November 07, 2010
Calgary Stampeders' running back Jesse Lumsden (pictured during his 2009 campaign with Edmonton, above left) could be a Shakespearean character, but only in a tragedy. Much like many of the Bard's greatest characters, including Hamlet (pictured, above right, as played by Sir Laurence Olivier in the 1948 film) he's exceptionally talented and displays tremendous promise, but is inevitably felled by his tragic flaw. In his case, that's the inability to remain healthy, and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have brought him low once again. Allen Cameron of The Calgary Herald reported today that the injury Lumsden suffered trying to block on a kick return Friday against Winnipeg is in fact a torn ACL in his left knee, and one that will require season-ending surgery. Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps, and some with brutal strings of injuries.
Lumsden may be fortune's fool these days, but it hasn't always been that way for him. He had a tremendous CIS career with Greg Marshall's McMaster Marauders and won the Hec Crighton Trophy as the top player in Canadian university football in 2004. He even received NFL tryouts with Seattle and Washington, and signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to much fanfare. Swift as a shadow (he was timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash), but with the size to pound the ball between the tackles (6'2'', 226 pounds), Lumsden had all the physical gifts that would suggest he was poised to be a CFL star. For a while, at least, he appeared poised to be master of his fate.
Lumsden also looked to be the first in a potential line of talented Canadian tailbacks; for all the debate around the lack of Canadian quarterbacks in the CFL, there's a similar debate to be had at the running back position. Star CIS tailbacks like Lumsden, those who came before him like Sean Millington, and those who followed him, like Daryl Stephenson and Mike Giffin, have often been given short shrift and forced to move to fullback or make their mark on special teams. Lumsden was one of the rare CIS products whose physical gifts were so undeniable that coaches had to give him a shot to carry the ball, and it looked like he might usher in a brave new world.
That wasn't to be, however. Lumsden's time in Hamilton was plagued with injuries and inconsistency. He showed flashes of brilliance at times, but was never able to meet his potential. Expectation frequently fails where most it promises, and that was certainly the case for Lumsden with the Tiger-Cats. It was even more the case when he signed as a free agent with Edmonton in 2009 with huge expectations, but suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in his first game. It seemed the tide in his affairs had passed him by without leading him to fortune.
Lumsden persevered, however, and found success as a player on an unlikely corner of the world's stage. With limited CFL interest in him thanks to his perceived fragility, he took up bobsleigh with astounding results, teaming up with legendary driver Pierre Lueders towin the Canadian two-man championship in 2009, claim gold at the European Cup last November and place fifth in both the two-man and four-man events at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. It was such stuff as dreams (and movies) are made on.
The stage appeared set for Lumsden's triumphant return to football. There were rumours that he'd sign on with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who were notably short of depth at running back behind Fred Reid. Instead, he chose Calgary, despite the Stampeders already having two capable running backs in Joffrey Reynolds and Jon Cornish. Lumsden didn't complain, though, and quickly went from the practice roster to special teams to carrying the ball against Hamilton last week. He looked very good on the four garbage-time carries he received, picking up 40 yards and a touchdown, and it looked like he had come full circle and returned to his role as a tower of strength.
Lumsden always wore his heart on his sleeve, though, and that may have proved his undoing. Many wouldn't give a full effort on a special-teams play in a meaningless game that was firmly under control, but not Lumsden. His effort saw him hoist with his own petard, as he tried to strip Brandon Stewart on a kick return, bent his knee the wrong way and blew out his ACL.
In terms of what his loss means to the Stampeders, Lumsden's injury is more akin to the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern than Hamlet. He's only a minor character on their team these days, and his injury happened off the big stage with barely a mention. The far more important news for their playoff hopes is that Cornish (injured on the same play) is expected to be fit for the West Division final in two weeks. However, entire stories have been fashioned around minor characters, and at times there is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. As Cameron points out, Lumsden did everything the right way in his return and was truly making an impact on his team. Will this be the last time he takes arms against a sea of troubles, or will it be once more into the breach next season? That is the question.