SURREY — Christian Covington sounds like a wise old Owl, even though he has yet to turn 18 or participate in his first football practice with Rice University, whose sports team are named for the great, avian symbol of mortal wisdom.
Covington, a Grade 12 student at Vancouver College, chose Rice, a leading research university in Houston, Texas, over more formidable football powers such as Arizona State when it came to declaring his intentions on National Signing Day, a U.S. tradition on the first Wednesday in February the U.S. when high school seniors formerly sign scholarship papers binding them to the college of their choice.
Taylor Loffler of Kelowna, a quarterback-linebacker who verbally committed to the Boise State University months ago, also put pen to paper at a ceremonial news conference held inside the B.C Lions’ locker room in Surrey.
Loffler is believed to be the first player from Kelowna secondary to earn a college football scholarship to an NCAA Division I school. Covington is the first for Van College since 2008, when Trey Henderson, Brody McKnight and Dan Cordick scored a college football trifecta for the Fighting Irish on National Signing Day.
“I’ve been brought up to think that football is maybe only 10 per cent of an athlete’s life,” Covington explained. “God forbid, if anything should happen to me, that college degree is going to help me for the rest of my life. Football is not the end-all and be-all.
“Arizona State is a very good football school. But I do want to pursue medicine. I’ve wanted to be a doctor ever since I was a little kid. I want to be a football player/cardiologist.”
Not exactly what you expect to hear from the son of Grover Covington, a Canadian Football Hall of Famer whose 10-year career mark of 157 sacks as a defensive end with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats still stands as the all-time CFL record. Christian grew up in Surrey, in a household where he could simply pop a video of his dad playing in the 1986 Grey Cup game at BC Place into the player and watch him fly like a bird of prey toward the quarterback.
“My family wanted me to play football of my own accord. They didn’t want me to play simply because of who my dad was,” Covington said. “They even told me, if I was to play football, that the Covington name would be a big burden on my shoulder, having to live under his shadow. I wasn’t the greatest player in grade eight or grade nine. I really wanted to be a quarterback. But, my dad told me, ‘Son, don’t be a quarterback; chase quarterbacks.’”
The Fighting Irish did well enough at it last season — 15 sacks and 89 tackles in 14 games — to be named B.C. high school football’s most valuable defensive player.
“Every Canadian university contacted him,” explained Grover Covington, a North Carolina native who settled in the Vancouver area after his CFL career was done. “The Washington Huskies were looking at him, Cal, Arizona State. [But] Rice was a good fit for him. The classes are small and 90 per cent of them are taught by profs. What really impressed my family is when the coach told us, ‘Your son has great penmanship.’ I’m thinking, ‘What did he just say?’ He’s not talking about his rip, his spin, his tackling abilities. He’s talking penmanship.”
Perhaps it’s a different way they recruit at Rice, studying a football prospect’s handwriting to determine his chances of success. But Owls head coach David Bailiff did make the long flight from Houston last week (and, boy, were his arms tired) to meet with the Covington family and sell them on the virtues of the Houston school.
Rice will represent only the second school Christian has ever attended. He has been a student at Vancouver College since kindergarten. His younger sisters, Asianna and Autumn, are students at nearby Little Flower Academy, and probably destined for National Signing Days of their own.
Asianna, 15, was the provincial high school girls’ shot put champion last year and took bronze medals in the discus and hammer. She was in grade nine at the time. Likewise, Autumn, 13, is an age-group triple threat in the hammer, shot and discus.
One of the neat things about the CFL is the way its history remains an integral part of today’s game. Eight of the nine teams that were in at the formation of the league are still in their original locations, and the exception (Ottawa) is expected to return in the next few years. Moreover, many of the league’s early legends remain connected with the game and the current teams, and all they did and accomplished still feels very relevant. A quintet of figures closely associated with the league passed away in the last month, and it’s worth taking a few moments to remember them and the contributions they made.
— Keith Davey: Davey, pictured at left above with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1976, is most remembered by many for his time as a key Liberal Party figure. He organized the party’s national campaigns in the early 1960s, served in the Senate from 1966 to 1996 and was also a key part of Trudeau’s triumphant election campaigns in 1972 and 1980. However, Davey was also an important figure in the early history of the CFL. He served as the league’s second commissioner, replacing Sydney Halter in 1966 and presiding over both the establishment of the CFL offices on King Street in Toronto, the divide from the amateur-focused Canadian Rugby Union (which gave the new league custody of the Grey Cup, and then became CAFA and then Football Canada), the creation of the players’ pension fund and the rewriting and condensing of the rulebook. Davey’s time with the CFL was brief before he returned full-time to politics — he was succeeded by Ted Workman on Feb. 23, 1967, and Workman was replaced by Allan McEachern before the year was out — but some critical developments happened during his tenure. He passed away Jan. 17 after a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
— Gary Schreider: Schreider was a notable figure on both the CFL and CIS fronts. He first gained acclaim at Queen’s University, where he played for the Golden Gaels from 1953 to 1955 and was a crucial part of the “Pony Backfield (take that, Craig James!) that led Queen’s to victory in the 1955 Yates Cup (awarded to the Ontario/Quebec champions at the time) over the University of Toronto. He then went on to star in the CFL from 1956 to 1964, spending most of his time with the Ottawa Rough Riders as a linebacker, kicker and running back and helping them to a 16-6 victory over Edmonton in the 1960 Grey Cup. He was one of the league’s biggest Canadian stars, and he helped prove that non-import players could hold their own with the Americans. Here’s part of Earl McRae’s superb remembrance piece on Schreider:
Gary Schreider. Did he matter? Here is that September 1957 story from my scrapbook that encapsulates why Gary Schreider mattered, game after game, year after year, for the Ottawa Rough Riders, and written by sportswriter Lloyd McGowan of the Montreal Star, the headline: “Schreider Sparks Riders Over Als.”
“A few pertinent points were proved here Saturday aside from the 17-16 Rough Riders well-earned win over the Alouettes before a record 19,998 fans at historic Lansdowne Park.”
“It proved among other things that Canadian football players are just as good, or better, than the Amerks once you get past the American publicity and coaching.
“For instance, Gary Schreider was the outstanding player in the game with 11 of the 17 points scored by the Rough Riders. In a Merriwellian performance, Schreider posted 10 points in the last quarter with a touchdown, convert, and last-minute 35-yard field goal that brought the fans surging on to the fine Lansdowne striped lawn.
“The result proved…that Canadians Gary Schreider and Bob Simpson are a match for anything the American game can offer.
Schreider made an impact off the field as well, graduating from Queen’s with a law degree and serving as both the first president of the CFL Players’ Association and the sole arbiter for disputes between the NHL and emerging NHLPA from 1976-1993. His legacy is certainly a strong one, and his story demonstrates both the importance of CIS schools as a developing ground and the quality of play Canadian players can bring to the CFL. He passed away Jan. 22 in Ottawa after a long fight with Alzheimer’s.
— Jack Matheson: It says a lot about Matheson, a legendary Winnipeg sports editor and columnist, that the Blue Bombers’ most famous coach Bud Grant always cared about what he wrote:
“He sure could write,” Grant said. “And he got to be a good friend.”
Someone who’d never break the coach’s trust.
“He honoured it down the line. He would never overstep anything.”
Six months of the year, Grant and Matty would share a love of football and the Blue Bombers. For the other six, they’d share beers after curling together.
Through it all, the writer became a must-read, even for the coach.
“When you opened the paper that was the first thing you turned to – what did Matty say about it?” Grant said.
Matheson is also fondly remembered by the many newspaper people whose lives he touched over the years; Gordon Sinclair Jr. of The Winnipeg Free Press has a nice remembrance of him here. Moreover, though, he and other legendary writers like Jim Coleman and Milt Dunnell did a tremendous amount to promote the CFL in the early days; the league’s enduring popularity and current success has a lot to do with the coverage they and other media members provided over the years. Matheson was inducted into the Football Reporters of Canada wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1986. He passed away Jan. 24.
— Herb Gray: Another legendary Winnipeg figure, Gray shone for the Blue Bombers from 1956 to 1965. Ed Tait writes that a case can be made that Gray was “the greatest defensive lineman in Winnipeg Blue Bomber history,” and he’d definitely have to be considered among the elite. Gray played both ways and was selected as a West Division all-star six times at defensive end and once at guard. He also became the first defensive player to capture the CFL’s top lineman award in 1960. The Bombers named him their top defensive player of the half-century in 1980 and selected him to their All-Time team in 2006. Gray starred at other
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Carlton Chester (Cookie) Gilchrist was the model for a long-gone era when football players would contribute on both offence and defence.
An imposing physical specimen, the six-foot-three, 251-pound fullback was a dominant force feared by opponents on both sides of the ball. Gilchrist also played linebacker, on the defensive line and even kicked field goals over six CFL seasons before continuing his strong play in the American Football League.
Gilchrist, who won a Grey Cup with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1957, died Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 75.
“I was a big guy for that era,” CFL legend Angelo (King Kong) Mosca said in a telephone interview. “But I’ll tell you one thing, when he came through that line it was like a train coming through.”
Gilchrist also played for Saskatchewan and Toronto before moving on to the AFL in 1962, when he was named player of the year with the Buffalo Bills.
The four-time Pro Bowler, whose ferocious running style drew comparisons to that of the great Jim Brown, also played for Denver and Miami.
“He was as good as they get,” said Norm Stoneburgh, a teammate in Toronto from 1959-’61. “He was noted for his running ability and his offence. But coaches, when they got mad at him, would stick him on defence and he was just as devastating. He was that good.
“He could play any position. He was an outstanding athlete. And I’ll say, he knew it too.”
Former players and teammates remembered Gilchrist as a confident, tenacious, strong-willed man who seemed larger than life on and off the field.
“He certainly didn’t hide his light under a bushel,” Stoneburgh said. “He was great – and strutted it. Some guys aren’t good and they strut it. In his case, he just knew he was good.”
Gilchrist was a six-time division all-star in the CFL, five times as a running back and once as a linebacker.
“Cookie coined the phrase, `Lookie, lookie, here comes Cookie,”’ Stoneburgh said. “It was a phrase that was true – he knew it and opposing teams felt it.”
Born in May 1935 in Brackenridge, Pa., Gilchrist was lured out of high school by the Cleveland Browns. He didn’t make the team and ventured north, where he played with the Sarnia Imperials and Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen of the Ontario Rugby Football Union before joining the Ticats in 1956.
Gilchrist, who scored two touchdowns in Hamilton’s 32-7 victory over Winnipeg in the 1957 Grey Cup, played for the Roughriders in 1958 before being dealt to Toronto. In 1960, he was a finalist for the CFL’s outstanding player award, along with eventual winner Jackie Parker.
Gilchrist recorded 4,911 rushing yards, 1,068 receiving yards and 12 interceptions over his CFL career.
“Possibly at his age, he was as good as Jim Brown, if not better,” Mosca said.
Gilchrist still holds the Argos’ single-game record for scoring with 27 points, a mark he set Oct. 30, 1960 against Montreal.
“I’ll tell you one thing, he was chiselled by God,” Mosca said. “That was his body. He was unbelievable … he was a tough football player. He was really hard-nosed.
“He was never mad at anybody, he just played the game the way it was designed to be played.”
Gilchrist died at an assisted living facility near Pittsburgh, nephew Thomas Gilchrist said. He was first diagnosed with throat cancer and the disease spread to his prostate and colon.
“The Bills were very lucky to have procured the services of Cookie Gilchrist, who was one of the greatest fullbacks I have ever seen in all of my years in professional football,” said Ralph Wilson, the 92-year-old Buffalo owner.
Gilchrist’s grit and single-mindedness extended beyond the football field. He took stands against racism and wasn’t afraid to demand better contracts.
In 1964, Gilchrist and quarterback Jack Kemp led the Bills to their first of two straight AFL championships. Former Buffalo teammate Booker Edgerson said Gilchrist also wanted to play defence with the Bills.
“Yeah, he was tough,” Edgerson said. “If they would’ve allowed him to play linebacker, he would’ve kicked a lot of butt.”
Gilchrist led the AFL in rushing yards for three straight seasons (1963-’65) and touchdowns (1962-’64).
His most notable game came in Buffalo’s 45-14 win over the New York Jets in 1963. He set a then pro football record with 243 yards rushing and became only the fourth player to score five touchdowns – one short of the record set by Ernie Nevers.
Retired Buffalo News football writer Larry Felser covered Gilchrist during his days with the Bills and still regards him as the best to play the game. Felser wrote in 2004: “Any time. Any place. Any brand of football. Cookie was, pound for pound, the greatest all-around player I ever saw. He would be a superstar in today’s football.”
Gilchrist and O.J. Simpson are the only two Bills players to score rushing touchdowns in seven straight games, and Gilchrist’s 128 points in 1962 is the fourth-highest single-season total.
In its all-time roster section, the Argonauts media guide says Gilchrist, who was voted to Toronto’s modern-era (1945-’73) all-star team, was “a charismatic and volatile free spirit who many claim was the best all-around athlete ever to play for the Argos.”
Gilchrist also displayed a different kind of toughness. He and a group of black players boycotted the 1965 AFL all-star game in New Orleans after they weren’t allowed into a bar and had difficulty catching taxi cabs. The game was eventually moved and played in Houston.
Gilchrist is also the only player to turn down induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. He cited racism and exploitation by team management.
Gilchrist had a long-running feud with Wilson after the team waived him in 1964. Gilchrist refused to return to Buffalo to attend alumni functions unless he was paid. Gilchrist and Wilson finally settled their differences last week during a phone conversation, Thomas Gilchrist said.
“I’m glad they had that conversation,” Edgerson said. “When I visited him, he told me, ‘I’ve got to bury the hatchet with Mr. Wilson.’ “
On Monday, Wilson called it a “good conversation.”
Edgerson called Gilchrist a unique individual, who wasn’t afraid to speak out for better pay.
“He was 30 years ahead of his time,” Edgerson said. “He believed in what he did, good bad or indifferent. And he would go where ever he had to make it work.”
Mosca said Gilchrist always had a lot of ideas on the go.
“He started more things than you can imagine,” Mosca said. “In the city of Hamilton, he had a drive-in restaurant. He called it Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Then he had a lighting business. … Cookie was always involved in something. A very interesting guy.”
Gilchrist is survived by sons Jeffrey and Scott and daughter Christina Gilchrist all of Toronto, and two grandchildren.
Visitation is Wednesday at the Ross G. Walker Funeral home in New Kensington, Pa. The funeral is Thursday.
From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011 12:09AM EST
It was the last act of a compassionate man. Before he died last month, Tony Proudfoot considered his three-year fight against Lou Gehrig’s disease and knew what he had to do. He had to help find a cure, the reason behind his affliction. So he did one last thing.
He donated his brain and spinal cord to researchers.
On the second last day of 2010, Proudfoot passed away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, leaving behind a wife and three children and too many former Montreal Alouettes teammates and admirers to number. What he also left behind was a tangible means of examining ALS and the possibility he believed in: that the disease bore a connection with repeated head trauma. The kind he endured as a hard-hitting defensive back in the Canadian Football League.
Proudfoot and his family’s decision to donate his brain and spinal cord is another constructive step in trying to diagnose the brain and what affects it. Tissue samples of Proudfoot’s 61-year-old brain have been taken to Montreal’s Neurological Institute and Hospital and passed along to pathologists in Toronto.
Those who will assess and discuss the findings include Toronto neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Tator and Dr. Angela Genge, ALS director at the Montreal Neurological Institute. Genge had worked with Proudfoot after he was diagnosed in 2007.
“It really does [speak to his character],” Genge said of Proudfoot’s decision to fight ALS in every way he could, even in death. “He turned even this into something good. Not everyone will do that.”
Genge said the study of head trauma and concussions needs not just damaged brains to research but those from former athletes who have passed away through natural causes. The plan is to compare subjects and their experiences. It may be a mix of factors that leads to ALS and it’s something the medical community is eager to explore.
“On the science side, there are different things happening,” Genge said. “One is looking at the long-term potential risk facing football players who were exposed to recurrent head trauma. Another is, were there any toxic issues? Like pesticides used on fields. That’s not been proven at all. But is there a combination of factors?”
Former Winnipeg Blue Bomber Leo Ezerins is doing his part for research too. As head of the CFL Alumni Association, Ezerins has been soliciting brains for Tator and others at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at Toronto Western Hospital.
Ezerins secured Jay Roberts’s brain before the 67-year-old former Ottawa Rough Rider died of lung cancer last October. Roberts suffered several concussions in his career, including one where he had no memory of what he’d done over a period of 72 hours.
“I was told the biggest challenge was to find brains,” Ezerins explained. “I said, ‘I’m sure our guys would be interested.’ Any guy I’ve talked to has said, ‘Not a problem.’ It’s part of a legacy. … The doors just opened up with Jay Roberts.”
Ezerins is a member of a group that includes neurosurgeons, pathologists and psychologists looking into postconcussion syndrome in professional athletes. Genge said it’s critical that athletes and their leagues get behind the science of the brain and what can be done to protect those who take the greatest risks.
“Some [leagues] are just plain afraid,” Genge said. “That’s a normal response. They’re afraid of the consequences, and in the business of professional sports, some organizations are afraid to be sued. … The quest to understand recurrent head injury trauma should be most important.”
Proudfoot played 12 seasons in the CFL and was also renowned for his life-saving efforts during the 2006 shootings at Dawson College, where he was a teacher. He helped raise more than $500,000 for ALS research before his death.