Eskimos Sidelines: Remembering Roman; tackling hunger; answering the call to the Hall
What is it about football and professional wrestling that have made them so cohesive over the years?
From Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson to Angelo Mosca, Ron Simmons, Gene Kiniski, Jim Duggan, Brian Pillman, there are too many to name. And those are just former Canadian Football League players who have crossed over to the squared circle.
On Friday, it was the Edmonton Eskimos’ turn to welcome back a brief but bright flame from the 2008 season, as Joe Anoa’i went on to become Roman Reigns, one of the biggest superstars in World Wrestling Entertainment at the moment.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a pro wrestling fan, but I do appreciate that their job is very difficult and demanding, and I am very aware of the man who’s come into our building, having played as a teammate with him,” said Eskimos head coach Jason Maas, who was a quarterback with the club during Anoa’i’s lone season of pro football. “So, obviously very excited about him coming back here, us bringing back the old Eskimo guys, it’s been pretty neat to reminisce.
“So, very thrilled that he’s gone on to some great things in his life and in pro wrestling, because it is a big thing. I know how huge it is for a great many people who enjoy that sport. It’s great entertainment.”
Of course, it’s not for everyone.
“I don’t watch a lot of WWE, I’m more of an MMA fan,” Maas said. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the entertainment they provide, they’re tremendous athletes, so obviously you could see why Joe would go down there and do what he’s done.
“Generally, it’s football players or (amateur) wrestlers that go in and do that kind of stuff because, man, it’s a demanding sport. It’s tough, I have a lot of respect for those guys.”
Back then, no one around Commonwealth Stadium couldn’t have predicted what was in store for their former teammate.
“That was a long, long time ago. And he was a defensive player, I was an offensive player, so it’s not like we used to spend a lot of time together,” Maas said. “But I do recognize him, do remember him here.”
It makes you wonder if the next rising star of the wrestling ring is currently sitting in a CFL locker-room.
“In our room right now? That’s tough to say,” Maas shrugged. “Off the top of my head, I would probably say someone like a Colin Kelly would probably do it. That would be my guess.”
He might only have played a handful of games for them over a decade ago, but what followed Anoa’i’s time in Edmonton has led to a tale for Eskimos lore.
“Cal(vin McCarty) told me a funny story,” said Eskimos quarterback Trevor Harris. “(Anoa’i) was saying something like, ‘Man, I’m going to be done with this and go do WWE.’ And Cal was like, ‘Come on, man. You’ve got to be realistic.’
“(McCarty) was like, ‘Dude, he got cut. He got a sack and the next game, he got hurt. And three weeks later, I see him coming out (to the ring on television),” Harris added, imitating an explosion of pyrotechnics. “He was like, ‘What were you doing here in the first place?’
“It was funny to hear Cal tell the story. Cal’s been around for a while.”
With former Eskimos defensive captain J.C. Sherritt retiring in the off-season, third-year Eskimos D-lineman Kwaku Boateng has become the club’s new face of Purolator Tackle Hunger.
“To be able to be the person that comes after him is obviously an honour,” said Boateng, who visited the Edmonton Food Bank this week. “And it’s a big honour that I’m able to go support a community that comes out every weekend to support us.
“Whenever I get the opportunity to give back, it’s obviously something that this team and I want to do.”
While a final tally from Friday’s game wasn’t available at press time, the program has helped deliver nearly 5.5 million kilograms of food to food banks across Canada since 2003, with 49,000 kg raised locally during last year’s Tackle Hunger night at Commonwealth Stadium.
HALL OF FAME
Former Eskimos receiver David Williams was among seven players officially inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame during a ceremony Friday at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.
Williams, the 1988 CFL Most Outstanding Player, played with the Eskimos in 1991, before going on to win the Grey Cup that year with the Toronto Argonauts.
In and out: Aside from Anoa’i, former Eskimos OL Simeon Rottier and Justin Sorensen, as well as defensive tackle Eddie Steele were in the stands Friday.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge