The six newest inductees to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame were announced Thursday, and all of them (except famed St. Francis Xavier coach Don Loney, who's being inducted posthumously as a builder) took part in a media conference call Thursday evening. There were plenty of notable comments from each about their careers and what Canadian football meant to them. Here's a look at some of the highlights of that call.
Dan Ferrone, who had a great CFL career as an offensive lineman (mostly with Toronto, but he also spent a year with Calgary) said he's still pumped up about this honour. "It's so exciting; I'm part of history," he said. "It's the Hall of Fame for all of Canada."
Ferrone said there are tons of memories from his decade-plus of CFL service (he played from 1981-1992), but some of the most notable came from the legendary 1991 Argonauts. Owned by Wayne Gretzky, John Candy and Bruce McNall, that team made a massive impact on the CFL both on and off the field. "It was an extraordinary time," Ferrone said. "I got to shower and dress amongst movie stars.
It would have been easy for the 1991 team to get divided by egos or caught up in the hype around them, but Ferrone said the camaraderie they shared was remarkable. "The 1991 group was an extraordinary group that came together," he said. "It was a very exciting year." They went on to win the Grey Cup in the brutal cold in Winnipeg (temperature at kickoff was -16 Celsius), and Ferrone said one of his enduring memories is of his son eluding security and joining the team in the locker room celebrations. He said the whole year was remarkable, though, especially the buzz that developed around the CFL in Toronto.
"It was a very exciting year, a very different year in the CFL, especially in Toronto," Ferrone said. "We were able to turn around and make the Cinderella ending, winning the Grey Cup."
He said some of his fondest memories are of his teammates.
"The people that you play with give you all the memories."
Memorable receiver Earl Winfield shone for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for a decade, recording 573 catches for 10,119 yards and 75 touchdowns, but he said his teammates played the key role in helping him succeed.
"It's not just me, there's so many people who helped me accomplish what I did," Winfield said.
One of Winfield's most notable days came in the 1988 Labour Day Classic against Toronto, where he scored touchdowns on a punt return, a kick return and a reception, but he said it was the efforts of his comrades that got him there.
"There were 11 other guys blocking, making the right blocks," he said. "My teammates had a lot of faith in me and I had a lot of faith in them, and that's where I think my success came from."
Famed receiver Brian Fryer was inducted into the Hall thanks largely to the strength of his university career, but he said what made his election particularly remarkable was that he didn't even play receiver for his first two university seasons with the University of Alberta Golden Bears. "I was only a receiver for two of my four years," he said, adding that he didn't play much in his rookie season and was mostly used at running back in his second year. When Fryer was put at receiver, he went on to be one of the Canadian university game's most dominant receiving weapons.
However, Fryer almost didn't wind up playing football north of the border at all. He said he wasn't sure what he wanted to do out of high school. He impressed during a tryout with the hometown Edmonton Eskimos, though, and they helped him line up a scholarship at Colorado State. It was a quirk of fate that prevented Fryer from heading to the NCAA, though. "I went to write the SATs and it was the wrong day," he said. That led to him enrolling at the U of Alberta instead and becoming a star with the Golden Bears.
Fryer was later only the second Canadian drafted out of the Canadian university ranks by the NFL, and after a stint with the Washington Redskins, he returned to Edmonton and played for the Eskimos. Injuries plagued him throughout his CFL career, but he was a part of the Eskimos' legendary teams that won five straight Grey Cups from 1978-1982. Fryer said he particularly enjoyed playing with star quarterbacks like Tom Wilkinson and Warren Moon: "I had a great career and a lot of good quarterbacks who could throw the ball."
Fryer said he still follows the CIS game today, but the players' fitness has improved dramatically since his university days.
"They've got personal trainers, they've got workouts in the offseason," he said. "It's a whole different ball of wax from when I was playing."
Long-time CFL official Jake Ireland officiated 555 games across 29 seasons and worked 16 Grey Cups, making him one of the league's most notable referees, but he said he never expected to be inducted into the Hall.
"I'm incredibly shocked, surprised and completely flummoxed by this," he said. "When the commissioner phoned, I asked if he could prove who he was."
Miles Gorrell's career is remarkable, as he spent 19 CFL seasons in the trenches on the offensive line from 1978-1996. Many figured he might not wind up there, though; at 6'8'' and close to 300 pounds, Gorrell was considered to be a guy with the size to perhaps play in the NFL. He chose the CFL, though, and said he's very happy he never looked elsewhere.
"At the time I was playing, there wasn't a lot of difference in the pay scale," Gorrell said. "I was suited for the CFL and enjoyed it."
Gorrell said he's thrilled with how his career turned out.
"I'd never look back and say 'What if?'" he said. "I have always believed in the CFL."