‘I’ve had a great run; a great life’: Former Roughriders president-CEO Jim Hopson reflects after latest prognosis

Jim Hopson stands near Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan on Sept. 2, 2020. PHOTO BY BRANDON HARDER /Regina Leader-Post

Taylor Shire, Regina Leader-Post

Jim Hopson knows his time is winding down.

After being diagnosed with stage four colon cancer on Apr. 9, 2021, Hopson — the former president-CEO and offensive lineman with the Saskatchewan Roughriders — has undergone 46 chemotherapy treatments, two surgeries and numerous appointments with doctors.

This past September, Hopson started taking another drug with the goal of further preventing the spread. However, it eventually proved to not be effective and on Jan. 10, Hopson was informed there are no further treatments options available.

“The diagnosis is not good,” Hopson told the Leader-Post this week. “We knew this day was going to come.

“At the end of the day, I’m going to be 73 here pretty quick and I’ve had a great run; a great life.”

Despite the unpleasant news, Hopson — a 2019 Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee — has tried to maintain a positive outlook through it all considering he didn’t know how much time he would have when he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2021.

“I’ve been lucky,” he said. “(The oncologist) said they’ve had some go a year, some two, some three, so I’m coming up on three so I think I’m one of the luckier ones in terms of having some extra time and some quality of life.

“I was able to get a lot of good times with my cancer.”

Between chemo treatments and doctor visits, Hopson and his wife Brenda have still been able to travel. The couple took a train to Vancouver, visited Chicago where he was inducted into Mike Ditka’s Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame in 2022 and recently spent two weeks in Mexico, a place they have frequented many times since retirement.

“It wasn’t always easy with the treatments and I had two surgeries and all of that, but we were able to travel,” said Hopson. “We’ve had some good times and (have been) surrounded by my family and by my friends.

“You know, we’re kind of at a place we knew we were going to get to — I wished it was further out — but we’ll see what happens going forward.”

Born in Regina in 1951, Hopson attended Imperial School before graduating from Thom Collegiate. He earned an education degree at the University of Regina while also playing for the Regina Rams junior football team and eventually the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

In his last year with the Rams, he began teaching in Ceylon, Sask. before getting a chance to play for the Roughriders the following season, after being on the team’s junior protected list.

After playing a few games in his rookie CFL season in 1973, Hopson stepped into a starting role along the offensive line in 1974, playing alongside Roughrider legends Ron Lancaster and George Reed. During his CFL career, he also began teaching in Lumsden, Sask.

“It was a great opportunity to start your next career but also make some good money,” said Hopson of balancing two jobs. “The football money wasn’t big in those days but between the two, it was certainly pretty good for a young guy.”

After Saskatchewan lost to Ottawa in the 1976 Grey Cup, Hopson was actually traded to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers prior to the 1977 season.

However, instead of going to Winnipeg, he chose to retire and focus on his teaching career.

But that didn’t stop the Blue Bombers from trying to persuade him.

“After I got traded, Winnipeg lost one of their starting guards with a broken leg, in camp I think it was, so I got a call every day at school and at home from Winnipeg,” said Hopson. “I was tempted but we’d started having our family and there’s really no good time to quit.

“It would have been great to play some more but it was wonderful to have the career I did in education.”

Hopson, who has two children from his first marriage, went on to have a 30-year education career, becoming principal in Lumsden before serving as the Director of Education for the Buffalo Plains School Division/Qu’Appelle Valley School Division.

He also went on to serve four years on the Roughriders Board of Directors as an alumni representative before putting his name forward to become the team’s first-ever paid president-CEO in 2005.

Hopson spent 10 years in the role — guiding the team to record profits while winning Grey Cups in 2007 and 2013 — before retiring in 2015 as the team was getting ready to transition to the new stadium.

“I had a great run,” said Hopson. “And I just thought it was appropriate that a new president would lead that whole process and take the team into the new stadium.

“And for me, my wife (Brenda) had retired and I thought maybe it’s time to really enjoy what time there is and do some traveling and things like that.”

And boy, he’s glad he did.

Along with the travel over the years, Hopson has continued to be a Rider season ticket holder, going through the ups-and-downs of the club since his retirement. He plans on watching his team at Mosaic Stadium again this summer.

“I really want to see the Riders play this year,” said Hopson. “So that’s kind of my goal is to be at Mosaic and see that new team out there.”
Another goal of his is encouraging others to get checked out if something isn’t feeling right.

“If you’re having issues like I was … don’t hesitate to get checked,” said Hopson. “If I would have gotten in there maybe even just six months before, certainly a year before, I think the results would have been different.

“But by the time I got there, at stage four, they knew from the start that recovery was going to be next to impossible.”

Hopson has nothing but positive things to say about the treatment he received at the Allan Blair Cancer Clinic in Regina. He also appreciates all the support and well-wishes he has received during his cancer journey.

“Lots of calls, lots of visits and those are very important,” said Hopson, who also credits Brenda for being such a strong supporter and caregiver. “If you do have someone you know facing some real bad health issues, don’t be afraid to reach out.

“We appreciate it.”

Before he gets a chance to head back to Mosaic Stadium this summer, Hopson will continue to catch up with old friends and reflect on a life well lived.

“We don’t know how fast it will progress,” said Hopson. “They’re unsure.

“It makes you realize how many friends you have and how important they are. And you reflect on things that you’ve done.

“The opportunities I’ve had with the Rams and the Riders, my education career was wonderful, so when I reflect, it’s been a great run.

“Of course, you’d always like it to last longer but you know, you don’t get to choose sometimes.”