Canada: Bernie Bowl continues to honor the late Austrian QB Bernd “Bernie” Dittrich

The celebration of Bernd “Bernie” Dittrich is an annual event in Canada at Simon Fraser University. We first ran the story in 2014 and we feel that even today, 13 years after his passing, it bears repeating. Also, today, November 11, is Remembrance Day in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth, honoring fallen soldiers.

Austrian Bernd “Bernie” Dittrich had a glowing future playing football in Canada when he died tragically after swimming in the Simon Fraser University pool outside of Vancouver 13 years ago.

One of the captains of the football team and well known around campus, his death came as a shock to everyone. It was difficult to comprehend. It rocked not only the football world on the SFU campus, but pretty much everyone.

Although 13 years have passed since that day, he has not been forgotten. Far from it. The 12th (it was not held in 2020 due to COVID) annual Bernie Bowl takes place on the anniversary of the day he died, November 11 with a touch football game bringing together former teammates and friends to honor the memory of a man who seemed to touch so many people.

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Mark Bailey, who is the driving force behind the Bernie Bowl and a co-captain of that team, still remembers how Dittrich had an impact.

“Bernie had such an impact on everyone around him. He inspired people by just being who he was. He was the star quarterback on the football team and yet he worked as a security guard. Everyone knew him. He was special.

“As we honour and remember Bernie each year with the Bernie Bowl, we are grateful for the opportunity to gather and engage as football Alumni and supporters of current SFU football student athletes. If we never had a Bernie, I don’t believe a lot of our Alumni and or supporters would be engaged with SFU football

“While we truly miss our QB, our leader, and our friend, we choose to remember him by being together each year on the day of his passing and raise funds for others to have an opportunity in his name at SFU.”

A superb athlete and self-confessed fitness addict, Bernd Dittrich had grown up in Vienna, Austria and started playing football in the Vienna Vikings organization. Early on, his coaches, in particular Shawn Olson (a Vancouver native) and Chris Calaycay (current head coach of the Vikings), realized that he was a special player. At the age of 13, the gangly youth had already developed a passion for the game and coupled with his athleticism, drive and intelligence, they could see he had enormous potential, especially as a quarterback.

Olson remembers him:

“Bernie had something special right away. He was a great athlete, but his eagerness to learn and his passion were on another level. He could not get enough of football. But he had an irresistible charm in his own crazy way. There are so many stories of his antics.

“He could not get enough of football and was singularly driven to be great. As a young man, he was this great combination of quirkiness, hard work and genuineness that came together in this one of a kind charm that only Bernd could pull off. He took great pride in being both a ‘nerd’ and a star athlete which left us with so many stories of his unique antics that makes me smile just thinking about him.”

Olson, himself a former quarterback for Vancouver’s University of British Columbia before heading off to Austria to play and coach with the Vikings in the early 2000’s, took Dittrich under his wing, grooming him to become a starting quarterback. Dittrich’s yearning and love for the game grew and with help and encouragement from Olson and Calaycay he went off to play high school football at the age of 17 with the Heavener Wolves in Oklahoma.

Canada - Bernie Bowl action

In the meantime, Olson was hired as offensive coordinator by Simon Fraser University in 2007 and one of his first orders of business was to recruit Dittrich. In his freshman season, he served as the team’s backup quarterback and kickoff returner.

In 2008, his second season with the Clan, he grew into his own. In his first career start at quarterback, Dittrich led Simon Fraser to their first victory in three years over crosstown rivals the University of British Columbia. The team went on to play in the Canada West university final that year, the Hardy Cup.

The 2009 season saw the team jump out to 2-0 start and earn a national ranking in Canada. Then Bernie suffered a serious shoulder injury and was forced to rehab, mainly in the swimming pool at the school. On November 10, he passed out in the water and the following day, November 11, 2009, he passed away in hospital. He had an enlarged heart and it had given out on him.

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Former teammates and friends of Bernie Dittrich form a “7” in honor of his jersey number.

In Canada, November 11 is Remembrance Day, a solemn day for remembering the veterans of all wars. Strangely fitting. Since that day Bailey has not let people forget.

That very first year, Bailey held a fund raiser for a scholarship which is awarded every year in Dittrich’s name. Then he organized a Super Bowl party. In 2011 he felt that the best way to keep the memory alive was to do something that Bernie loved. Play football. So, he organized a flag football game which has grown into a touch football game and has attracted more and more attention.

This year Bailey expects more people than ever to show up. And he is bringing in a videographer.

For anyone in the Vancouver area who loves to play football, it is a great opportunity to have some fun and honor the memory of a person who left the world far too soon.

A moving tribute to Bernd Dittrich.

To donate to the scholarship fund please click here.

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