October 11, 2010
Today's Calgary - Montreal clash certainly didn't live up to its potential, finishing in a 46-19 drubbing of the Stampeders. Oddly enough, that was almost a mirror image of the 46-21 thumping they gave the Alouettes at home last week. It's a shame that two of the CFL's best teams weren't able to play at a high level at the same time in consecutive weeks. Still, despite the general drudgery of the game, there were two transcendent moments: Montreal slotback Ben Cahoon making first his 1,006th reception to tie Terry Vaughn's CFL record, and then hauling in his 1,007th reception to become the CFL's all-time leading receiver.
Cahoon caught the record-setting pass in the second half after the game was long out of reach. It came on a short crossing route like many he'd run before, but he showed great ability to haul it in and then pick up nearly enough yardage for a first down. Yards after the catch are a crucially important element of receiving, and they're something Cahoon has excelled at over the years, so it's nice that he was able to break the record on a solid football play instead of a pass that only gained two or three yards. Video of the play is available here.
The CFL showed its class and uniqueness after the catch, stopping the game for a presentation to Cahoon by Commissioner Mark Cohon and Alouettes' president Larry Smith. It was a great way to recognize the significance of what had happened and give the 102nd consecutive sellout crowd a chance to acknowledge the man they fondly know as "Ben CAHOOOOOON". Cahoon (pictured above acknowledging the cheers) received a small plaque and a picture of himself, with a larger one to come. The ceremony was short and to the point, so it didn't delay the game unnecessarily, but it provided a true highlight to take both the live and televised audiences out of the doldrums this blowout might have caused.
It's been a long and winding road for Cahoon (pictured at right during this game) before getting to this point. Born in Ogden, Utah, he spent a good bit of his childhood in Southern Alberta (which is why he is considered a non-import under the CFL's roster rules). He played high school football in Orem, Utah, then spent two seasons playing junior college football at Ricks College (now Brigham Young University - Idaho) before transferring to BYU. He was part of the legendary 14-win 1996 BYU team and caught passes from Steve Sarkisian (who also went on to play in the CFL with Saskatchewan before starting his coaching career, and is now the head coach at the University of Washington).
Cahoon really got his chance to shine in 1997 as BYU's top receiver and averaged almost 85 receiving yards per game.He was then picked sixth overall by Montreal in the 1998 CFL draft and started to shine almost immediately, catching 33 passes in his first season for 471 yards. Following that, he posted at least 800 yards every season from 1999 to 2009, and he may yet hit that mark again this year. As a devout Mormon, he doesn't like Sunday football, but the rest of the CFL has suited him just fine.
One of the most remarkable things about Cahoon's success is that unlike many CFL players, his entire professional career has been with one franchise. By contrast, Vaughn played with Calgary for four years, Edmonton for the next five, then spent a year in Montreal as Cahoon's teammate and finished his career in Hamilton in 2006. That's a far more typical CFL career arc, and it says a lot about Montreal as an organization that they've always been interested in keeping Cahoon around and willing to go the extra mile to do so.
What's even more amazing is that almost all of Cahoon's career receptions have come from one man, Anthony Calvillo. After stints with the Las Vegas Posse and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Calvillo signed with Montreal in 1998. He initially backed up Tracy Ham, but started taking more and more reps as the season went on and never looked back. The Calvillo to Cahoon combination has become one of the league's all-time best, and it remains in full force this season, producing highlights like this one:
In a TSN interview after today's game, Cahoon said Calvillo's consistency at quarterback and unparalleled field vision have been crucial to his success.
"He's just been great," Cahoon said. "He throws the ball where it needs to go, whether you're the closest to him or the furthest."
Fearlessness has always been key to Cahoon's success. A lot of his receptions have come on short crossing routes over the middle, which often result in the receiver taking big hits. That's never bothered Cahoon, as you can see on this play where he lays out for a catch in traffic going over the middle in a 2007 game against Saskatchewan :
Cahoon told TSN young receivers need to focus on getting their receptions as well as getting along with their quarterback.
"Just stick with it, be persistent, go out and catch a lot of balls every day," he said. "Get to know your quarterback, take him out to dinner."
He said he's patterned his style on some of the league's best receivers over the years.
"I sure enjoyed playing with Jock Climie," Cahoon said. "I learned a lot from him, as well as Terry Vaughn and Darren Flutie. I tried to mimic them a bit and add that to my game. Those are the guys I spent extra time watching."
Cahoon (pictured at right in action today) is obviously still playing at a high level, and he was a key part of the Alouettes' Grey Cup victory last season. He is 38 this year, though, so it's unclear how long he'll keep playing football; his contract expires at the end of this season. He told TSN that he hasn't decided yet if he'll be returning for another season or not.
"I'm not prepared to announce anything one way or the other," he said. "We'll give it until after the year, see how the body feels and see if we're up for another."
If Cahoon does decide to hang up his spikes, he'll certainly have left his mark. In addition to his CFL receptions record, Cahoon has more professional catches than all but four legendary NFL receivers: Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison. The leagues are obviously very different, but that kind of longevity is incredibly impressive.
What's perhaps even more impressive is that Cahoon has continually made stellar catches, though, and he's still doing that. That suggests he can certainly still play at this level. Yes, some of those receptions are short outs, but many more are highlight-reel plays. If Cahoon does indeed retire, the CFL will be far worse off without amazing plays like last year's "Helmet Catch":
We could use more of that in the CFL. Congratulations to Cahoon on a legendary career so far. Regardless of if he plays another season after this one or not, he'll be a pleasure as always to watch down the stretch.