I love the history of pro football, and I love the CFL. Which is why in the past on the 99 Yards website CFL pages we have looked at some of the greats of the game. So far, we have looked back at a variety of special teams players, defensive superstars and quarterbacks. (See end of article).
But what about the workhorses? The men ploughing an offensive furrow on the ground? I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the great CFL names in that area of the game. After all, UK based NFL fans with a love of the history of the game can tell you plenty about men like Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Marion Motley, Marshall Faulk, Emmitt Smith and so many more.
Well I am here to tell UK based gridiron fans that the 3 down game has a pantheon of its own. Sitting at or near the top of that pantheon is Saskatchewan Rouhgriders legend George Reed.
George Reed: a one team legend
Looking back at the history of the league there have been some great running backs. But George Reed captured the hearts of one set of fans in particular. A 13-year career (1963 to 1975), was played entirely in Roughriders green and white.
Reed joined the Roughriders in 1963 as a rookie out of Washington State University and won the starting fullback’s job. There were some NFL offers, but he remained in Saskatchewan and became a team legend.
But how good was he? Well a look at the Roughriders’ all-time rushing records gives a clue. For in there we can see that Reed holds the teams records for most career rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns. 3,233 carries producing 16,116 yards on the ground and 134 rushing touchdowns.
However you look at it those are pretty impressive numbers. At the time of his retirement Reed was the League’s all-time leading rusher, and he still sits in second spot. But compared to other Roughriders it’s no contest. He has 2,329 more career carries and 11,355 more yards than second place man Wes Cates.
But the dominance does not end there. George Reed also sits first, second and third all-time in rushes per game. First, second and fourth all-time for rushes per season. As well as having posted six of the top ten highest single season rushing yardage numbers in team history, (he sits first, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and ninth for this one). Oh, and most rushing yards in a single game for the Riders? George Reed – rushing for 268 yards against the BC Lions in 1965.
Making a difference to the team
Before George Reed arrived the Roughriders were without a Grey Cup win. In fact, until the year before he arrived they had been in a slump. From 1959-1962 they posted a 16-44-4 record. They had not been to the Grey Cup since 1951.
But 1963 signaled a new era for the green and white. For that was when George Reed arrived, and QB Ron Lancaster was picked up from the Ottawa Rough Riders. The two would become synonymous with an uptick in the franchise’s fortunes.
Every year of George Reed’s Saskatchewan Roughriders career saw the team make the playoffs. During that time they would appear in ten Western Finals, and qualify for four Grey Cups. But the greatest moment came in 1966. Prior to that the Roughriders had been to the Grey Cup on multiple occasions and lost out every time.
But 1966 was different, they finally got their first Grey Cup win. And how did they do it? At least in part through George Reed. Reed had 31 carries for 133 yards including a 31 yard touchdown scamper. The bulk of his yardage came after halftime as Saskatchewan wore Ottawa down and the Riders won their first Grey Cup 29-14.
In fact Reed and the Roughriders would dominate the CFL West Division. Taking the regular season honours for three straight years between 1968 and 1970, never winning less than 12 games in any of those 16 game seasons.
They would not win another Grey Cup however until 1989, so you can imagine how important that 1966 team became to Saskatchewan fans.
George Reed: The awards
After such a legendary career you would expect plenty of accolades. Which is exactly what George Reed got. Reed, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 11 of his 13 seasons was named All- Western 10 times (1965-1969 & 1971-1975), as well as a CFL All-Star 9 times (1965-1969 & 1971-1974).
Following a breakout 1965 season that saw him carry the ball 274 times for 1,768 yards (6.5ypc) and 12 touchdowns he was named League MOP. The following year, he was named Grey Cup MVP.
George Reed was also the first recipient of the Tom Pate Memorial Trophy, which is presented annually by the CFLPA.
In 1972, before the end of his career, Reed was named president of the CFL Player’s Association. A position he retained until 1981. He worked with numerous community groups, had his own foundation, and was presented the Order of Canada in 1978.
Reed had his number 34 jersey retired by the team and was an inaugural member of the team’s Plaza of Honour.
Beyond the running backs
Special teams players we have looked at have included kickers Paul Osbaldiston, Lui Passaglia, Bob Cameron and Dave Cutler. As well as legendary returners Michael “Pinball” Clemons and Henry ‘Gizmo’ Williams.
Players make the game and great players make up part of the rich fabric of the history fo the game. So if you want to know more why not pick some out and take a look?
Banner Image: Bona Fide Roughriders legend George Reed. Image from Riderville.com