Dominick Gravel/Montreal Alouettes
Congratulations to Solomon Elimimian, John Bowman, Josh Bourke, Lloyd Fairbanks and Larry Crawford. Those five players make up the 2023 class for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, along with builders Jacques Dussault and Larry Smith. Completing the class are media members Vicki Hall, Jon Hynes and the late Chris Schultz.
Congratulations to all and I thought I’d pass along some personal reflections on this year’s class for this week’s MMQB.
» Solomon Elimimian, John Bowman headline 2023 CFHOF class
» Morris: Elimimian proves them wrong all the way to the Hall
» Get your tickets to the 2023 CFHOF induction
» Visit the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Museum
Elimimian gets his due
About two years ago, right after he announced his retirement, I made the case why Solomon Elimimian is the greatest linebacker in CFL history. Being inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility doesn’t hurt that case. For a guy who was doubted throughout his career, last week’s honour must be the final validation for one of the best defensive players this league has ever seen.
Elimimian is the ultimate example of why I always bet on athletes with something to prove. He was deemed too small coming out of high school. His career was said to be on the rocks multiple times after devastating injuries. The last of those incorrect assumptions came at the end of his career with the BC Lions, culminating in a messy divorce with the only CFL team he’d ever known.
I’ll never forget sitting down with Elimimian at a CFLPA event during 2019 Grey Cup week in Calgary. It was following his first year with Saskatchewan where Elimimian had proven doubters wrong once again. Due to pandemic-related circumstances, 2019 would end up being Elimimian’s final CFL season, which we didn’t know at the time. But I’ll never forget the intensity and conviction he spoke with on that November afternoon.
“I’ve always been doubted,” Elimimian told me. “I was an undersized linebacker coming out of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, only had one scholarship, NFL told me I was too small. 2010, my first year, first opportunity with the CFL, I was a CFL Rookie of the Year.
“I’m used to the hardships, I’m used to being in adverse situations and I tend to respond, you know, positively in those situations. With the right mindset you can achieve anything and you can always prove doubters wrong and prove yourself right.”
Hall makes history
It was beyond cool to see Vicki Hall make history…again. Already the first woman to serve as president of the Football Reporters of Canada and the first woman on the Canadian Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, Vicki is now the first woman inducted into the Hall. And, personally and professionally, it’s so well deserved.
I had the privilege to work alongside Vicki here in Calgary covering the Stampeders and Flames. Having gotten to know her, I always appreciated how she did her job the same way she conducted herself personally. It was all about connection and putting people first, which is why her storytelling was always so strong.
Side by side
It must be neat for John Bowman and Josh Bourke to enter the Hall at the same time. Both anchors on different sides of the line of scrimmage during Montreal’s glory years, Bowman and Bourke came up together, won titles together and now get to celebrate the ultimate honour together.
Bowman started his CFL career with the Alouettes in 2006, one year prior to Bourke getting his start with the team. Along the way, the pair combined for 16 East Division All-Star nods, four CFL All-Star selections and were parts of back-to-back Grey Cup championships in 2009 and 2010.
Bourke was a stabilizing presence all those years on Montreal’s offensive line. Bowman was a devastating force off the edge of the defensive line. And both are now very deserving Hall of Famers.
Putting his town on the map
In Alberta, the town of Raymond is well-renowned for its standard of football excellence. In a town of just over 4,000 people, Raymond High’s football program is a powerhouse that competes with schools with five and 10 times their enrollment. And it was 2023 CFHOF inductee Lloyd Fairbanks who helped put Raymond on the football map.
Fairbanks was a standout offensive lineman at Raymond High before starring in college at BYU and then for 17 years in the CFL with Calgary, Montreal and Hamilton. Fairbanks was twice named a CFL All-Star and was a division All-Star on seven occasions.
More recently, the CFL’s Ralph family of Brock, Brett, and Jimmy have been associated with the southern Alberta town. Numerous other Raymond High products have gone on to find success in the college ranks on both sides of the border. And it was Fairbanks who spearheaded Raymond’s strong football tradition.