Hopson’s guidance, the Riders won the Grey Cup championships in 2007 and at Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field in 2013. The team also appeared in Grey Cup finals in 2009 and 2010.

The Riders had a record of 96-84-1 during Hopson’s time as president and CEO and posted regular profits after years of financial instability in the 1990s.

Hopson was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a builder in 2019.

He was also inducted into the Riders’ SaskTel Plaza of Honour in 2018. In 2022, Hopson was also inducted into the Regina Sports Hall of Fame and Mike Ditka’s Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund Hall of Fame.

Current president and CEO Craig Reynolds said Hopson was able to instill a belief that Roughrider football will “never fade away.”

"Jim was an optimist, someone who made you feel better by just being around him and a friend to all who knew him," Reynolds, who is expected to speak to the media Thursday morning at 9:00, said in a statement.

“His beaming smile, his loud voice, his crushing handshake – and most of all, his dreams for football in Saskatchewan – were only available in size XXXL,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also offered his condolences on social media.

“Jim made the Riders a better team and Saskatchewan a better place,” the post read.

CTV News interviewed Hopson prior to his 2019 HOF induction.

He was asked what he wanted his legacy to be.

“I’ve never been asked that before,” Hopson said. “But I don’t want the 10 years I was [with the Riders] to be the best 10 years ever. I hope the next 10 are the best ever.”

Hopson’s family said a celebration of life will be held on May 3 at the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina, with further details and a full obituary to be released in the coming days.

Hopson was 73.

Hopson as an educator 

Jim Hopson’s legacy transcended the football sphere.

He then became a full time teacher and eventually a principal and director of education for what is now the Prairie Valley School Division, spending more than 30 years in the education sector.

“He’s done more than just football,” Davis said. “When you think of it, he’s engrained in every part of this province.”

Scott Peters first met Hopson in 1988 when he applied to be an educational assistant at Lumsden High School (LHS).

“I am the educator I am largely in part to the influence Jim had on me,” he said.

Peters returned to LHS as a band teacher after he graduated university.

“Football was a real love for him,” he said. “But he would just as easily and readily support music education and band.”

“He saw the value in those things,” Peters added.

Hopson's cancer diagnosis 

Hopson was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in 2021.

He used his battle to advocate for men’s cancer and the Allan Blair Cancer Centre (ABCC), where Hopson received treatment.

“If you think you have a problem, get it checked,” he told CTV Morning Live in March 2023. “If you get it early, it’s very curable.”

Proceeds of his book were donated to the cancer centre and the Cancer Foundation of Saskatchewan (CFS).

“Jim was all about community and all about the province,” CEO Nora Yeates said. “When somebody like him steps up, we are so grateful because people listen.”

CFS hopes to honour Hopson’s advocacy in some way at the ABCC.

Yeates said they will accept donations in Hopson’s name so his legacy can continue to make an impact on those battling cancer in Saskatchewan.

“Jim was an incredible man,” she said. “But he was an incredible man because of the supports he had in his life and his family was so important to him.”

- With files from Drew Postey 

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