VANCOUVER - Former UBC Thunderbird football player Peter Espig was in a position to give back to his alma matter on Tuesday night. He ended the evening doing something much more important.
At the 13th Man Foundation Championship Ring Celebration and Fundraising Dinner, honouring the 2015 Vanier Cup Champions, Espig bid on several items at the silent auction – the Nicola Mining Inc. CEO saw the bids as "quasi-donations" to the UBC football program, rather than trying to obtain items he really wanted.
Except for one.
A beautiful still of the 1986 Vanier Cup champion Thunderbirds, a team on which Espig was just a rookie, caught his eye.
It also caught the eye of Ross Pearce, father of former Thunderbird and Winnipeg Blue Bomber star Matt Pearce, who passed away from heart complications this past January.
Espig and Pearce were especially close in their first season with the 'Birds, that same 1986 year that saw them claim the national title, and Pearce walk away with Western Intercollegiate Football League Rookie of the Year honours.
However, his prodigious talent wasn't all made Pearce special.
"As a person, he was one of those rare breeds that don't realize how good they really are," said Espig. "He was humble, despite everyone around him knowing how special of an athlete he was. He endeared himself to people because he never thought he was better than everyone else, even though, on the field, he was."
Initially unaware of the elder Pearce's interest in the picture, when Espig realized whom he had overbid, his next move was a simple one.
"[Mr. Pearce] wasn't sure whether he had won – at one point he head the highest bid, so as soon as I knew who it was, I said, 'Mr. Pearce, this belongs to you. This belongs on the Pearce family wall, and it belongs in your house,'" recounted Espig.
Crying, and saying that the gesture was too much, Pearce initially refused.
"I had to tell him that I would have to leave the photo on the floor if he didn't take it, because it only belonged at his house – not mine, or anyone else's." Espig said. "That picture is like a piece of his son – Matty was part of that legacy, he was rookie of the year, and for Mr. Pearce, it means a lot in getting to keep that picture. It's like getting back a piece of your son. I'm glad I could do something for him."
However, the photo will serve an even more important role than giving a man back a piece of his son - it will give a boy a piece of his father.
"Matt's son [Colburn] is who I wanted it for; he's a 15-year-old boy, and I wanted him to see that part of his dad," said the elder Pearce. "I was speechless when Peter offered it to me. I could not believe that anyone would, having bid a considerable sum of money, that he would just give it away."
More than just a phenomenal athlete, the younger Pearce was a well-loved teacher, husband, and father in his hometown of Prince George, B.C. That's how his dad wants his son to be remembered.
"He was a very kind boy, and very giving in all of his relationships, whether it was work, or school, family, or community."