Earlier today, I wrote about former CFL QB Art Schlichter's gambling struggles and how they, like the transgressions of Josh Boden, Trevis Smith, and Adam Braidwood, show that CFL players aren't perfect. It's important to keep the flip side of that in mind too, though, as there are some terrific role models around the league. Two of them are going to stick around the CFL for at least another year; Saskatchewan offensive lineman Jeremy O'Day announced his retirement Tuesday, but will remain with the team as their football operations coordinator, while star Winnipeg defensive tackle Doug Brown (seen above chasing down Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant Sept. 5) announced today that he'll be returning to the Bombers for his eleventh CFL season this year.
O'Day had a tremendous 14-year CFL career, primarily playing at centre but occasionally filling in at other spots. After a successful NCAA Division II career at Pennsylvania's Edinboro University, he joined the Toronto Argonauts in 1997 and helped them beat Saskatchewan in the Grey Cup that year. He turned in another solid season in Toronto in 1998 before signing with the Roughriders as a free agent in 1999. Over the next decade in green, he started 202 regular-season games and was a critical part of the offensive line that took them to a 2007 Grey Cup victory and Grey Cup appearances in 2009 and 2010. He also received plenty of individual accolades for his work, earning six West Division all-star nods (including one for the 2010 season) and three league all-star selections.
O'Day's career will also be remembered for his leadership, both on the field and off it. As the team's centre, he carried much of the responsibility for reading defensive fronts and adjusting blocking schemes accordingly. He served as a valuable presence in the locker room as well, and was one of the Riders' player representatives with the CFLPA (the southbound Andy Fantuz was the other one, so they're going to need to select two new player reps this coming year). That experience should serve him well in his transition to the front office. O'Day additionally spent plenty of time giving back to the community, and he was recognized with the league's Tom Pate Memorial Award for his charity work in 2008 (pictured at right).
At 36, O'Day probably could have played for at least another year or two, but he said the chance to move into a front-office role played a key factor in his decision. It's great to see a long-time player rewarded for his service to the team, and if O'Day's tenacity and leadership on the field is any reflection, there's a good chance he could bring a lot of value to their front office as well. He clearly has a pretty good sense of humour, too; here's what the 6'3'', 300-pound O'Day initially gave as the rationale for calling his press conference Wednesday:
"I've actually decided to switch positions and play slotback,'' O'Day told the media while referring to the recently departed Andy Fantuz, who signed with the NFL's Chicago Bears on Friday. "I'm going to wear No. 83. With my hands and speed, we won't be missing anything at all.''
Brown, a product of Burnaby, B.C.'s Simon Fraser University, has had a legendary career of his own, and it's nice to see that it isn't over quite yet. He's been the Bombers' most outstanding Canadian player for the past five years and earned the league's Most Outstanding Canadian award in 2001. He's also a seven-time league all-star, picking up one of those selections this year. I didn't particularly agree with that call, but Brown definitely had a good season, recording 49 tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble. If 2010 is any indication, he can certainly still play at a high level.
Don't underestimate the value of his veteran leadership or his importance to the team and its fans, either. Brown, 36, has been with the Bombers since 2001, and has been one of the few constants in an organization that's seen a lot of change over that time. He's helped to develop talented young players and has been a great ambassador for the club; he can also write quite well, as his regular columns for The Winnipeg Free Press showcase. It wouldn't be surprising to see him eventually follow in O'Day's footsteps and move into an executive role once he decides to hang his cleats up, but that decision won't come this year. With O'Day moving into football operations and Brown coming back, it's terrific to see two prominent players who reflect much of what's great about the CFL stick around.