EDMONTON — Saskatchewan Roughrider Mike McCullough is the first winner of the Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award which recognizes a CFL player who best demonstrates the attributes of Canada’s Veterans.
“For a Canadian, it’s very humbling to win an award that honours what our Veterans have done for all of us,” said the 30-year-old linebacker who has been with the Riders for eight seasons.
“And for a CFL player, it’s a tremendous honour to have your name associated with those who have built our league, and few have done as much in the CFL and for the CFL as Jake Gaudaur.”
The award was presented today as the Grey Cup, CFL players and several dignitaries visited the Kipnes Centre for Veterans here in Edmonton, site of the 98th Grey Cup game this Sunday.
The CFL and Veterans Affairs Canada introduced the Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award this year to:
Honour the sacrifices and contributions made by Canadian Veterans in a respectful and significant way.
Recognize the legacy of the late Jake Gaudaur, a Canadian Second World War Veteran whose 45-year career in Canadian football included a Grey Cup as a player with a service team, the 1942 RCAF Flying Hurricanes, success as a team executive, and 16 years as CFL Commissioner.
Celebrate the historical bond between Canada’s Veterans and military and the Canadian Football League.
“On the field, with his teammates, working in the community, and through the grace and strength with which he has faced personal tragedy, Mike has proven himself worthy of being honoured in the company of true Canadian heroes, our Veterans,” said Mark Cohon, Commissioner of the Canadian Football League.
The Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture) said the panel of judges were deeply impressed by the respect and admiration McCullough has earned from his peers, fans and the broader community.
“It’s a tall order to ask of anyone, that they embody in their efforts, and life, the qualities displayed by the Veterans who have sacrificed for us and continued to serve their communities as civilians,” Blackburn said. “But Mike McCullough fits the bill.”
Jake Gaudaur’s daughter Jackie told Veterans attending today’s award ceremony that her father was honoured to be one of them, and would have been thrilled to see a person of McCullough’s character win such an award.
“I often say my Dad was a gentle giant, and from what I have learned about Mike, he too is as kind and caring off the field as he can be tough and aggressive on it,” Gaudaur said.
In his remarks, Cohon said McCullough really does embody the qualities of Canada’s Veterans:
Perseverance, because while he hasn’t always been a starter, McCullough never complains and has always stepped up when his number was called, including in this year’s playoffs;
Comradeship, because he is a tremendous teammate;
Community involvement, because McCullough tirelessly gives of us time and is a past winner of the Mosaic Award given to the Rider who contributes most to the community;
Strength, because he has always faced the challenges in his life; and
Courage, because he has faced the worst tragedy imaginable – the loss of a young son, Cole, to muscular dystrophy – and has channelled his grief and love into working to raise money and helping to find a cure for the disease.
Born in Kingston, Ontario, and educated at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, McCullough is known to lead by example, displaying a love for the game, an unselfish playing style, and quick sense of humour that endears him to his teammates.
Also nominated for the award were British Columbia Lion Angus Reid, Edmonton Eskimo Mathieu Bertrand, Calgary Stampeder Rob Lazeo, Winnipeg Blue Bomber Doug Brown, Hamilton Tiger-Cat Augustin Barrenechea, Toronto Argonaut Bryan Crawford, and Montreal Alouette Ben Cahoon.
The panel of judges for the first Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award included Commissioner Cohon, Glen Suitor of the CFL on TSN, Stu Laird, President of the Canadian Football League Players Association, Michael Cook, Dominion Treasurer of the Royal Canadian Legion, and Keith Hillier, Assistant Deputy Minister for Service Delivery and Commemoration, Veterans Affairs Canada.