August 26, 2006

Gridiron star Vercheval stays close to game

Lineman became football commentator on TV after finishing CFL career with Als in 2001

By Ian MacDonald,
Montreal Gazette

After being rejected by the New England Patriots and Detroit Lions, Pierre Vercheval accepted the fact he wouldn’t play in the National Football League.

Instead, he enjoyed a star-studded career in the Canadian Football League.

And now, only five years after ending his playing days with the Alouettes, he has been able to stay in the game for which he has unadulterated passion as a full-time television commentator with RDS.

Vercheval was born in Belgium, but his family moved to the Quebec City suburb of Ste. Foy before he was one year old.

His attraction to football started early and by high school he was playing regularly. With no football program in Quebec City’s CEGEPs at the time, Vercheval eventually went to Trois Rivieres, where he played with the Diablos.

“We won the Bol d’Or title in 1982 and on the same weekend as the Vanier Cup (Canadian university championship), we were in a CEGEP national title game,” Vercheval said. “Western was playing B.C. in the Vanier Cup, and that was the first time I heard about Western.

“One of our coaches said Western was a great school with a good football program. I wanted to learn English, so it sounded good. My only English was basically what you learn for an exam at high school, and that’s it.”

Vercheval planned to specialize in physical education and teaching at Western, but shortcomings in his English led to poor marks. He switched courses and graduated with a general BA. He was selected by the Edmonton Eskimos in the CFL draft.

“Before going, I had a tryout with the New England Patriots,” Vercheval said Wednesday at the Quebec Sports Hall of Fame golf tournament at St. Raphael club on Ile Bizard. Vercheval will be inducted into the Hall this fall.

“You realize it’s a big step going from Canadian university to the NFL,” Vercheval said. “I was green, but it was a great experience. You go against the best and compare yourself. There was a wide difference – an eye-opening experience. It made me a stronger, better player.”

The 6-foot-1, 290-pounder would go on to spend five seasons with the Eskimos, from 1988-92, before trying out with the NFL’s Detroit Lions.

“I thought I’d give it another try, just to get that bug out of my system,” he said. “That didn’t work out, either, but I could live with that. I gave it my best try.”

Vercheval signed with Toronto as a free agent and spent five seasons with the Argos, winning the Grey Cup in his last two years on teams led by QB Doug Flutie and coached by Don Matthews.

Vercheval then signed with the Alouettes as a free agent, spending the final four seasons of his career in Montreal.

He won All-Canadian honours six times during his career and in 2000 was named the CFL’s outstanding offensive lineman while leading the Alouettes to the Grey Cup game, before losing 28-26 to the B.C. Lions in Calgary.

Vercheval met his wife, Deborah, who is from Newfoundland, while they were at Western. They have three children – Sam (12), Claire (9) and Catherine (8) – and the family lives in Ste. Julie. All three children play soccer, and Sam is also into football.

During his playing career, Vercheval also worked for his father in the sports clothing business in Anjou. He got into the media by chance, and is now successfully established.

“I was interviewed often as a player and was never uncomfortable in front of the camera,” Vercheval said. “People in the media suggested I try for a TV job.

“RDS was interested, and it has gone well. I work on all football broadcasts – CFL, NFL and CIS. They use me on SportsCentre whenever the subject is football, for analysis and opinions about various teams, players and rule interpretations.

“I do football work on radio with CKAC and I also have an analysis column in Le Journal (de Montreal) once a week.

“I’m still living my football passion and I don’t have to get beat up. I’m not sore all over – and I love it.”