First & 10 | Catching up with Hardrick

There is no concrete scientific formula outlining the high probability that this was bound to happen but, let’s face it, this was bound to happen…

Take the announcement the Canadian Football League and XFL were getting together to discuss ways to ‘collaborate, innovate and grow the game of football’ and couple that with the current climate for both leagues – the CFL working to play a 2021 season, the XFL putting their 2022 campaign on hold pending talks with the CFL – and anyone with even a fleeting interest in either circuit would begin connecting dots.

And, by connecting dots, we mean speculating, gossiping and rumouring about a simple exchange of ideas to grow the game – as the press release indicated – to a full-on merger of the two leagues, to the complete abandonment of all the Canadian rules, to jerseys soon to sport nameplates like ‘He Hate Me’ (see XFL 1.0) to the planned installation of ropes surrounding all playing surfaces with turnbuckles featured every 10 yards for some good ol’ head-smashing as part of the new sideshow.

OK, we made that last one up.

Still, this is exactly what results when an announcement like this is made. The rumour mill doesn’t begin slowly gaining momentum, it spins right off its axis.

So it was earlier this week when a Twitter account with around 400 followers – the United Football Players Association – posted an ‘update’ suggestion that according to ‘multiple sources, including former and current league coaches and executives’ indicated the CFL will cancel its 2021 and 2022 seasons.

Within just a few hours the CFL’s communication department issued a statement refuting the report:

 


Look, I understand the proliferation of websites, blogs and just people with opinions who like to Tweet can blur the landscape a bit when it comes to ‘breaking news.’ And it’s also true that while journalism professionals are taught to ‘get it first, but get it right’ that commandment isn’t followed religiously by many who just want to get the retweet and like numbers rolling on their ‘hot takes.’ It’s just the world we live in right now.

Yet, all of this certainly doesn’t help assuage the concerns of those who work for or in the CFL, especially the players.

That was in the back of my mind when I reached out to Jermarcus Hardrick this week to record a bluebombers.com Zoom chat. Hardrick, the popular right tackle, has always been honest and upfront about the emotional and financial challenges he’s faced with the cancellation of the 2020 CFL season, from missing his teammates and the game he loves, to taking on various odd jobs to help make ends meet for his family.

That didn’t change when we caught up with him in Lincoln, Neb. this week.

“I’m missing football, working 3-4 jobs, my wife is working a job at night, the kids are going to school,” said Hardrick, “and we’re just doing what everyone else is doing – we’re getting to paying our bills and taking care of our family.”

Let it be said that Hardrick is a big believer in the ‘control what you can control’ mantra. And that approach can be both empowering and serve as a bit of a security blanket at times like these where we’re all watching COVID-19 case counts and vaccine rollout numbers with scheduled CFL training camps set to open in May fast approaching.

“I’m basically staying ready,” said Hardrick. “I don’t know what we’re going to do, when we’re going to play, but I know we’re going to play. We’re not going to go two years without playing, so I’m making sure I’m ready, making sure the guys around me are staying ready, making sure my group that I talk to and the leaders I talk to with their position groups are relaying the messages down… make sure we stay ready.

“We’re eyeing a May start and if that doesn’t happen, stay ready. If we start in June, stay ready, if we start in July, stay ready. Whenever we start, stay ready and we should get a chance to play.”

If only we could all stay that positive during these turbulent times.

More from the man they call ‘Yoshi’ and other notes, quotes and anecdotes in this week’s edition of 1st & 10…

1. It’s been said in this space before that Hardrick has the kind of upbeat attitude that can be infectious. We’ve even mentioned to him before that given his life story – he grew up without much in Mississippi but was positively influenced by his hard-working mother – he could double as a motivational speaker.

We asked him again in our chat about the foundation of that upbeat attitude.

“I never forget where I came from,” said Hardrick. “I don’t remember the age where we finally got cable. I don’t remember when we finally had running water. I was at school and people were talking about shows, I didn’t know what they were talking about. We only had the news channel or PBS Kids.

“When people talked about taking showers… showers were foreign to me. For us to take a bath growing up we had to go get a pot of water and boil it. This stuff scarred me and even when it rains, my scars don’t come off. This stuff will never leave me.

“Every day is a holiday, every meal is a banquet. Any time I think about rough times or think it’s hard on me I think about going outside to get that pot of water to boil it to take a bath or wash dishes.

“… All those little things just make me appreciate life so much more. Now that I have kids and just being able to give them more than I had or show them more than I had they’ll be better off by the time they’re my age. That’s my goal and that’s what I look forward to every day.”

2. For what it’s worth, here’s Hardrick when asked for his thoughts on the CFL-XFL talks:

“I’m taking it with a grain of salt,” he said. “I know everyone is waiting on the 2021 season and I just can’t see us playing any XFL (teams) this year. As for the talks down the road, I don’t mind it at all. I’m just ready to play ball. I miss Winnipeg, I miss the guys… I miss it all and I know you guys do, too.”

3. By the way, the Hardick Zoom call interview should be up on bluebombers.com next week. In our Quick Hits questions near the end he was asked which actor would play him in a story about his life. He mentioned one of the characters from Green Mile – we couldn’t remember the name – but it was the late Michael Clarke Duncan.

And asked what position he would like to play other than right tackle, he suggested the defensive line.

“I would love to be a defensive lineman,” he said. “I would love to do what people do to me all the time. I would love to game plan against an offensive lineman. I would love to just run up field and run into a man who’s going backwards… I just wish I could give an O-lineman a taste of what a D-lineman gives me.”

4. Shameless Plug Department: in case you missed our previous Zoom calls, here are the latest ones:

5. There’s a lot of stuff out there right now regarding the CFL-XFL discussions. Some if it is just verbal diarrhea, some of it well thought out and insightful. There are XFL fans and websites discussing the possibilities, too. Those interested might want to check out these links:

A look at how an XFL-CFL merger might work

An XFL fan’s primer to the CFL

And this one on the XFL’s possible plans for 2022

6. One thing the CFL-XFL announcement has done is generate a lot of conversation in this country. Some of it good, some of it bad. There are many traditionalists who don’t want the CFL to head down this road with the XFL and others who are intrigued by the possibilities.

No matter where you stand on the topic, there is a lot to consume out there. Here is long-time columnist/media personality Stephen Brunt, who did a hit on ‘Tim and Friends.’ If you want to listen to just the CFL part, fast-forward to the 13-minute mark.

“It’s not like the business model is perfect,” said Brunt of the CFL. “It’s really lousy. It’s fragile. And think about what losing a season or a season and a half would do to that business model.”

7. One more link from TSN’s Dave Naylor – this piece on how a possible CFL-XFL joint venture ‘can’t be U.S. expansion 2.0.’

8. Another trivia question, courtesy long-time Winnipeg sportscaster Joe Pascucci. He asks: can you name the former Blue Bomber who is in the Hockey Hall of Fame?

Answer: Frank Mathers, who played for the RCAF Bombers in 1942-43. He’s in the HHOF in the builder’s category in 1992.

His bio from the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame is here.

9. A couple more entries in our ‘My Most Memorable Game’ series were posted this week, including this one from Andrew Harris.

In it Harris spoke of the 2019 Grey Cup and the build-up to it:

“There was a certain energy before last year’s Grey Cup. I had a lot people there, even more people than I would have had at regular season games in Winnipeg. A lot of friends and family.

“The whole week leading up to it… everyone was talking about how great Hamilton was and how we were such underdogs. It was really starting to piss me off. Coming in with such a big chip on my shoulder, I remember being in the locker room – even in the media days beforehand – and I just didn’t want to talk to anyone. I couldn’t wait to get out there and just shut everyone up and go play ball at the highest level possible. Everybody seemed to have that same energy.”

10. And, finally, we recorded another ‘Handled Internally’ podcast this week and co-host Darren Cameron and I had the opportunity to sit down with long-time equipment manager Brad Fotty.

Brad started working with the club as a volunteer when he was in Grade 10 and worked his way up to becoming the Head Equipment Manager in 1997. In other words, he’s seen some things.

Brad got his first ring on that last Sunday in November in 2019.

“As soon as the game ended I started packing up the bench,” said Fotty. “I was packing stuff and Gord (Taillefer), the No. 2 equipment guy in Calgary, came up to me and said, ‘Leave this stuff. We’ll do it. Go enjoy.’

“It’s always been a joke that even some of the (equipment) assistants who had been promoted had won Grey Cups before me (with other teams). It was always a standing joke… ‘How many (rings) have you got? How many have you got? Brad, how many have you got?mWell, I lost five.”

And now won one.

Stay tuned for that podcast, coming soon.

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