By Perry Lefko
Standing with onetime Canadian Football League player Gene Mack at BMO Field, watching the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders warm up before the Eastern Final against the Toronto Argonauts, I couldn’t help but notice one of the players from the team in green. His waist was exposed, which I pointed out to Gene, who played in frigid temperatures and he said the difference between the two of us standing still and shivering and the players was the fact they were moving.
But I had to admire the Riders’ player, who was also keeping busy doing wind sprints.
The player was Jeff Hecht, whom I had never met.
But I can now say I’ve met Jeff Hecht. He was at the Canadian Football League Players’ Association State of the Union in Ottawa during Grey Cup week as a representative of the Riders. How I met him was pure coincidence. I happened to be talking to a player, CFLPA Treasurer Peter Dyakowski, when I spotted another player with a bushy beard – kind of like Joe Thornton or Brent Burns.
“Who’s that guy?” I asked Peter, pointing to the player.
“That’s Jeff Hecht,” he said.
I politely excused myself because I just had to meet him and tell him I noticed him in warm-ups the previous Sunday. He told me that’s the way he dresses prior to the game, then adds a layer to fully cover up.
I have to admit, if there’s a player with a finer name in the CFL than Jeff Hecht I don’t know it. If he made a defining play in a game and I was writing a story, I’d use the line, “Jeff gives ‘em Hecht.”
And I’m quite sure he’s heard that before.
He’s listed at 5-foot-10, 202 pounds, but if you didn’t know it there’s nothing to really distinguish him as a CFL player. The defensive back just completed his seventh CFL season: one with Montreal, four with Calgary and now two with Saskatchewan.
I asked him if anybody outside of the CFL knows he’s a player.
“To answer your question, not really,” he said. “People don’t really know I play football.”
He has worked in the off-season for the past six years in Alberta in the building trade.
“A few guys know me, but most of the time if there is a new guy on the crew they’ll tell him I play in the CFL,” Jeff said. “The first thing anyone ever says when they find out a guy like me plays in the CFL is, ‘Really?’ Then the second one is, ‘Really?’
“I’m a regular-sized guy for the most part. I don’t stand out. Especially on a job site, I’m just a regular guy. I consider myself a blue-collar guy. I’m just another guy swinging the hammer, right? I don’t carry myself with any kind of celebrity, prestige or anything of that sense. I’m not very extroverted in that sense of needing outside praise for what I do.”
Upon him finishing that thought, I noticed he had a Grey Cup ring. He won it with Calgary in 2015.
“It’s the most important thing I own by far,” he said. “There’s some solace in knowing on that 105-year-old trophy there’s a little space on there with my name. That’s what’s important to me about my career – it’s a little bit of personal achievement and a lot of team achievement that I was a part of. That’s more important than walking down the street and everyone flagging me down for autographs or stopping me when I’m out eating.”
I asked him if he wears the ring all the time and the response was priceless.
“Almost never,” he said. “I’ve got an extremely large gun safe at home that it stays in most of the time. This is maybe the third or fourth time I’ve had it out. A lot of guys are wearing it to an event like this. It’s nice to give myself a little bit of comfort after our season ending, so automatically I can turn to it as a security blanket and say, ‘you know what, it didn’t happen this year, but there’s guys out there that don’t have one. Out of the 44 guys that got their name on the Cup (in 2015), I was fortunate to be one of them, so I can motivate myself rather than going into this cave of depression that usually accompanies the end of a football season.
“So, no, I almost never have it out because it is an attention grabber. That’s just maybe not who I am when I’m out. Whenever I have it out people are stopping and talking about it. Maybe I’m just not a people person or a lot of an introvert. It almost never makes it out, but when it does you can’t forget it’s on your hands. It’s always a reminder it was worth it – all the workouts, all the sacrifices.
“When I’m done football one of the greatest things I’m going to enjoy is going camping. I did it for years and I haven’t in about 10 years because there’s no time.
“I know I’m getting long-winded, but the first think people ask me after they find out I’m a player is, ‘it must be great?’ Yeah, but there’s a lot we miss and there’s a lot we sacrifice. It’s not all glamorous and it’s not all what the media may perceive it to be – just being adored by fans and just playing a fun game your whole career. For me having the ring, even though I only wear it occasionally, I do look at it a lot and I always know it’s there, so it’s a good reminder. In the good and the bad, at the end of the day it’s worth it.”
An undrafted free agent out of Saint Mary’s in 2011, all he wanted to do was make the team when the Montreal Alouettes signed him as a free agent.
“To me, everything after that was gravy,” he said. “When I got to five years, I thought that was another significant personal accomplishment. This year I played my 100th career game. That’s another personal accomplishment. Although winning a Grey Cup ring is a team accomplishment, it’s definitely something that can accent my career. But it does not define it. The way your career is defined is by what the players you played with, played against and the coaches have to say about you. What defines my career is not what I have to say about it, it’s what others will say.”
I’m glad I finally met Jeff Hecht. He not only has the greatest name in the CFL in my opinion, he’s a good guy – a regular guy – and a great interview.