Veteran referee Dave Foxcroft leaving CFL officiating ranks on his own terms

Dave Foxcroft is leaving the CFL officiating ranks on his own terms.

The veteran referee works his final CFL game Monday when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats host the Toronto Argonauts at Tim Hortons Field. When the final whistle sounds, the 56-year-old Burlington, Ont. resident, will retire and cap a 22-year tenure that's spanned over 350 games, including six Grey Cups.

"The timing is right," Foxcroft said. "We have six crews that work during the summer, then come Labour Day we cut back to five.

"I'm good mentally and physically and feel I could go another five years. But there are officials who are ready and it's not fair for them to go back to U Sports, it's not going to help them, or go to another position on the field. I think I'm doing the right thing for myself and the league."

However, Foxcroft isn't leaving the CFL. He'll work in the league's Command Centre and continue training and developing officials.

Foxcroft comes from an officiating family.

His father, Ron, was a celebrated U Sports/NCAA basketball official who also officiated the 1976 Olympic final and currently works with the NBA. He also invented the Fox 40 pea-less whistle that's used worldwide by such leagues as the NFL, CFL, NHL, NCAA, NBA, FIFA and FINA.

Dave Foxcroft's brother, Steve, is also a longtime U Sports/NCAA basketball official. Dave Foxcroft officiated basketball and football before deciding to concentrate on the latter in 1998.

"I had always done football as well but people were like, 'You only got that (basketball) assignment because of your dad,' and I didn't want that," he said. "So I focused on football because I wanted to pave my own way.

"At the time, the whistle was kind of new and football people didn't really know who my dad was so I was able to make that transition."

Away from football, Foxcroft is president/CEO of the family businesses, which includes Fluke Transport and Fox 40 International.

After deciding to concentrate on football, Foxcroft went to his father for wisdom.

"I walked into his office looking for advice because he's done just about everything in officiating," Foxcroft said. "The advice I got was, 'If you ever make an incorrect call against my beloved Hamilton Tiger-Cats, you're. fired.'

"I took his advice and applied it to all nine teams."

Darren Hackwood, the CFL's Associate Vice-President, Officiating, said Foxcroft's retirement is bittersweet.

"We're thankful he's going stay in an off-field role because his key strengths are leadership and the ability to work with officials joining our league," said Hackwood. "But we're going to miss his presence, because he has very good on-field presence.

"Dave is also very good at keeping it light at the right time. When the lights are on and he needs to stand up and present, he's very professional and his announcements are great. But he's able to make a joke at key times to reduce the stress level."

Foxcroft said a career highlight has been working with the men and women he's shared a field with. But his 2012 and '17 Grey Cup assignments also created interesting memories.

The '12 Grey Cup was the 100th edition of the game, which saw Toronto down Calgary 35-22 before over 50,000 spectators at Rogers Centre. Befitting the occasion, the halftime entertainment featured Canadian superstars Gordon Lightfoot and Justin Bieber.

"When we came into the locker room at halftime, Tom Vallesi and I put on black jackets and snuck out without (head referee Glen Johnson) knowing," Foxcroft said. "We wanted to watch Justin Bieber and it was just us and the cheerleaders on the field.

"Back then we wore white pants and so they were glowing in the neon as we're moving around the field dancing to the music, so there was no hiding. After the show we were coming off the field and ran into Ryan Janzen (then CFL's director, football operations) and I said, 'We're just doing a field check,' but I don't think we fooled him. I picked up an endzone pylon and put it right back and pretended we were checking the field out."

Johnson wasn't amused -- until after the game when Foxcroft shared pictures of the halftime show with Johnson's family.

But Johnson did get even.

"Glen became my boss (CFL's director of officials) and assigned me to the 2017 Grey Cup as the head referee," Foxcroft said. "The halftime show that year was Shania Twain and I'm the biggest Shania Twain fan, I love Shania.

"He must've known I was going to leave the locker room at halftime because we come in, I give them time to set up the stage, I put on my black jacket and go to open the door and it's locked from the outside. He had security lock me in so I wouldn't leave at halftime. We laugh about that today."

Foxcroft was also the referee for Toronto's 39-31 home win over Calgary on Friday night. Javon Leake's 86-yard punt-return touchdown midway through the fourth snapped a 31-31 tie.

"They give us two coins (for ceremonial coin toss) and I was getting nervous because before the game I gave one to a kid in the stands," Foxcroft said. "His sister started crying because she didn't get one so I actually gave the overtime coin to her.

"Had the game gone to overtime, we were going to have to use a quarter or loonie or something."

Foxcroft said he's treating Monday's game like any other.

"I called (former CFL official) Jake Ireland, my mentor, and asked if he had any advice for my last game," Foxcroft said. "He said, 'Foxy, it's not your last game, it's your next game. Prepare like any other,' and that's how I'm approaching it.

"I always try and present myself like a duck on water: Nice and calm on top but your feet are going a mile a minute under the water that no one sees. I'm hoping nobody notices me and I can fly under the radar."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 1, 2023.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press