January 26, 2011
It appears that the long-rumoured retirement of the CFL's all-time receptions leader is set to come to pass. The Canadian Press is reporting that the Montreal Alouettes have called a press conference this afternoon for Ben Cahoon (pictured at right) to announce his retirement, and that's backed up by Globe and Mail Montreal correspondent Sean Gordon and The Montreal Gazette (whose Herb Zurkowsky first broke the news that Cahoon was looking at retirement a few weeks back. Even the CFL's own site is carrying the CP report, so this definitely seems likely to happen.
If he is in fact on his way out, Cahoon will leave an indelible mark on the city. He was an incredibly consistent receiving threat for the team since the time they drafted him sixth overall in the 1998 non-import draft, notching over 1,000 receiving yards in all but four of his 13 CFL campaigns. Those nine 1,000 yard seasons tie him for third all-time with Allen Pitts and Darren Flutie. Cahoon was named the league's Most Outstanding Canadian in 2002 and 2003, was the East Division's top Canadian in 2008 and 2009 as well, and was chosen as the Alouettes' top Canadian every year from 2002 to 2010. (Cahoon's Canadian qualifications are a matter for debate in some quarters, as he was born in Orem, Utah and spent most of his pre-CFL life in the U.S., but he qualifies as a non-import thanks to time he spent in Alberta during his childhood.)
Cahoon recorded 1,017 total receptions, a record for any import or non-import receiver, and he picked up 13,301 yards and 65 touchdowns along the way. He formed one of the CFL's most legendary quarterback/receiver combinations with Anthony Calvillo and was a huge part of the Alouettes' dynasty that made eight Grey Cup appearances during his tenure and claimed three trophies. It's easy to see why a Canadian 30 Rock character would opt for an Alouettes' poster, even if not everyone was as impressed with it:
In a case of life perhaps imitating art, the Alouettes are also due for some aesthetic changes this offseason. Cahoon's departure is a hugely significant one, and he will leave a gap on the field as well as on the marketing side; even in a limited role last year, Cahoon still had 67 catches for 703 yards, many of them critical ones on second and long. The team also lost returner/receiver Andrew Hawkins to the NFL, offensive lineman Skip Seagraves to retirement, defensive coordinator Tim Burke to Winnipeg and president Larry Smith to the Canadian senate. There are also still questions about Calvillo's recovery from surgery to remove cancerous cells in his thyroid, and the team's certainly going to look a lot different in 2011 if he joins Cahoon in hanging his cleats up.
It's far from time to take down the Alouettes' posters, though. Despite all the changes, what the Alouettes have been able to do so far this offseason is very impressive. They managed to prevent star free-agent receiver S.J. Green from jumping to the NFL or another CFL team, they hung on to head coach Marc Trestman despite significant interest from NFL and NCAA teams, and they kept offensive coordinator Scott Milanovich in the fold despite interest from other CFL franchises. They also brought back all-star import defensive back Jerald Brown, all-star import defensive end John Bowman, veteran import defensive end Anwar Stewart and Canadian fullback/long-snapper Martin Bédard, among others, and they acquired import wide receiver Prechae Rodriguez and import defensive end Claude Harriott. They've also filled the defensive coordinator spot with the promotion of linebackers coach Tim Tibesar, and appear set to fill the president's role with former Canadiens executive Ray Lalonde.
This offseason had the potential to be turbulent for Montreal with so many potential free agents and the rumours around coaching changes, but they've done a very impressive job of weathering the storm so far. Cahoon will be a loss, but his departure may give some of their receiving younger talent more opportunities to shine. #86's absence will certainly be notable in 2011, but the Alouettes' dynasty doesn't look easy to write off just yet. Winning is one thing that never proves tacky.