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The Water Boy: Bob Ackles' Life in Pro Football

by Randy Snow

Originally posted on AmericanChronicle.com, Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Not to be confused with the Adam Sandler movie of the same name, The Water Boy is a new book that recounts the life and career of Bob Ackles, a football executive who’s resume includes stops in the Canadian Football League, the National Football League and the Xtreme Football League.

In 1953, at the age of 15, Ackles talked his way into becoming the first ever water boy of a brand new team in the CFL, the British Columbia Lions. He worked his way up though the organization, becoming the Assistant Equipment Manager, then Equipment Manager and eventually becoming the General Manager of the team. His time as GM of the team culminated with a Grey Cup championship in 1985.

In 1986, he was hired by Tex Schramm to be the Vice President of Pro Personnel for the NFL Dallas Cowboys. Ackles was instrumental in helping to rebuild the team that went on to win three Super Bowls in the mid 90’s. During his six years with the Cowboys (1986-1991), Ackles was right in the middle of several major events in Cowboys history;

The 1987 NFL players strike and the use of replacement players for three games

The sale of the team from Bum Bright to Jerry Jones

The firing of legendary head coach Tom Landry and the hiring of Jimmy Johnson

The mega-trade that sent Herschel Walker from the Cowboys to the Minnesota Vikings

From there, Ackles spent three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals (1992-1994) and one season with the Philadelphia Eagles (1995). In 1996, he was reunited with his friend, coach Jimmy Johnson, and spent the next four seasons with him on the staff of the Miami Dolphins (1996-1999). Ackles also spent the 2001 season in the front office of the Las Vegas Outlaws in the XFL.

The XFL folded after just one season and Ackles was settling into retirement in Las Vegas when his old team in Canada came calling once again. He returned to the B.C. Lions in 2002 and set about rebuilding the team into one of the elite teams in the CFL, capturing the Grey Cup again in 2006.

As a football fan, I enjoyed reading about the inner workings of all three pro football leagues, but for me, the most fascinating part of the book had nothing to do with football. Ackles tells of his humble upbringing in the tiny community of Locust Hill, Ontario, just north of Toronto. When he was about a year old, his father joined the Canadian military and was gone for six years, serving in World War II. When his father returned from the war, he found it hard to support his family where they were and decided to move them 2,000 miles across the country to Vancouver in hopes of finding a better life. The family was literally homeless for a time until his father was able to find work there.

He had a bit of a wild streak in him as a teenager working for the Lions and it didn’t help that he was hanging around a bunch of rowdy football players either. But through it all, Ackles has managed to persevere and has had a distinguished career in pro football that spans over 50 years.

Today, Ackles is not only the president and CEO of the B.C. Lions, but he is also a governor of the CFL. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2002 as a builder (a non-player who contributed to the overall development and improvement of football in Canada, i.e. owners, team executives, etc.). He was also inducted into the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

The book is written by Ackles along with writer Ian Mulgrew. Ackles’ straight forward opinions come through loud and clear in the book and his style of story telling made for a great read. There are many humorous observations by Ackles throughout the book, like when he described one of the Dallas Cowboys players by saying, “He looked like Tarzan and played like Jane.”

There are many color pictures included that are a great compliment to the book. It doesn’t take long to realize that Ackles has rubbed elbows with just about everyone who is anyone in pro football throughout North America.

When I went to purchase the book at a local bookstore, they told me that it was listed in their computer system, but for some reason they could not order it for me. So I simply went on-line and ordered it over the Internet. No matter what you have to do to get this book, The Water Boy is definitely worth it.


www.cfl.ca - Official Canadian Football League web site

www.bclions.com – Official Team web site

www.cfhof.ca – Canadian Football Hall of Fame

www.bcsportshalloffame.com – British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame


After I posted this article on AmericanChronicle.com, I sent a link to it to the Media Relations director of the CFL British Columbia Lions. A few days later I got a very nice e-mail from Bob thanking me for my review of his book. Sadly, Bob Ackles passed away on July 6, 2008 after suffering a heart attack at the age of 69.


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