Publishing stories of fascinating Prairie People and Unsung Heroes

Welcome to the blog of Deana Driver - author, editor, and publisher of DriverWorks Ink, a book publishing company based in Saskatchewan. We publish stories of inspiring, fascinating Prairie people and unsung Canadian heroes - written by Prairie authors including Deana Driver. We also publish genres of healing and wellness, humour, children's fiction, and rural poetry. Visit our website to learn more about our books.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

How I published a book by Gridiron Greats Hall of Famer Jim Hopson

On May 20, 2022, Jim Hopson, a Canadian Football Hall of Famer, was inducted into Mike Ditka’s Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame at a banquet in Chicago.

Former Chicago Bears NFL coach Mike Ditka’s Hall of Fame recognizes NFL and CFL personnel for their player contributions and charitable work off the field. Jim was president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Roughriders for 10 eventful and successful years, and has volunteered for numerous community organizations including the Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association.

This is the story of how I published a book written by the indomitable, inspiring Jim Hopson.

Running the Riders  - My Decade as CEO of Canada's Team by Jim Hopson with Darrell Davis

One day in early 2015, Darrell Davis, a former long-time sports writer for the Regina Leader-Post, phoned me to inquire about my interest in a book project. “Jim Hopson wants to write a book,” Darrell told me. “I said I would help him. Do you want to publish it?”

The conversation wasn’t as simple as that, and I have liberally paraphrased what we discussed, but that was the gist of it.

I was immediately intrigued.

Anyone who knows anything about sports in Saskatchewan knows the name “Jim Hopson”. Not just that he is a former football player who then led the Riders organization through some turbulent times and toward a profit and a couple of Grey Cup wins during his CEO period, but he is also known as a good guy and a fan favourite. Jim is a big man with a big, friendly personality, who gets things done.

I quickly conversed with my husband, Al, who was helping me in my publishing business at the time. Al would have to agree to this project since he would be the main person to edit this book.

You see, Al had been a copy editor in the sports and news departments of the Regina Leader-Post for decades prior to taking early retirement from his news editor position in 2008. Al was also a sports geek. He could happily spew a long list of sports statistics (alongside his sports editor colleague Rob Vanstone and others at the newspaper), and he had also edited hundreds of Darrell Davis's sports stories over the years as well as two books, Saskatchewan Roughriders – First 100 Years and Regina Pats – A Winning Tradition, for which Darrell Davis was a co-author. I was not surprised when Al quickly signed on to help with this book, which we would come to call Running the Riders: My Decade as CEO of Canada’s Team by Jim Hopson with Darrell Davis.

I had met Jim Hopson briefly at one point prior to this project, but Al knew him on a more personal level. They had both gone to the same high school in Regina and were on the same football team, with Jim a few years ahead of Al. When Jim and his wife Brenda later sent me photos to include in the Running the Riders book, it was a delightful surprise to find the teenage Al peering out of a 1968 Thom Trojans team photo, sitting two rows back and to the left of Jim, who was happily occupying the centre spot in the front row.

1968 Thom Trojans team photo. Jim Hopson is front row centre, #60.
Al Driver is third row, fifth from the right.

By the time Darrell called me in early 2015 about this proposed book project, he had already worked with Jim on creating an outline of the book and Jim had written several chapters in longhand. This handwritten method worked best for Jim, and as Darrell later typed Jim’s words into a computer, Darrell was able to adjust them where needed and add some sports statistics to complete the story.

Shortly after Al and I agreed to take on the project, Darrell provided me with a synopsis, which became the description on the back cover of the Running the Riders book: 

The Saskatchewan Roughriders were mired in mediocrity, a decent football team that couldn’t advance to the Grey Cup as the franchise worked its way out of financial distress and tried to reconnect with its fan base. In 2004, offensive lineman-turned-educator Jim Hopson was hopeful that the Roughriders directors would hire him as the team’s first full-time president and CEO. He believed that the team, with its incredible fan base, could become a successful business that consistently posted strong annual profits while playing in and winning multiple Grey Cups.

And it happened. After a decade under Hopson’s leadership (2005 to 2015), the Roughriders became the Canadian Football League’s strongest franchise, appearing in four Grey Cup games (winning twice) and selling more team merchandise than the other eight CFL franchises combined. They obliterated their debt and posted a record-setting profit of $10.4 million after winning a hometown Grey Cup in 2013, which has been described as the biggest moment in the 105-year-old team’s history.

Hopson’s book, with the assistance of Darrell Davis (an author and long-time sports writer and Roughriders beat writer at the Regina Leader-Post), describes Hopson’s business plans, the resistance to change within the organization, the interplay with the fans of Rider Nation, difficult decisions made, and the euphoria of winning two league championships.

An emotional man with a firm disposition, Jim Hopson describes the highs and lows that went along with the job and the path he took, professionally and personally, to the biggest office with the franchise known as ‘Canada’s Team’.”

A few months after that initial phone call, Al and I met with Darrell and Jim at a nearby pub to sign our publishing contract and talk more about the project. These three men regularly veered off topic and exchanged tales of the good old days of playing the game, who they each knew, and how those people are doing these days. I didn’t mind. After all, I’d lived with Al for almost 40 years, so I was used to frequent forays into the sports world. He’d taught me all about high school football early on in our marriage, when he was covering that sport for the newspaper, and we’d had season tickets to Riders games in the 1980s – when I found that the most interesting thing on the field was often the players’ butts. Yes, I said it, and it still holds true. The 1980s were not the best years for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. And we were paying a babysitter at the time too – but that’s another story.

Now, back to the meeting with Jim and Darrell…

It was swell. It was a fun get-together that also accomplished our goals of sorting out details of the book’s style, format, selling locations, and more.

DriverWorks Ink publisher Deana Driver with Jim Hopson, Darrell Davis, and Al Driver, ‎June ‎20, ‎2015

The timing was right to publish a book about Jim’s career. He had just retired from the Riders organization and had left the team in a strong position, financially and on the field. We wanted a book out by that fall, in time for Christmas gift-giving, so we worked hard and fast.

I contacted Ian Hamilton, another Leader-Post sports writer, to help Al and me edit the book. He agreed and we were grateful for his additional eyes on the manuscript. Bill Dubecky of Royal Studios had been the Riders’ photographer for decades, and he graciously supplied many photos to use in the book. Erika Folnovic, a local artist, created the beautiful cover design. The Saskatchewan Roughrider organization gave us permission to publish some of their photos and use their team colours, and they later sold books in their stores across the province. Creative Saskatchewan provided us with a book publishing grant to assist with costs. To all these individuals and organizations, we are grateful.

Bad news came in August 2015, at the height of production, when Al was suddenly diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. He – and we – decided to fight it and to stay positive. Amid his stints in and out of hospital, our work continued on the book.

Al Driver editing the Running the Riders book Oct 2015

Al edited the final manuscript in early October as Ian and I met and compared notes on the typos or other details we’d each found that needed correction. I put all the pieces together and sent the layouts to Houghton Boston Printers in Saskatoon, a printer we work closely with on most of our nonfiction books. We had a book in our hands on October 30th, 2015!

Jim Hopson and his wife, Brenda Edwards, and co-contributor Darrell Davis see their new Running the Riders book.

The Running the Riders book was a big hit!

We had to order a reprint after selling 3,400 softcover books in only two months – an extraordinary accomplishment for a little publishing house, but not surprising given the story Jim and Darrell told. We also created hardcover and e-book editions of Running the Riders, which puts our book into the Canadian national bestseller category with more than 5,000 books sold.

Bad news struck again last year when Jim Hopson was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. Strangely, it is the same illness that took Al in early January 2016, but their cancer stories are not the same.

Jim Hopson recently spoke publicly about his cancer diagnosis to Murray McCormick of the Regina Leader-Post in this article about his Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame induction. 

I’ve chatted with Jim a few times in this last year, and I continue to wish him and his family all the best. Anything I could have said that would be helpful, I have said to Jim.

Cancer sucks. That’s a supreme understatement.

Jim Hopson signing more Running the Riders books, Sept. 2021

It has been and is fun, lots of laughs, and quite an honour to work with Jim and Darrell and their Running the Riders book. None of us could have imagined the journey this would take us on, but I know we are all grateful that we came together for this project. Oh, the things we have enjoyed, learned, and shared.

The last words in this blog post go to Darrell Davis and Jim Hopson, as I quote from the epilogue in their Running the Riders book:

Hopson understood his position put him in the forefront of a franchise whose every move is scrutinized, yet he never ducked a question or avoided an issue. When Hopson said he wanted me to help him write this book, I asked him why he chose me, considering that we often had conflicting viewpoints during the years we worked “together.” He said he wanted to write an honest book, but he also wanted to be challenged while relating his uplifting, positive story of growing up in Regina to become the Roughriders’ president. He ultimately gave the book to me on hundreds of hand-written pages for typing and “embellishing.”

That’s how I describe my contributions, considering that I had already written about many of his Riders adventures as part of my newspaper work.

“It was important that when the book was done, people would say it was credible,” Hopson says. “I didn’t try to gloss over the bad stuff by just talking about the good. We had our challenges and there’s no way I would present myself as always making the best decision. I made more good decisions than bad decisions, but if you’re going to be a leader, you had better expect that you’re going to have challenges.”

(Signed copies of Running the Riders by Jim Hopson with Darrell Davis are available here.)