Is the bell tolling for Ben Cahoon?

It's a decision that many had anticipated for some time, but it still comes as a bit of a shock. Herb Zurkowsky of The Montreal Gazette reports that according to a source, legendary Alouettes receiver Ben Cahoon (pictured at right with the Grey Cup during the Alouettes' Dec. 1 championship parade) is expected to hang up his cleats for the last time this offseason. Here are Zurkowsky's exact words, from his Als Inside/Out blog:

A reliable source told Als Inside/Out that Cahoon's days in Montreal are over. While the 38-year-old is expected to retire, that's not necessarily carved in stone.

Earlier this week, Cahoon told he believes he could play at least another season or two. But several Montreal players have been told Cahoon won't be returning to the team in 2011.

Presumably, we'll discover in the days ahead whether Cahoon, in fact, is retiring from professional football or merely the Als. Any CFL player who "retires" before training camp is eligible to return at any time during the season.

If Cahoon is in fact riding off into the sunset, he's going out at the top. As Ian Busby writes, no one's left the CFL after winning back-to-back titles since Doug Flutie in 1997 (non-coincidentally, the last time any team repeated as Grey Cup champions). Moreover, Flutie was headed to the NFL; Cahoon presumably would be taking off the jersey for good. There aren't many who go out with that kind of success.

Whether he retires now or later, Cahoon will leave an incredible legacy. In 2010, he set the CFL's all-time receiving record with his 1,007th catch, passing the legendary Terry Vaughn in the process. Cahoon went on to make 10 more catches, finishing with a total of 1,017. It's not like he was limping through a final role, either; despite only recording two touchdowns this season, he finished with 67 catches for 703 yards and was a crucial part of the Alouettes' squad that claimed its second-straight Grey Cup. He played an important role in that title game, too, coming up with three catches (tied for third on the team) for 34 yards.

Some people will undoubtedly ascribe Cahoon's record-setting totals to his longevity, and that's partially true. The numbers of people who have played 13 CFL seasons aren't incredibly high, and that certainly was a factor in Cahoon winding up with the receptions record. However, it's worth noting that football longevity isn't particularly easy, especially when you make your living running crossing routes and taking big hits. Cahoon took plenty of punishment, but managed to stay quite healthy, only playing in less than 16 games of the 18-game schedule in 2005.

It's also notable that Cahoon wasn't just about putting up a few easy catches at a time; he notched over 1,000 yards in all but four of his CFL seasons, was named the Alouettes' MVP in both 2006 and 2007 (extremely rare for a receiver), recorded 65 touchdowns, was selected as a divisional all-star 10 times and a league all-star three times, and was named the league's Most Outstanding Canadian twice. He also teamed with Anthony Calvillo to form one of the league's most memorable quarterback-receiver pairings and made plenty of incredible catches along the way. Here's one of his most legendary, the CFL's version of the Helmet Catch, from July 1, 2009:

And his own personal highlight reel:

Cahoon hasn't always been the easiest guy to get a handle on for many. Despite being born in Utah and attending Brigham Young University, he counts as a non-import or Canadian player thanks to spending a good bit of his childhood in Alberta. That's sparked some resentment at times from people wondering why he's able to count towards the non-import quota on a roster. Cahoon also hasn't often been the most open guy with the media, and he made headlines last year for his dislike of playing football on Sundays (he's a Mormon, and he doesn't like to miss church). It's worth noting that beneath the rough exterior lies a good heart, though, and one of the most prominent things showcasing that was how Cahoon went with head coach Marc Trestman to visit Tony Proudfoot after the Als' Grey Cup win this year. Many players would be focused on the parties, or on getting back to their families; Cahoon instead took the time to go meet with a dying legend.

In my mind, Cahoon is a player to be celebrated, and he's an example of what's so neat about the CFL. He's listed as 5'9'', 185, which is a large part of the reason why he wasn't really considered as an NFL receiver when he came out of college in 1998. The NFL's seen the benefits of shorter players lately, but it's taken quite a while. Moreover, Cahoon's always been known more for his hands and his toughness than his top-end speed; some players, like Wes Welker and Andy Fantuz, have found success with similar attributes, but much of football player evaluation continues to be about measurables rather than what you can do on the field. Cahoon is proof that unlikely players can find incredible success if given the chance, and the CFL has historically been a league that prides itself on providing those chances. If this really is it for Cahoon, he should be remembered both as one of the greatest receivers ever to suit up in this league and as a huge component of one of its most legendary dynasties.

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