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55 Yard Line

Chris Williams breaks record for return touchdowns in a season—at the halfway mark

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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Chris Williams runs past Jeff Johnson en route to a record-setting TD Monday.

History was made early in Monday's Labour Day clashes, with Hamilton Tiger-Cats' receiver Chris Williams taking a 47-yard Swayze Waters punt back 82 yards for his sixth return touchdown of the year. That marked a new CFL record, as the previous high was the five return touchdowns Gizmo Williams (no relation) recorded with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1991. It also marked a new record for returning punts for a touchdown in three straight games. Of course, there were some differences between the two performances; for one thing, Gizmo Williams' return touchdowns that year all came on punt returns, while one of Chris Williams' touchdowns this season came on a ridiculous 119-yard missed field goal return. Thus, while Chris Williams has set the overall return touchdown record (not the "record for kick return touchdowns" CFL.ca describes it as; Williams doesn't even return kickoffs, which are the only thing scored as "kick returns"), he only tied Gizmo's single-season punt-return TD record (and that appears to be the only one in the official record book, as per page 172 here). Gizmo also had to deal with teams punting directly out of bounds rather than kicking to him, something that's now tougher to do thanks to a rule change that penalizes it. Still, even with all the context, it's incredible to see a season-long record sort shattered less than halfway through the year.

For comparison, here are a couple of videos of Chris and Gizmo Williams in action:

What Chris Williams has accomplished this year is nothing short of miraculous, especially on punt returns. Heading into Monday's action, he had returned 33 punts for 527 yards, an average of 16.0 yards per attempt (second-highest in the league, and ahead of everyone with more than one return). That sort of consistency on punt returns can really change a team's field position, and that marks a major reason why the Tiger-Cats were leading the league in scoring with 29.5 points per game heading into this week's action. As the TSN panel discussed at halftime, Williams' accomplishments have completely changed how teams approach the Tiger-Cats, from not attempting long field goals to committing some no-yards penalties on punts to prevent long returns.

You have to wonder what would happen if Williams was put to work on kickoff returns, too; he's the only one of the league's top return men who doesn't handle those, a major reason why he's fifth in combined return yardage (and over 500 yards behind the top four), and although Sam Giguère has been reasonably effective (averaging 20.2 yards per kick return), Williams' potential there is tantalizing. He's dominated on the punt and field goal returns and has proved effective as a receiver too, recording 652 receiving yards (third in the league) and five touchdowns on 41 catches (15.9 yards per catch), so who's to say that he couldn't be a quadruple threat? Of course, that might lead to more moments where he loses his lunch:

Still, Chris Williams has proven to be a special player, and he's sure making an impact in what's only his second CFL season. If not for his second Leon Lett moment earlier this year, he'd have broken Williams' record last week. As it is, he still has nine further games to shatter the punt-return mark as well, and he could rewrite a lot of the CFL record book while he's at it. Williams is a player to watch for in every Hamilton game, and seeing as he's already broken a 21-year-old record with half a season left, you have to wonder what he'll do for his next trick.

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