- Free Agency
Through his 12-year CFL career, Joe Montford came up with a variety of ways to bring down a quarterback.
Sometimes he’d just bulldoze his way over an offensive line and keep going when he got to his target. Other times they’d try to escape and he’d use a one-handed take down, looking like an out-of-patience parent snagging a toddler that’s trying to make a run for it.
He may not remember every sack over that time, but the best ones, Montford said, were the ones that came to him the night before a game.
“I had one against Kerwin Bell. I had a dream about it the night before,” he said.
“I was starting on the left side and I went all the way around to the right side and he came back and he was floating toward me. His little bit of force met my greater force.”
You can hear him going back to the hit as he describes it, one of 115 in a career that will be commemorated Thursday night in Hamilton when the longtime Tiger-Cat gets his No. 53 placed on the team’s Wall of Honour at Tim Horton’s Field.
“I kind of visualized how I was going to play,” Montford said. “We had some great tackles in the league. Some games it was more difficult and some games it was a really good day for me.”
His numbers show a lot of really good days. He’s tied for second all-time in the Ticats’ books for defensive tackles (460), sacks and fumble recoveries (18). A three-time CFL defensive player of the year (1998, 2000 and 2001) and a CFL and East Division all-star from 1998 to 2001, he came a half of a sack away from setting the single-season record in the 1999 season. He had 26. That’s more than last year’s one-two finishers, Charleston Hughes (11) and Victor Butler (10) had combined.
In April, he found out he’d be going on the wall. The spotlight has burned brighter on him this week, with the days ticking away and the memories of Ticats’ fans being sparked.
“It’s exciting. Somewhat overwhelming,” he said. “At the same time, just seeing coach (Don Sutherin) up there and looking at the wall here at the stadium and Less Browne and Earl Winfield, I’m just proud now to say I could be beside those guys.”
Montford is the first player to go onto the Wall of Honour since Tim Horton’s Field opened in 2014. He’s thrilled to be the first, but his memories, all of those dreams he had about chasing down quarterbacks when he played, all take him back to Ivor Wynn Stadium.
He remembers the tight quarters of the locker rooms and how visiting teams complained about its smell to him, every single game. He loved that. He remembers the enthusiasm his old teammate, Rob Hitchcock had for the team and the city. He remembers the fans, the Box J Boys in their kilts and hardhats in particular and how he could feel them lifting the Ticats up while trying to bury the visitors in their venom.
“It was a representation of the city,” he said. “I get emotional thinking about Ivor Wynn.”
He was a long way from his hometown of Beaufort, North Carolina, but the longer he played and the more he saw of Hamilton the more it reminded him of home.
“Beaufort, North Carolina. It’s down on the coast, a fishing town, farming town,” he said. “It was just those things where it’s hard working, blue collar people.
“It started from Day 1. My mom always said, ‘Wherever you are, totally invest in it.’ That’s where the love affair started.”
The Ticats would take him through the dark times first, falling from a playoff team in 1996 to a two-win team in 1997. They signed Danny McManus and Darren Flutie for the 1998 season and their fortunes began to change. They got to the the Grey Cup in 1998 and lost to Calgary, but avenged the loss a year later, winning the team’s eighth and to date, final Grey Cup.
“When we went and played Calgary the year before, we felt we had it,” Montford said. “They kicked a last-minute field goal and ended up winning. We were so hurt but at the same time we were more determined to wait for the next year. We knew the next year what was happening.”
Bringing the Grey Cup to Hamilton for the first time in 13 years was rewarding, but Montford said the memory of the fans in the days after the win is what sticks with him.
“It felt so great because I’d seen the dollars that people put out there. I’d seen the sweat that these fans put out there, just yelling and screaming all of that. The passion they had for their team to win.”
A close second for him? Crushing Toronto 27-6 in the East Semi-Final that year.
“The Argos, they felt like they were the best and to be able to stomp on them was awesome,” he said, still laughing at the memory. On Thursday he gets to live the dream one more time.