CFL Players Are Incredibly Tough
Football is such an unforgiving physical game.
I couldn’t help but feel this way as I watched Winnipeg playing the B.C. Lions, in particular what happened to Blue Bombers’ quarterback Matt Nichols and running back Andrew Harris, both of whom were injured in the game.
Nichols suffered a lower-body injury on a rather innocent play in the Bombers’ second series. It was a non-contact injury and he did not play thereafter and, according to Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea, Nichols is doubtful to play this Friday when the Bombers travel to Calgary to play the Stampeders, who lead the West Division and are first overall in the Canadian Football League.
Harris had to be escorted off the field in the fourth quarter, clearly in a woozy state after a violent but clean hit. O’Shea has said he expects Harris to be in the lineup against Calgary.
When you talk about gritty quarterbacks currently playing in the CFL – and, really, it’s hard to pick one over another in terms of discussing valor because, frankly, you have to be physically and mentally tough to play that position – Nichols is a tough dude. In the last few weeks, he’s suffered some nasty injuries, including one to his throwing hand and had to be equipped with a modified glove.
An interesting factoid provided to me by CFL statistician Steve Daniel is that Nicholls hasn’t missed a start in 30 consecutive games since he was anointed the Bombers’ starter.
At this time of the season, players are dealing with a variety of aches and pains, some more serious than others, but unless they are too injured to suit up they play through the problems. That’s the nature of football players: they are warriors. Their careers can be ended by a sudden injury, so they play for the love of the sport and everything that goes with it – the camaraderie of being part of a team and chasing a championship.
I really don’t think CFL players do this purely for the money. I believe it’s the passion and the opportunity that is at the heart of why these people expose their bodies to this type of collision sport.
During the Saskatchewan game against Montreal, Roughriders’ receiver Chad Owens, the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2012, talked at halftime about how much he appreciates the game after he suffered a broken foot suffered last season while with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats that put his career on indefinite hold. Even though the Roughriders signed him as a free agent in February, he started the 2017 season on the six-game injured list. Injuries have forced him to miss at least five games since the 2013 season, but Owens won’t let that diminish his desire to play.
“I’ve been itching (to do) this for six weeks,” he told the Regina Leader-Post’s Ian Hamilton in early August when he began practicing again. “It’s good to be back out there getting back into the routine. Coming here (into the locker room), going to meetings, preparing for practice, getting taped up, getting the jersey on – that’s what we love to do.”
That aptly sums up what probably every CFL player thinks. It’s all about passion.
As for Harris, he had been rocked hard four plays before the injury, and while I’m not an expert of physics and physiology the second hit may have exacerbated the effects of the first hit.
Harris looked to be a sure bet a month or so ago to become the first CFL running back to record 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. Robert Drummond, whom I covered when he was with the Argos, came the closest to achieving that feat in 1997 but missed three games due to injury. He finished with 1,134 rushing yards and 840 receiving yards.
I contacted him last week to get his opinions on Harris and his pursuit of the 1,000-1,000 feat. We talked on Sunday, the day after Harris was injured.
“I lined up all over the field,” Drummond said. “Where I lined up was a mystery. I played wide receiver in college, so catching the ball as a wide receiver was just natural to me. But I was more of the mindset of going out there and helping my teammates get to be where we could be to win a championship. I just happened to be in an offence that could have a running back that could play receiver, could play fullback and could play slotback.
“I wasn’t a typical running back. I was 6-foot-4, 225-plus pounds. The pounding didn’t really bother me. That’s something I relished. That’s one of the reasons I loved the game of the football. I loved the physicality of it. I loved just banging heads with people. I was always the hammer, not the nail. I wasn’t letting guys hit me. I was hitting them.
“There was talk of the (1,000-1,000 mark) that year, but it was something I never even thought about until someone said something to me about two or three weeks before I got injured. I was like ‘that’s all well and good, but there’s lots of guys out there with records that don’t have championships.’ I’m pretty sure they’d trade those records in for championships.”
Drummond is confident that at some point a CFL player will be able to accomplish the 1,000-1,000 mark; it’s just a case of being able to play the entire season and avoid serious injuries.
Harris has 967 rushing yards and 829 receiving yards, so he should surpass 1,000 rushing yards, but hitting 1,000 receiving yards would appear to be far more challenging.
I know there are many CFL fans who want Harris to do the 1,000-1,000 achievement to put a stamp on the importance of a Canadian playing running back. Earlier in his career, Jesse Lumsden appeared to be capable of doing that, but injuries ended his career far too early.
Harris should win the award as the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian Player regardless of what happens in the Stamps’ game. He deserves it because of the punishment he absorbs playing the position which is one of the physically-punishing in the sport.