July 19, 2010

Retro Profile: George Reed

Brian Snelgrove

Widely considered the greatest fullback in CFL history, this legend from the Saskatchewan Roughriders was the premiere running back in the league for more than a dozen years.

George Reed played with the Green and White from 1963-75 and literally owns the “Rushing Section” of the Roughriders records book – no-one else is even close in most major categories.

How good was George Reed?

Consider that he has 100 more rushing touchdowns (134) than anyone else in team history – and second spot is held by Kent Austin, a former quarterback.

He had 16,116 yards on the ground – nearly 12,000 more than his nearest competitor Mike Saunders who had 4,396.

With a CFL record 3,243 career attempts he is nearly 2,400 ahead of Saunders who had 872.

He holds the Riders record for most yards rushing in a game with 268, a mark he set in 1965 in a game against the B.C. Lions.

The top four ‘Most rushing yards in a season’ by a Rider all have George Reed’s name beside them, including a club record of 1,768 yards set in ‘65.

That’s pretty good.

In fact, Reed is so far ahead of his nearest rivals in almost every rushing category in the Saskatchewan media guide, it looks like a series of misprints.

In 2006 Reed was named second behind Doug Flutie on the TSN Top 50 CFL Players of all time list.

With Reed on the ground and Ron Lancaster through the air, the Roughriders had as formidable an offense as any team in the CFL in the 1970’s. Reed and his teammates made the playoffs every year during his tenure with the ‘Riders.

“I really enjoyed playing football in Saskatchewan.” Reed says more than three decades after his last carry. “I hated practice but I loved to play. I think we had some good football teams. We built some good teams. We did a lot of things together. A lot of American players stayed in Regina in the off-season and we played basketball in and around the community. We had a lot of compassion for each other and we played that way.”

“My fondest memory is of the guys in the locker room. I just enjoyed being around the guys.” Reed adds. “And the fans were great. We never missed the playoffs when I was there and the fans came out because we were winning but also because they never knew what to expect. We seemed to keep them on the edge of their seats in lots of exciting games.”

Reed, who led the team in rushing eleven straight years, was a nine-time CFL all-star. He cracked the 1,000 yard rushing barrier ten times in an 11 year period between 1965 and 1975. His sweater #34 was retired by Saskatchewan and he was sent to the CFL Hall of Fame in 1979.

The Washington State University graduate played in the ’66 and ’67 Grey Cups as well as the ’72 game in Hamilton against the Tiger-Cats.

“Losing the Grey Cup in ’72 was very disappointing,” he says. “There are two games in my career that I still think about. One was the ’72 Grey Cup and the other is the Western Final in 1970 when we lost to Calgary. I think we should have won both of those games. Sometimes little plays can turn a game around and that is what happened in both games.”

“It’s difficult to list all the great players we had,” Reed continues. “Ronnie (Lancaster) of course, Ron Atchison, Ed McQuarters, Wally Dempsey, Jack Abendschan. We had some great offensive linemen like Gary Brandt, Clyde Brock and Ted Urness. Overall we had a great offensive line and receivers like Hugh Campbell and Rhett Dawson. It seemed that every year if there were spots that needed to be filled we filled them.”

“The toughest guy I played against was Wayne Harris. He is probably the guy I had the best battles with and have the most respect for. He was a good, hard football player, and the best linebacker I ever played against. When we played them (Calgary) it was time to strap up everything. He won some. I won some. And some were a draw. But it was always a battle.”

Reed was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1978 and was inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame the following year. “It was nice to be inducted into the Hall and to know that no one else will ever wear your sweater number,” says Reed. “It’s really an outstanding reward for having a good career.”

After his retirement from football in 1975 Reed worked in sales and promotions for Molson Breweries for more than 20 years in Saskatchewan and Alberta. He returned to Regina from Calgary last year. Reed is married with a daughter who lives in Alberta and a son and daughter in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is involved in corporate events, The Special Olympics and does foundation work with The University of Regina. He is active in a number of other local initiatives aimed at assisting people and does a lot of work for the Roughriders in the public relations arena including helping the Green and White on game day.

“It feels great to be back in Saskatchewan,” says Reed. “I am able to assist with things in the community and living here gives me the opportunity to do that. It gives me lots of room to breathe.”