March 23, 2007

Former Roughrider Worden dead at 64

By Rob Vanstone,
Regina Leader-Post

Jim Worden, who scored the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ first touchdown in their first Grey Cup victory, has died.

Worden suffered a heart attack Feb. 25 in Wellington, Ohio. He was 64.

The Roughriders inducted Worden into their Plaza of Honor in 1996 — 30 years after the franchise celebrated its first Canadian Football League championship.

“It was his type of attitude that made that team champions,” former Roughriders quarterback Ron Lancaster said via e-mail Thursday from Hamilton, where he is the special adviser, organizational development, with the CFL’s Tiger-Cats.

“Even though everyone has to go sometime, it was a sad day to hear about the passing of the ‘Hog.’ ”

Worden was the leading receiver in the 1966 Grey Cup game, in which Saskatchewan defeated the Ottawa Rough Riders 29-14 at Empire Stadium in Vancouver. He caught three passes for 48 yards — including a six-yard scoring toss from Lancaster in the first quarter. They also connected on a 42-yarder.

Like Lancaster, Worden was a graduate of Wittenberg College (now Wittenberg University) in Springfield, Ohio.

“I think back to the ’66 Grey Cup,” reflected Alan Ford, who caught Lancaster’s second of three touchdown passes in that game. “Jim very seldom said anything in the huddle, aside from getting mad. But in ’66, he must have said three or four times, ‘Ronnie, I can beat him deep.’ When he did catch a deep one, he didn’t celebrate. Instead, he came back to the huddle and said, ‘See? I told you so, Ronnie.’ ”

The 1966 season was also Worden’s finest in terms of accolades. He was named a Western Conference and CFL all-star that season after catching a career-high 28 passes for 462 yards and three touchdowns.

Worden also made a key block which sprung Ed Buchanan for a 73-yard touchdown run on Nov. 19, 1966, when Saskatchewan defeated the host Winnipeg Blue Bombers 21-19 to secure a Grey Cup berth.

In six seasons with the Roughriders, concluding in 1969, Worden made 97 receptions for 1,789 yards and 11 touchdowns. His career average of 18.4 yards per catch was extraordinary for a tight end. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder was also an intimidating blocker who helped to open holes for legendary fullback George Reed.

“You know how hockey teams have enforcers?” Ford said. “Guys like that give you a feeling of confidence. They’re there to set the tone and, because of them, you don’t have to worry about anything happening to you. You have to have that.

“Jim was that way. I don’t ever remember him having a fight on the field, but he had a presence on the field. He had the presence of a street-fighter. (Linebacker) Wally Dempsey had a lot of that, too. Unless you’re there with those guys, you don’t know that.”

After retiring from football at age 27, Worden returned to the Cleveland area, where he taught high school before working in highway construction. He was employed in the latter capacity until his retirement in 1998.

Worden’s father, James, played for the NFL’s Cleveland Rams in 1945.

Jim Worden was invited to last summer’s 40th-anniversary reunion of the 1966 Roughriders, but was unable to attend for health reasons.

He is the sixth player from that legendary team to pass away, following Paul Dudley (who died in 1987), Gord Barwell (1988), Buchanan (1991), Cliff Shaw (1993) and Ted Dushinski (2005).