February 10, 2011

CFHOF: Unlikely duo share induction with family

Jim Mullin

At first glance, it would seem that these two inductees into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame share little in common. Look a little closer.

Three-time Hec Crighton Trophy winner Chris Flynn of Saint Mary’s University and two-time Grey Cup Champion and 1968 Most Outstanding Lineman Ken Lehmann of the Ottawa Rough Riders have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Both have taken different routes to be recognized in Canada’s pigskin pantheon. However, both play on the same team of sorts. Lehmann is Flynn’s uncle.

The doors were opened for the pair after the Hall embarked on a two-year process where the terms of reference for induction were redrafted.

The CFHOF reexamined why and how some very distinguished players of the past never made it to Hamilton. As a solution, the veteran players list was created for players who may have been undeservedly passed by.

In addition, the Hall created an amateur subcommittee that recommends three outstanding players for selection based upon their university or junior careers. This measure was taken not only to honour deserving players from the legions of the CIAU, CIS and CJFL, but it also serves to dispel the myth that the hall represents only CFL players and contributors.

Flynn said the induction of both of them to the Hall as players, initially perplexed his uncle Kenny.

“He thought it was the CFL Hall of Fame too, and he was confused when he heard my name was included with the other inductees,” Flynn said.

“He told the Commissioner, ‘Chris Flynn? That’s my nephew!”

Flynn says the surprise is a welcome one. 

“He hasn’t played for 40 years and I haven’t played for 20 years, so it is kind of odd that we’re getting inducted at the same time,” he said.

Regardless of the route to the Hall, both enter as full members in the player category.

Flynn is the first modern-era amateur player to be inducted into the CFHOF since it opened in 1962. Gordon Perry, who played in the 1920s and 1930s, was inducted as an amateur player in 1970.

For those who did not witness the most honoured player in Canadian university football, they missed the man who created the improvisational blueprint that would later be employed by Doug Flutie in the professional game.

Flynn quarterbacked the Saint Mary’s University Huskies from 1987 to 1990, led SMU to a 27-2 regular season record, four AUAA championships and two Vanier Cup appearances. He was a four-time AUAA All-Star QB, and a three-time CIAU All-Canadian QB. He held the CIAU (now CIS) records for most TD passes in a season and career and was the leading rushing QB in CIAU history.

From 1964-1971, Lehmann was at the heart of the Capital Punishment defense, which was the backbone of the most dominant era of the Ottawa Rough Riders.

Lehmann participated in a total of three Grey Cup games with the Rough Riders, and won two in 1968 and 1969. He was chosen as an Eastern All-Star five times throughout his career and All-Canadian four times. In 1966, Lehmann was the Eastern finalist for the Schenley’s Most Outstanding Lineman Award and subsequently won the award in 1968. 

Lehmann was quick to spread praise to his defensive teammates like Marshall Shirk, Wayne Giardino and Jerry “Soupy” Campbell when asked about his induction.

With the offensive stars that played in Ottawa during that era – Russ Jackson, Ron Stewart and Whit Tucker, just to name three – some of the achievements of the guys on the defensive side of the ball may have been lost in the shuffle.

“I hear of all of these awards being handed out over the years that go to the offensive players. We got kind of used to them not going out to the defensive players, you know?” Lehmann chuckled.

He took a breath, and assumed a more serious tone.

“I kind of felt that I was left behind. And I was told that after 20 years (of eligibility) they’d never bring it back.”

Lehmann is grateful – and somewhat vindicated – that he, along with other veterans, has been presented with a second chance for the Hall.

“It feels good, and it’s been rewarding. Especially going in with my nephew in the new college category they brought in this year.”

Lehmann played middle linebacker during a golden era in Canadian football in that position.

The Kentuckian patrolled the middle in the Big Four’s most dominant defence at a time when two hall of famers, Wayne Harris in Calgary and Tom Brown in BC were setting the standard in the West.

Flynn credits Lehmann for getting him involved in the game.

“I’m from Buckingham, a small hockey town in Quebec, so there was not a lot of football,” Flynn recalled. 

“But my Uncle Kenny definitely got my parents into football, and so my whole family became big football fans too. He is a big reason I’m heading to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, so it’s fitting that I’m going in with my uncle.”

There is another family who can celebrate Flynn’s induction. It’s the university football family across Canada.

“It is an honour for CIS to be part of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame recognition,” said CIS Chief Executive Officer, Marg McGregor. “It offers outstanding visibility to the deserving inductees, and it is great to see the Hall recognize the important role of university football in Canada.”