Charles Roberts – a CFL Great
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. That started out with the Saskatchewan Rouhgriders legend George Reed. Then moved on to another past superstar, the Edmonton Elks (then Eskimos) star Johnny Bright.
Now we turn our attention to another CFL great of the ground game. ‘Blink’ and you’ll miss him, a man who really made a name for himself in Winnipeg, Charles Roberts.
Charles Roberts makes his mark in Winnipeg
Coming out of Sacramento State, where he had set a number of records, Charles Roberts went into the pro ranks as a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
At 5’6″ perhaps the Winnipeg staff didn’t see him as a featured back. Instead the plan was to focus on special teams.
He excelled on special teams too, in his rookie season he had 45 kick returns covering 981 yards (21.8 yards per return), and 82 punt returns netting 782 yards and 2 touchdowns. Roberts picked up the John Agro special teams award for his efforts. He was also named the East Division’s Most Outstanding Rookie.
The special teams play had been what the team had hoped for. However his play at running back was a bonus. In his rookie season he had 107 carries for 620 yards (5.8 ypc) and a touchdown. Not to mention 27 catches for another 288 yards. A total of 2,671 yards and 3 touchdowns – not a bad rookie season!
Becoming the featured back: a six year run
Roberts became the number one back for the Blue Bombers in 2002. He delivered straight away. With 1,162 yards on 216 carries (5.4 ypc). Alongside 55 receptions for 613 yards and a total of 11 touchdowns between ground and air.
In fact, Roberts would reel off six consecutive 1,000+ plus yard season, including four of them over 1,500 yards. His peak was from 2003-2006 when 1,157 carries netted 6,309 yards (5.5 ypc) 23 touchdowns.
Roberts led the league in rushing yards in 2006 with 1,609 yards and 10 touchdowns.
He left the Blue Bombers as the CFL’s fifth all-time leading rusher with 9,987 yards on 1,853 carries for a career rushing average of 5.4 yards per carry.
He reamins the Blue Bomber’s all-time leading career yardage champion, passing the legendary Leo Lewis in 2007. He’s also second in club history in combined yards (17,528) and touchdowns (79).
When he left Winnipeg, Charles Roberts held club recotds for most rushing yards in a career with 9,987, most 1,000 rushing yards in a career with 6, most 100 rushing yard games in a career with 37, most rushing attempts in a career with 1,853, and most rushing touchdowns in a career with 64.
Breaking 10,000 Yards
In Joe Smith, Winnipeg got a man who was the previous season’s leading rusher and key piece in the Lions’ Grey Cup victory in 2006. It seemed Winnipeg were chosing power over speed – but it was a sad day for fans to see ‘Blink’ go.
Which is why the Blue Bomber’s all-time leading rusher found himself breaking the 10,000 career yards plateau in orange and black.
In Spetember 2008, he took a handoff from QB Buck Pierce and sprinted for the 13 yards needed to reach the milestone.
At the time he became only the fifth player in CFL history to reach the milestone. He still sits fifth on the CFL all-time lists with career 10,285 yards rushing. Andrew Harris, who ironically has made a name for himslef so far with BC and Winnipeg, is the closest current player on 9,661 yards. Perhaps if and when Harris bridges the gap it will focus thoughts back on Charles Roberts.
The heart was in Winnipeg
In 2009 an achilles injury had triggered Roberts not having his contract renewed. He was not happy about the trade to BC either.
“I was hurt when I got traded. I’m human like anyone else. I fully expected to end my career in Winnipeg,” Roberts was quoted as saying.
Second in club history for all-time combined yards (17,528) and touchdowns (79) to Milt Stegall (who gave him the nickname Blink) he had fond memories of his time in Manitoba.
When he was inducted into the Blue Bombers Hall of Fame he was at peace stating, “I had a good career but my career wouldn’t have been what it was without my teammates, great coaching.”
Charles Roberts: The Awards
Roberts was a special teams All- Canadian in 2001. Then named All-Canadian at running back from 2002 through to 2007.
He was named as a Divisional All-Star each of the first seven years of his career from 2001 to 2007.
He has also enjoyed six straight CFL All-Star seasons between 2002 and 2007.
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: Charles Roberts tosses a ball at practice in Winnipeg on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 24, 2004. (CP PHOTO/Winnipeg Free Press-Joe Bryksa)