clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Rock Chalk Canuck Hawk!

New, 23 comments

Canadian Football is a peculiar, two downs and a missed field goal still somehow winning a game worth of fun, but it's a much needed antidote for people like me who suffer from the summer onset of Non Football Season Affective Disorder. As a Kansas Grad it helps that the current king of Canadian running backs is a fellow Jayhawk.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

This is the absolute worst period of the sports year...

NBA and NHL, come on already!

After subjecting their fans and players to 82 regular season games they let more than half of the league's teams into the playoffs anyway before then dragging those playoffs on like a compulsive and incompetent gambler strings out their long ago wasted kitty. "Just one more. Just one more game. I swear it's my last!"

Both leagues started playing in October and have yet to crown a champion. Even the makers of the board game Risk think this has gone on long enough.

And baseball... 162 games of four hours of televised crotch scratching and fidgeting with gloves, and meetings on the mound, and throws back to first base, and throws back to first base, and then another throw back to first base...

For a football fan, this time of year can feel like being stuck on a whaling ship crawling across the doldrums of the south Pacific. Too far away from the place you left to return, and too far away still from where you're going.

When it comes to sports, for me, it's football and then everything else. That's probably odd to read on a University of Kansas site, given that basketball is the school's flagship sport. As an LFK resident since the age of seven and a Kansas grad, basketball is very much ingrained in my being, but even so, football is still the king of my sporting state of mind.

In 1991, when I was 11 years old, I found a drug to level out my summer time football withdrawal induced hallucinations and shakes. The Canadian Football League.

Back then the games aired on ESPN, and after '93 ESPN 2, during the dead, boring summer sports season. I was staying up late one night and came across a re-broadcast of the Edmonton Eskimos vs the Ottawa Roughriders. The Roughriders' quarterback was Damon Allen, younger brother of Marcus Allen, whom I was well aware of with an older brother as a diehard Los Angeles Raiders fan. Up in the CFL Marcus' little brother was an absolute baller (Forget Mike Vick, Cam Newton and even Randall Cunningham, Allen was arguably the greatest run/pass QB threat in pro football history). The game was an exciting 40-33 shootout, and more importantly it was on in July! Football was on in July!

It was a strange and alien form of football: field way too wide and long; goal posts in the front of the endzones, right in the way and ready to blindside someone; too many men on the field (12); wide receivers running at the line of scrimmage before the snap like they had an inability to stand still for three seconds; no 4th downs; the ability to score a point on a punt or even a missed field goal; too few teams playing too many games; and ridiculously cheesy announcers who "ooed" their "ou's" and felt the need to refer to every team with a nickname: "Argos", "Ti-Cats", "Eskies", "Riders", "Stamps," etc.

None of it mattered. It was football in the summer. The pop of pads, long bombs, monster runs, it was still better than no football and good enough to sustain me until college and the NFL fired back up in late August.

Monday, June 8, the Canadian Football League will begin its 2015 preseason.  For Jayhawks fans, even non football obsessed degenerates like myself should give the league a look, because the best running back in the Canadian game right now is a Kansas Jayhawk himself. Since walking through the Campanile in 2007, Jon Cornish has gone on to become the Gale Sayers of Canadian ball.

Cornish isn't the first Jayhawk to travel north and obtain greatness on the field. Willie Pless went from an All American performance at linebacker for the 'Hawks to becoming the widely considered greatest defender in the history of the CFL. Pless was an American boy though, Bama born and bred before making his way to Lawrence. The tiny stature of Pless, the tackling machine, the only thing that kept him out of the NFL.

Cornish on the other hand is a proud Canuck.  He wound up at the University of Kansas after one of Mark Mangino's assistant coaches came across a highlight package Cornish put together himself and sent to the states hoping for a chance to play big time football. Cornish was an unstoppable force as a player for St. Thomas More, up in Burnaby, British Columbia. Blessed with the size and speed of an NFL back, Cornish bullied his way through more wide opened Canadian defenses stocked with smaller linebackers, averaging 15 yards a carry on his way to 2,136 yards and 31 TDs as a high school senior.

Taking over for Terry Allen's trainwreck in Lawrence, Mangino got Cornish down to Kansas, desperate for any speed he could land. In 2002 though, Cornish was lost for the season during offseason mini camps. After his medical redshirt, Cornish barely sniffed the field, buried on the depth chart behind Clark Green and John Randle.

However, just before the 2005 season an opportunity presented itself for Cornish when Randle was dismissed from the team by Mark Mangino after showing no ability to stop beating on people all around Lawrence.

Cornish didn't waste his chance. During his Junior season, despite playing second string to senior Clark Green, Cornish led the Jayhawks in rushing yardage and TDs while averaging a school record 5.8 yards a click. For his efforts, Cornish was awarded the John Hadl Trophy as the most outstanding offensive player on the Jayhawks.

That 2005 season Cornish played a huge role in the Jayhawks snapping the 38 year losing streak to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Cornish's 72 yard TD run to blow a tight game wide open should be played before every pregame video compilation at Memorial Stadium right along with Todd Reesing's fourth down TD pass to Kerry Meier against Mizzou.

I know this came in 2005, during Nebraska's disastrously experimental phase with Bill Callahan, but as a Kansas fan who'd been attending Jayahawks games since the age of ten at Memorial Stadium where I'd witnessed the 'Hawks endless abuse at the hands of the Huskers, when Cornish took this run to the house and that bell started tolling...

I think Donald Glover accurately depicts my feelings...

In December of '05, Cornish's brilliant performance in the Fort Worth Bowl paced the Jayhawks en route to a 42-13 crushing of the Houston Cougars - Kansas' first bowl victory in a decade.

After his junior season, CFL teams wanted Cornish to come home to play ball. Because there is no shortage of American football players who may not make it to the NFL but are still good enough to play pro ball, many of them head to Canada. In order to keep Canadian players from being muscled out their own national game, each of the nine teams in the CFL are allowed only 20 "international" (i.e. American) players on a roster of 44. They call it the "Import Ratio." Seeing as how most of the best players in the Canadian game are American born, when a Canuck like Cornish proves himself capable of balling in a big time American college football conference, then CFL teams rush to snatch those native sons up, which the Calgary Stampeders did in selecting Cornish with their first pick of the 2006 CFL Draft.

Cornish opted to return to Kansas for his senior season, and the chance to prove himself NFL worthy. As the starter for the first time in his college career, Cornish eclipsed the 100 yard mark in eight of Kansas' 12 games on his way to 1,457 yards, a single season KU record, which also topped the the Big XII Conference that season. A year after helping KU snap it's long losing streak to Nebraska, Cornish ran all over the Huskers in Lincoln in a game the 'Hawks let slip right through their fingers.

That 2006 season makes me sick to think about. Jon Cornish's First Team All Big XII performance was wasted, done in by piss poor quarterback play. Kerry Meier was in an out of the line-up due to injuries. Starting with that game against the Huskers the Jayhawks lost four games in a row in which they held a fourth quarter lead. The slump was thanks in large part to Mangino's decision to stick with Adam Barmann over pulling Todd Reesing's redshirt - something Mangino was finally forced to do in an effort to save bowl eligibility in a game against Colorado where Barmann's career at Kansas mercifully came to an end and Reesing gave everyone a glimpse of what was to come.

With stabilized QB play and Cornish's running, Kansas won three games in a row, highlighted by Cornish's 201 yards in a 39-20 win over Kansas State to secure Kansas' second straight bowl eligible season. Had Kansas held on in Lincoln, and won just one of those other three games during that season killing stretch, the 'Hawks would have been at Arrowhead Stadium facing Oklahoma in the first Big XII Title game in Jayhawk history.

As it turned out, Cornish and the Jayhawks were not even given a bowl invite. Cornish went undrafted in the 2007 NFL Draft, and though he had free agent offers from various NFL teams, he felt his best bet to build a meaningful career would come back in Canada.

He signed with the Calgary Stampeders who still held his rights from the previous year's draft. Used sparingly in his first three CFL seasons, Cornish made a name for himself in 2010 playing behind Joffrey Reynolds, the Stampeders all time leading rusher. Together they formed the best one-two running punch in the CFL. In '10 and '11 Cornish averaged 7.3 yards a carry and by the end of '11 it was clear that his homerun hitting big play ability demanded more playing time. He eclipsed Reynolds as the team's leading rusher, and by the end of the season ran him off the team altogether.

In his first year as a starter, Cornish matched his senior season at Kansas' rushing total with 1,457 yards, which led the CFL. In 2013 he followed that up by nearly posting 2K on his way to wrapping up the CFL Most Outstanding Player Award. Last season, in spite of being hobbled by injury early and playing in just nine regular season games, Cornish led the CFL in rushing due in large part to his insane 7.8 yards a carry. Cornish's strong finish helped the Stampeders win the 2014 Grey Cup (the Canadian Super Bowl).

In 2015, for Cornish in the CFL, the best is probably yet to come. The CFL is pass happy as hell, and they advertise themselves as such. Truth is though, the fact that teams spread themselves out so wide on that oversized CFL field, the CFL rulebook mandated full one yard off the line of scrimmage D-lineman have to take, and small defenses full of linebackers the size of NFL safeties crafted to stop the pass, the league is actually ripe to be ripped to shreds by a strong running game. In fact, the last three Grey Cup champions have realized this.

In 2013 the Saskatchewan Roughriders rode Kory Sheets' NFL caliber running ability to a championship. Midway through the 2012 CFL season Toronto Argonauts Head Coach Scott Milanovich started feeding something called a Chad Kackert 20+ carries a game and Kackert carried the Argonauts from a team about to miss the playoffs to their first championship since the days when little Doug Flutie was running around slinging balls up in the Rogers Centre.

Neither one of those guys can hold a candle to Cornish's ability. If Cornish can stay healthy, and if you're jonesing for football like I am, tap into the WatchESPN app for some of these CFL games and give him a look or two this season. You won't be disappointed. He's up there in Alberta making the Crimson and Blue proud.

Thank God for the return of some form of football. And Rock Chalk Canuck Hawk, eh!

If you feel so inclined, shoot me an email at - j.m.winmore@gmail.com - or follow my work on The Free Ranged Word and for LFK Magazine.