Bristol Bits: ‘Gentle Giant’ athlete, Class of ’55 member remembered
(Reprinted with permission of Bob Montgomery)
I just got off the phone with Bill Benecick, a member of the Class of ’63 at Bristol Central, and he told me that his brother, Al, 78, a member of the Class of 1955 at Bristol High, died from cancer early Tuesday morning in Tallahassee, Florida. Bill had been with him the past six weeks while he was in a nursing home.
Al, as many of us know, was a standout athlete at Bristol High who went on to play football with Jimmy Brown at Syracuse before going onto a Hall of Fame career in the Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. He spent 10 years with the Riders as an offensive lineman after joining in 1959 following training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was drafted in the NFL draft in sixth round (62nd overall).
He had the reputation of being a reliable and tough offensive guard and tackle for the Riders and received four Western All-Star nominations (1963-66) and three CFL All-Star nods (1964-66). He won the Grey Cup in 1966 and was inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame in 1996 after being enshrined in 1991 into the Riders Plaza of Honor in Saskatchewan.
The first time I met Al he was a member of the first class to be inducted into the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame in 1997. I was familiar with him in being a sportswriter and historian and to meet him in person was a big deal for me. He was the type of guy you would want covering your back in any type of situation. A man’s man, but also a gentleman.
Bernie O’Keefe, a classmate and track teammate of Al, said that he set a great example of personal dedication. Known to many as the Gentle Giant, Al was the type of person you listened to when he offered advice.
Anyone wishing to send condolences to Bill can do so by dropping them off to me and I’ll see that he gets them. Bill is broken up over the death of his beloved older brother and we had talked about Al’s failing health a few weeks or so ago.
Besides Bill, Al leaves a sister, Audrey Fielding of San Francisco, two sons and one grandson.