Thu Nov 25 07:32pm EST
This morning's media breakfast with the Roughriders produced plenty of interesting stories. I already covered Jerrell Freeman's story of receiving $100 from a fan after saving the day for Saskatchewan in the West Final, but much more went on. As usual, the media star of the day was Eddie "The Most Interesting Punter In The World" Johnson (pictured at right being interviewed by TSN), who's becoming one of this year's best characters and definitely gives off a California vibe. For more background on him, check out the pieces from Bruce Arthur and Michael Grange.
Johnson said he's loving the Grey Cup experience.
"I'm totally enjoying every second of it," he said. "I'm just trying to soak up as much of the atmosphere as I can. Maybe I'll even get a little in my moustache, save it for later, you know?"
Johnson's most recent job may have been tending bar in Laguna Beach, California, but he's hardly a football neophyte. After a tremendous college career at Idaho State, he bounced around the NFL, appearing with seven different teams from 2003 to 2008, and then wound up with the Argonauts in 2009 before getting cut in the offseason and heading back to California to work as a bartender before his midseason call from the Roughriders. He said he'll take playing football over tending bar on the beach, though.
"This is way cooler, although I do like making a couple of drinks every once in a while," he said. "Especially coming to the Grey Cup, this is a blast."
Johnson said he prefers the CFL atmosphere to the NFL one.
"It's more loose and light, you know?" he said. "The problem with the NFL sometimes is it gets too stiff."
He does miss the beach, however.
"Yes, although I'll be back there very soon," Johnson said. "Please tell her I miss her."
Johnson's a bit of an iconoclast on the team in terms of his musical preferences, too.
"Motley Crue, Van Halen, like the David Lee Roth [era] Van Halen, Whitesnake, I love all that stuff," he said.
That isn't exactly the music preferred by many of his teammates, so Johnson has his own solution.
"I just don't even deal," he said. "I put on my iPod and listen to my own jams, you know? I squashed that right there, putting on my own music if I don't like what's on."
Least you think Johnson's more style than substance, he did say that although the Grey Cup events are fun, he's looking forward to the game more than anything else this week.
"That's the biggest thing," he said. "It's going to be awesome to come out of that tunnel with all those fans."
It's not like Johnson's some sort of isolationist rebel, either. His teammates and coaches seem to have a lot of respect for him. Freeman said the Roughriders' locker room has a variety of characters, and that adds to the team.
"Eddie, he is a character, man," Freeman said. "He's a great teammate. And then there's Tad [Kornegay], who's nothing but jokes, and Mike McCullough, another linebacker. The locker room is so upbeat, it's nothing but laughs and smiles, but when it comes down to crunch time they know what they're supposed to do to get the job done. There are a lot of good friends, a lot of good smiles on this team."
Special teams coordinator Jim Daley also had plenty of positive comments on Johnson. He was particularly impressed with Johnson's punting performance in the West semi-final against the B.C. Lions, where Johnson boomed eight punts that averaged 45 yards.
"To come in there and deliver eight punts with a 4.3 hangtime was amazing," Daley said.
Johnson's punting performance against Calgary last week wasn't as impressive statistically (eight punts, a 38.9 yard average, some quite short ones), but Daley said much of that was thanks to the cold.
"Warming up the kicker last week, we blew up seven balls," he said.
Daley said Johnson's been an excellent performer for Saskatchewan this year, especially considering that he was acquired midseason.
"We were fortunate Eddie was available," Daley said. "He came in and he's filled in nicely."
Other notes from the Riders' breakfast:
— CFL commissioner Mark Cohon (pictured, furthest right) sat at a table with myself and (left to right) Rider president and CEO Jim Hopson, fullback Stu Foord, Freeman and offensive lineman/long snapper Jocelyn Frenette, and he had some interesting news. Frenette asked him about the Winnipeg stadium situation, and Cohon said construction is continuing and there's expected to be an announcement on funding later this week.
— Middle linebacker Barrin Simpson was pretty pleased with his personal performance this season, and said age isn't taking a toll on him. "I think this was one of my best seasons. Going out there, it's getting easier because you know what to do, what to prepare for and how to prepare in the off-season. It's much easier now as a ten-year vet than it was as a five-year vet. ... I like to say I'm like fine wine, I get better with age."
— Simpson isn't too upset about missing out on his seventh league all-star selection, though. "I've done that time and time again. I'm a six-time all star. The most important thing to me is winning a championship. ... I'm not worried about individual accolades, I'm worried about winning a championship. That's what counts to me."
— Simpson said the talent of Montreal's offence will make them tough to stop. "They present a lot of problems. You've got to prepare for anything. They've got a lot of weapons, Cobourne, that receiving corps, and right now the guy I think is the best player in the league, Anthony Calvillo. We've really got to go after him and bring that pressure to him."
— Frenette, a Montreal product and a former Ottawa Gee-Gee, still actively follows the CIS game and is hoping to catch Saturday's Calgary - Laval Vanier. He played for Calgary head coach Blake Nill briefly at Saint Mary's before transferring to Ottawa, and he's been impressed with what Nill's done with the Dinos.
— Hopson's also looking forward to that game. He's a proud believer in the CIS product and developing Canadian talent, something the Riders have done very well recently. He also is excited about the Grey Cup - Vanier Cup pairing next year.
— Foord's an interesting story, as he's one of the few players in the CFL who came from the junior football ranks rather than CIS or the NCAA. He's also an avid cook who makes most of his own meals (he specializes in Chinese and Mexican cuisine, but wants to try cooking sushi), and he's one of the Riders' snappiest-dressed players.