Remembering Austria’s Bernd “Bernie” Dittrich in Canada

We ran this story last year in honor of a Bernd “Bernie” Dittrich who died tragically on this day seven years ago. He was a player who had touched the lives of so many people in two different countries – Austria and Canada.

The celebration of Bernd “Bernie” Dittrich is an annual event in Canada at Simon Fraser University. We felt compelled to run the story again, today, November 11, also known in Canada as Remembrance Day to honor all of the 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 seven 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 six years have passed since that day, he has not been forgotten. Far from it. The 6th annual Bernie Bowl takes place on the anniversary of the day he died, November 11 (ironically, Remembrance Day in Canada), a touch football game bringing together former teammates and friends to honor the memory of a man who seemed to touch so many people.

Canada - Bernie Dittrich-2

Mark Bailey, the impetus behind the Bernie Bowl and a co-captain of that team, 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.”

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 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.

“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 irresisitible charm in his own crazy way. There are so many stories of his antics.”

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.

Canada - Bernie Bowl - 7

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 held a flag football game which has grown into a touch football game and has attracted more and more attention. This year Bailey expects more than 60 players to show up. And he is bringing in a videographer.

“More and more people are finding out about it and we thought it would be a good idea to record it properly.”

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.

Link to the Bernie Bowl website. 

Link to the Bernie Bowl Facebook page.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.