John Bowman stood on the field at Molson Stadium in Montreal two weeks ago and felt his past and present collide. A 14-year member of the Montreal Alouettes and now in his second year as the BC Lions’ defensive line coach, his former team celebrated him and other Montreal-connected figures that are a part of this year’s Canadian Football Hall of Fame class.
What put the moment and Bowman’s emotional state over the top was that for the first time, his father, Charles Warwick, was there with him. After a 30-year career in the U.S. military, then a 25-year run as a post office worker, he was finally able to get to Montreal and see the world that his son had built for himself.
“He started crying,” Bowman said earlier this week from Surrey, after the Lions had finished up practice.
“Just to see who I was as a football player and not always seeing me on the west coast for a road game, that meant a lot for me, for him. To see the smile on his face when people say, ‘Hey man, your son, he inspired me,’ or ‘He’s the best player I’ve seen,’ stuff like that. Just to see the look on his face meant the most for me.”
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His father saw first-hand someone that had built a hall of fame career and a life in Montreal. As Bowman is set to be inducted into the Hall on Friday night, his connections to his fellow inductees — and the city he spent all those years in — run deep.
From Bowman to Josh Bourke, to Jacques Dussault, Larry Smith and Lloyd Fairbanks, there is a strong Montreal and Quebec presence in this year’s class, both in the player and builder side.
Bowman — the CFL’s seventh all-time leader in quarterback sacks and a veteran of 230 regular season games with the Alouettes — has a connection to almost all of them.
“Going in with Josh, we sharpened each other every day,” Bowman said.
“Every day we went to war. In the off-season we trained together. We made each other better every day and you need that.
“Larry Smith was the president of the Alouettes at the time. There was a golf tournament and he was like, ‘Hey, John, how’s everything back in North Carolina?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, this is the president of the team. How does he even know who I am?’ They made it like a family thing. He would come to practice and we would rub shoulders and talk about stuff all the time.
“This class…I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Fairbanks (who played for the Als for four years after spending his first 11 seasons in Calgary), but the people that I know and I’ve met, it’s very special and a big honour for the Alouettes.”
Bowman isn’t the first American player to have his eyes opened to the CFL and the city and country that he plays in through his career. He has one of the more unique experiences, though, of learning the nuances of the Canadian game through a Montreal and Quebec-specific perspective. Quebec is its own pipeline of football talent with a distinct grassroots setup, right through to post-secondary. Once Bowman made Montreal his full-time home, those things became abundantly clear to him.
“When I started to live in Montreal full-time I realized their affinity for the game of football, starting with their underage peewee level football all the way through to CEGEP and on to university,” he said, delving into the world of another Montreal-based inductee in Jacques Dussault. “There’s the University of Montreal, University of Laval and how they really love football in Quebec. Then you realize that’s why there are so many Quebec players in the CFL. It went hand-in-hand.”
That appreciation of the game helped him feel at home in Montreal. He’d go to gyms in the off-season and people would recognize him as he worked out. When he wanted to skate and pick up hockey in the off-season, Montrealers welcomed him into the fold.
“It was cool because they knew who I was. And they knew who the Alouettes were and they knew that we represented not just Montreal but all of Quebec,” Bowman said.
Outside of the Montreal connections, Bowman is thrilled to be inducted with Solomon Elimimian. While the two never played on a team together, they were contemporaries in the league from 2010 through the 2019 seasons. Both first-ballot entrants into the hall, the two worked together and grew close in their time working together on the CFL Players Association as well. Elimimian is the president of the group and Bowman served as vice president.
“Me and Solly from 2016 until 2021 when I got the job with BC, we talked every day,” Bowman said.
“That only strengthened our communication, our connection because I already had respect for him because I’d seen him as a player. How we went to work every day, yeoman-like work, playing through injury and suiting up for the majority of his career. That was kind of the way I modelled my career, so I had a massive respect for him from afar as a player.
“When I became a part of the union, part of the committees and stuff like that, that’s when my respect for him grew stronger because I knew what he stood for as a man, not just as a football player.”
Bowman laughed when he was asked about where he was with his induction speech, which he’ll give on Friday night in Hamilton. This week will mark the third hall of fame he’s been inducted to, but he admits that this one — being named one of the greatest in a league that’s over a century old — is something special. His prep for his speech has made him appreciate some things he’d forgotten about.
“I talk about it all the time. It’s not just for me. It’s for my teammates and everyone that helped get me to this point,” he said.
“You start thinking about the times, you feel nostalgic. It puts your body and puts your spirit in that timeframe. I reached out to a couple of my old homies and some of my old sponsors from back in the day to thank them also, for helping me out when…I mean, nobody knew who I was,” he laughed.
“I had a clothing sponsor when nobody knew me. I definitely reached out to them and stuff like that. It definitely brings up some good memories.”