There's a million and one stories about Hal "Moose" McCarney to be shared now that the ultimate Golden Gael has left us.
Here's one more Moose tale. It was 2002, right before World Youth Days in Toronto. Moose, a faithful Catholic, had gathered up some pilgrims who were being billeted in the Kingston area and taken them to release some minnows into the Gananoque River, which anyone who's visited Gan knows, is the town's lifeline. There was some religious symbolism involved, but on a more practical level, Moose, as someone put it, figured with all the fish he'd taken out of the river, it was high time he put a few back into the river.
(Update: The Whig-Standard has profiles in news and in sports --that's how much it takes to cover off Hal McCarney's life.)
A photographer, who had shown up to get some shots for a local weekly, was feeling a little out of his comfort zone -- although as a journalist, you're supposed to go outside your comfort zone, so in a way that was good, to be challenged. Trying to ingratiate himself, the photographer mentioned to Moose that they sort of shared a common touchstone -- the young journalist had gone to Queen's, and covered the football games for the student paper and the radio station for a couple years.
A glint flashed in Moose's eye. It was like popping a disc into the CD player, except the last person to use had left the volume turned up to 11. Mr. McCarney was in his mid-70s, by then, and he wasn't a yeller, but his voice picked up just so. Releasing the minnows was suddenly secondary to sharing, his frustration over the teachers' college at Queen's not accepting a star football player who had very good marks, and also stood to be a important cog in that year's Queen's football team. (The player did play that season, brilliantly.)
Moose's daughter, who no doubt had seen her dad in action over the years, acted swiftly to get him on-message. "You guys can probably talk about this later," she said, very matter-of-factly.
She knew given the chance, the two Queen's football nuts, the older gentleman who had been around as a coach, player and booster for 50 years-plus and the other who'd only been following it through a fan's eyes for about 15 to that point, might have gone on all day about all things Gaels. It would have been to the befuddlement from the visitors from places such as Brazil and Portugal who were gathered at the river.
Some people would say, well, that's too bad you didn't get to ask him, say how did Ronnie Stewart compare to Heino Lilles, or what was his biggest memory of the '68 Vanier Cup. Far from it. It was a portal into the world Moose lived in, and if you could be in it for a moment, you felt like a champ. It was like being let in something first-hand, the life of a man who breathed Queen's football for more than a half-century as a player, coach, booster and maybe even moral compass -- since before my parents were even born. There was a sense that football wasn't just a game that takes place on a Saturday afternoon. It wasn't something on his list of interests.
The game was part and parcel of how McCarney made sense of the world. Judging from the results, that served him almost as well as he served all of us, if that's even possible. He was the mover in establishing the alumni association, the Queen's Football Club. As someone from Gan, where for generations people grew up spending practically almost as much time on water as on land, he built Gananoque Boat Line. Actually, he pretty much built Gananoque.
Hal McCarney was from what often gets called the old school, where a gruff exterior often was a cover for great affection, where you showed love by challenging people in your life to become better at what they did. For 21 seasons, as Merv Daub put it in his history of Queen's football, Gael Force, he was coach Frank Tindall's "right arm and fixer, and the necessary heavy," the one who helped ensure everyone knew where he fit into the grand scheme. At the end of the day, that's all that a lot of us want, to know where we stand.
Obviously, the people who knew Moose beyond a few brief conversations should be the ones to speak to who he was and how he lived. This is no attempt to trump what anyone else will have to say over the next few days.
All I can say that as I never played football for the Gaels. I'm neither church-going nor water-faring. However, for one moment, simply by the fortunate circumstances of being a Kingstonian/Napaneean who had gone to Queen's and covered Gaels football games as a student journalist, I was pulled into Hal McCarney's world. Thank you, thank you so much, Moose. It was a pleasure.
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