Maybe to you, Nik Lewis and Ben Cahoon were always different kinds of receivers. Maybe you don’t think of them as being similar at all. Even if that is true, there is at least one thing you’ll agree they always had in common. Catchin’ the damn ball.
Lewis, the charging bull of a receiver who muscled his way though most of his career with the Calgary Stampeders before joining the Montreal Alouettes two years ago and Cahoon, the diving, Hall of Fame receiver who spent the entirety of his CFL life with the Als, have a date with destiny on the horizon.
Different but still the same, Lewis and Cahoon are about to meet at the historic intersection of Clutch Avenue and Catch Drive. That could happen very soon, maybe even as soon as Friday night, when the Alouettes play host to the Toronto Argonauts.
Cahoon vs. Lewis: By the Numbers
Lewis, in his 14th CFL campaign (third with Montreal), is inching closer to the league’s all-time receptions mark, held by former Lion, Blue Bomber and Roughrider Geroy Simon. With 1,011 career catches, Lewis is eighteen shy of Simon’s perch at the top of the mountain and on his way to the summit, he will have to pass Cahoon, the No. 2 man in the record book with 1,017.
Averaging a little over five and a half catches per game in 2017, Lewis is on target to at least tie Cahoon on Friday night and he is aware of the significance of that possible moment, coming as it might, in Montreal.
“I think the first person I really started chasing in this league was Allen Pitts,” said Lewis, reflecting on the great names he’s leapt over as he’s ascended the career receptions ladder. “Getting past Pitts (the great Stampeders receiver who finished his career with 966 catches), that was a big one. And now to get to Ben – someone we battled against a lot – to be a part of that is awesome. He’s a great man and was a great player.”
Thirty-six hundred kilometres away from Montreal, Cahoon will probably spend a lot of his Friday night going over film or studying game plans as he fulfills his duties as receivers coach for Brigham Young University. He’s not sure if he’ll be able to see any of the Als game against the Argonauts, but Lewis will be on Cahoon’s mind nevertheless.
“I’ll definitely be keeping tabs,” said Cahoon. “I’m excited for him. It’s a big time accomplishment.”
Lewis and Cahoon are thinking of each other these days, even if they don’t know each other all that well, personally. There has been a little communication between the two, this season, and Cahoon tweeted “keep showing those young bucks how to get it done the right way,” to Lewis last month.
BEN CAHOON CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
Grey Cup Champion x3
Grey Cup Most Valuable Canadian x2
CFL Most Outstanding Canadian x2
CFL All-Star x3, East Division All-Star x10
13,301 career receiving yards (7th all-time)
1,017 career receptions (2nd all-time)
Nine 1,000-yard receiving seasons (4th all-time)
If he’s at all melancholy about being collared on the receptions list, it sure doesn’t show up in his voice. Instead, Cahoon is filled with praise about the man charging up from behind.
“I have a ton of respect for Nik Lewis,” Cahoon said. “He’s a grinder, he’s a playmaker. He’s been very consistent over the years and a valuable leader for his team.
“They’re always looking to get younger and get cheaper so the fact that he has lasted and continued to contribute and bring value is a big time tribute to him,” said Cahoon of the 35-year-old Lewis. Cahoon, by the way, knows a bit about longevity and warding off the young hotshots, having played until he was in his 39th year. No wonder they have an abiding respect; both know the challenge of keeping whippersnappers at bay.
The two were familiar enough by virtue of watching each other play, their careers overlapping for seven campaigns until Cahoon retired after the 2010 season. Even if they are not thought of as carbon copy receivers, their styles did have some common qualities, what with each of them known for putting their body on the line in order to make receptions. Both thrived in the over-the-middle maelstrom. Cahoon often crashed heavily to the turf after flying through the air in an effort to make a stab. Lewis – whose early career featured the same kind of occasional flash – is legendary because of his punishing running style, one that leads to big collisions and yards after the catch.
“I would say no,” replied Lewis when asked if he saw any familiarity between his game and Cahoon’s. “I would say, really, just our hands when you look back at it. Don’t have to have a lot of attempts because they’re gonna bring in the attempts they have. When I think of Ben I think of that consistency. Of being able to catch the tough catches and the easy catches.”
“The similarities are that we’re both short guys,” said Cahoon. “And I think we were able to get the most out of our bodies by just finding a way to make a play. For me, it was making tough catches and going across the middle and I think the same is true for Nik.”
Lewis celebrates one of his 71 career TDs. Lewis could move into second all-time in receptions on Friday (Dominick Gravel/Montreal Alouettes)
If Lewis does in fact take over the No. 2 spot on the all-time list on Friday night, it will be an appropriate venue for the feat, what with Cahoon’s name adorning a facade inside Percival Molson Stadium. On July 29, 2016, the Alouettes honoured Cahoon, retiring his familiar No. 86. Lewis was there, in his second season with the Alouettes.
“To be there on the night that he got his name put up in the rafters of the stadium, to be playing that night, being able to talk to him, it was a good feeling,” recounted Lewis.
Making the move past Cahoon on Friday night, or in the games that follow, Lewis would then set his sights on Geroy Simon’s all-time record, all the while being thankful for the man he leaves behind as well as the one left that he pursues. Watching both Cahoon and Simon as opponents left a positive mark on Lewis’ psyche.
“To be able to see those two careers for as long as I did, it definitely had an impact on my career at the time,” he said.
“To be able to achieve those standards and set my own, new standards is amazing.”
Lewis adapts a style that makes sense
Lewis admits that his style has changed over the years but claims that he still has the speed and that he can occasionally turn on the jets and
get by defenders, sometimes doing so in practice. He’s pragmatic, though, not seeing it as the main tool in his arsenal.
“The funny thing is, people don’t ever see me run because I never choose to run,” Lewis said. “If you know you’re not outrunning people, there’s no reason to run full speed, that’s just the bottom line.”
Instead, Lewis gathers in a reception and then either attempts to bowl over a defender or – as we see on a fairly regular basis – jump over
them like a hurdler. Again, common sense comes into it for the veteran receiver. He knows that his zeal for a collision has been cause for
defenders to attack him differently, knowing they’ve got a big battle if they take him on chest to chest.
“There’s a lot of people that go low,” he said. “Me jumping is to protect myself. It’s not like I wanna go and jump over people. So, I’m
either gonna take a lot of knee damage and damage to my legs or I’ll jump over people.”
Nik Lewis performs one of his patented hurdles vs. the Blue Bombers during a game in 2017 (The Canadian Press)
“I don’t really think,” Lewis said about making conscious decisions during a play. “I trust my instincts and everything and that allows me
to use muscle memory to get through a play. Once I get the ball in my hands, there’s never really a thought process of what I’m going to do.”
While he admits that the looming record will probably take up some more room in his mind when he gets to within about 10 catches, Lewis
maintains that it is not a distraction for him right now.
“I don’t think about it. I just try to continue to just work and keep going. I try not to think about it as much as possible.”
The man known for constantly giving himself new nicknames has not yet crafted one that would be fitting for his status as a receptions king. In fact, at first he seems surprised by the question.
“I guess when you get to the top of the mountain you gotta…”