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THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL — As he travelled from Salt Lake City to Montreal to announce he was retiring from the CFL, Ben Cahoon found himself with some time to reflect on his career and teammates.
He decided then and there to send a text message to some of his closest friends on the Montreal Alouettes, letting them know about his plans and what they meant to him.
“It was a pretty good text,” Cahoon recalled Wednesday, shortly after announcing his retirement. “I’m sitting at the airport and I’m just crying, thinking about these guys and I felt like an idiot at the airport with tears coming down my cheeks.
“About a minute later I got a text back from one of them, and it said, ‘Who is this? I don’t even have this number in my contacts.’ And a minute later the same thing happened from Matthieu Proulx, he was a little more diplomatic, he’s like, ‘I lost my phone, I’m sorry, who is this?’ So it brought me down to reality in a hurry.”
The reality that his career is indeed over was easier to face for Cahoon, the 38-year-old who is the Canadian Football League’s all-time receptions leader and three-time Grey Cup winner.
On the field, Cahoon was a determined competitor who routinely sacrificed his body to make timely catches for the Alouettes. Although not blessed with blazing speed, Cahoon more than made up for that with his knack of finding the open spot on the field, then being able to make the acrobatic catch to keep a crucial drive going.
Cahoon was born in Utah but qualified as a Canadian in the CFL because his parents were Canadian and he spent time as a youth in Alberta. Throughout his career Cahoon steadfastly maintained he felt he was Canadian despite being born in the U.S. and attending both high school and college in Utah.
On Wednesday, Cahoon sounded like a man at ease with a decision he said was essentially made before last season even started, cracking several jokes throughout the proceedings.
He opened the availability by saying, “I’m pleased to announce that I will be the new president of the Montreal Alouettes,” and later expressed disappointment that “the opening joke didn’t go over a little better.”
Many of his remarks came from the heart, too.
“I knew this time last year that this past season would be my last,” he said. “The decision had been made a year ago and there was no looking back. I think I could play another year if I wanted to try and eke out another one, it was just a matter of when we were going to announce it.
“But I feel good about it, I feel like it’s been a great ride and it’s time for it to end.”
Cahoon became the CFL’s all-time leader in receptions during a 46-19 whipping of Calgary on Oct. 11, catching his 1,007th pass to overtake Terry Vaughn.
He finished with 1,017 catches for 13,301 yards and 65 touchdowns over 13 seasons, all with Montreal.
Those numbers put him in the conversation for the CFL’s greatest receivers, accolades he still prefers to avoid.
“I’m not comfortable with it, I don’t necessarily believe it,” he said. “It’s a little awkward to know I can’t go out there to try and prove (that’s) right anymore, that’s an odd sensation for me because whenever I heard those things in the past, it just fuelled my desire to go get to work, to earn those compliments.”
The matter was much simpler for Alouettes general manager Jim Popp, who praised Cahoon’s ability to play hurt and perform in big games.
“There’s no question Ben will be an icon in the CFL,” he said. “His name will forever ring out in the history books.”
What Cahoon does from here is still being determined.
He applied for a coaching job at Brigham Young University, his alma mater, and is waiting to hear back.
Asked what he felt his best catch was, Cahoon replied “my wife,” but he was more serious about his fondest memories from a career that includes being named the CFL’s outstanding Canadian in 2002 and ’03, the outstanding Canadian in two Grey Cup games and being chosen an all-star three times.
“My best memories would be the Grey Cup parades, unquestionably,” said Cahoon. “Maybe the first one in 2002 might be the most special because we had clawed and fought our way, had lost so many close games, and that was the first (championship) in quite some time.
“That was an absolutely magical day.”