Ben Cahoon - Slotback - 1998-2010 - Brigham Young
Doug Robinson, Deseret News
Ben Cahoon was 25 years old and headed to graduate school when he decided to take a detour. He obtained a one-year deferment from school and flew to Montreal to play professional football in the Canadian Football League. He promised his wife Kim that he would play just one season "to get it out of my system." Then he would report to the University of Utah, where he had been accepted that fall in the physical therapy program. This was in 1998. Now he is 38 years old, the father of four daughters, and Cahoon still hasn't gotten it out of his system. The one-year detour has turned into 13 years (and counting?). Meanwhile, he has proven that a slow, short, white guy ? as he describes himself can play pro football and then some.
Two weeks ago, Cahoon, a BYU and Mountain View High grad, became the leading receiver in CFL history. "We just kept on saying one more year," he says. "That first year, I did get it out of my system. But we realized we had a good time and could make a living out of it. It turned out to be a pretty good gig. Kim didn't know what she was getting into." Cahoon, 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, is one of only nine professional football players to catch more than 1,000 passes in a career (see chart), and only the second to do it in the CFL. Heading into an Oct. 10 game against the Calgary Stampeders, he needed four catches to surpass Terry Vaughn's CFL career record of 1,006. He made the fourth catch with five minutes left in the game, hauling in another pass from Anthony Calvilo, the former Utah State quarterback who arrived in Montreal the same year as Cahoon. "I was aware during the game," says Cahoon. "I knew I needed three more, then two more and so on. I
wanted to get the whole thing behind me. As soon as Cahoon caught his record-breaking 1,007th pass, the Montreal crowd of 25,000 began chanting "Ca-hoon! Ca-hoon!" and the man of the hour was embraced by teammates and hoisted onto their shoulders. The game was stopped for several minutes for a mid-field ceremony that included
Commissioner Mark Cohon and team president Larry Smith, who presented Cahoon with a plaque. Cahoon was joined on the field by Kim and their four daughters, who had flown from Utah for the occasion. Cahoon, who hadn't known about the ceremony, was caught by surprise and choked back tears. "It was nice to celebrate it with teammates and to have my family come onto the field," he says. "My wife and daughters have been a huge part of this and have sacrificed so much. They made this whole thing possible." It almost never happened. Following his senior year at BYU, Cahoon faced a life-altering choice: A master's degree or professional football in Canada for a paltry $23,000 rookie salary. For once, a team actually wanted him, albeit north of the border. A three-sport all-state selection at Orem's Mountain View High, he had had to talk his way into a tryout every step of the way, walking on at Ricks College and BYU and then "begging" a tryout with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He led BYU in receiving as a senior, but the Buccaneers barely gave him a sniff before releasing him. He was resigned to starting grad school at the University of Utah, but football was still calling.
The Montreal Alouettes had made him the sixth pick of the CFL draft. "I remember thinking to myself, surely Ben is going to do the practical thing here," says Kim. "He had always approached every situation with such common sense. It seemed obvious ... get his master's degree and forget this crazy football thing. We didn't know anything about Montreal. I was terrified. In the end, he just said he had to give this a try or he would always wonder school can wait, but this opportunity will not come around again. He said he would try it for a year. That must have been enough to convince me. I didn't want him to have to live with the regret of not trying just because his wife was too scared." Cahoon, who earned a reputation at BYU for spectacular catches, immediately dazzled his new teammates and coaches with his uncanny ability simply to catch any football he touched. The Alouettes actually started a countdown to see when Cahoon would finally drop a pass. "You expect a guy from BYU to have caught a lot of passes, but the things this guy does every day in practice amaze me," coach Tracy Ham told the Toronto Globe and Mail during Cahoon's rookie training camp. "If he's anywhere near the ball, he'll get to it." That has always been his calling card, and it is no accident. He developed his hands in high school by catching 500 passes a day each summer. Standing 10 yards apart, he and his practice partner would fire passes at each other high, low, fast, slow for hours. "I haven't met a ball I haven't caught before, either in practice or in my sleep," he said years ago. "Catching is about repetition. If you're nervous about dropping the ball, or thinking too much, you'll have drops. But if you practice so much it becomes second nature, you won't drop the ball."
In the CFL, Cahoon snagged pass after pass. He caught 112 passes during the 2003 season and 107 in 2008. He has caught 89 or more passes in six seasons en route to 1,000. "It's just a fraction of the catches I've made in practice," he says. Cahoon, who is officially considered a Canadian because he lived there briefly as a boy (his parents are from Alberta), has played for the same team and the same quarterback for 13 years and has missed only nine games in that time. He has been the two-time Canadian Player of the Year, a three-time CFL all-star and two-time Grey Cup champion (the Canadian Super Bowl). "The joke is that he has said 'one more year' 12 times now," says Kim. "The difference is that he hasn't had to convince me as much as he did the first year. In fact, the last couple of years it has been the other way around. We have lost all credibility with our friends and family. They have stopped asking, 'How many more years will he play?' "
In 2003, when Cahoon was 31, he told the Deseret News, "I've got to grow up and get a real job soon. It's difficult to start a different career at 35 or 36. I'm always keeping my eyes open to look for a good opportunity. You can't retire on a CFL pension." But here he is seven years later. The Cahoons have maintained homes in Canada and Utah while raising their daughters McKelle (13), twins Camri and Kylee (10) and Hallie (4). Until last season, the family lived together in Montreal during the football season and moved to their off-season home in Cedar Hills, staying there from the end of November until the start of training camp in June. Kim home-schooled their daughters for years in Montreal because the area schools were French-speaking. Last year, the family decided to return to Utah in the fall so their daughters could enroll in American schools. Cahoon flies home when he has a day off. His football career has been a family affair.
When they lived in Montreal during the season, Kim and her daughters attended the games wearing Cahoon's jersey (one daughter wondered why so many other people were wearing her father's jersey, too was he their father, too?). They fly to Montreal frequently to see the games live, but when they're in Orem they watch the games on TV or the Internet, usually accompanied by a party and gathering of extended family members. "Even at home, we never miss a game," says Kim. "I am Ben's greatest fan. I truly love watching him play. It just never gets old for me." So, to the obvious question, Cahoon still doesn't have an answer. "I'm still trying to figure that out," he says. "That's one reason I've lasted 13 years (in football). I haven't known what to fall back on after football." After retiring from football whenever that is he might devote himself to his real estate development company or join his parents' retail fabric business. He also is considering a coaching career. When Bronco Mendenhall took over as BYU's head coach a few years ago, he interviewed Cahoon as a potential wide receiver coach. "We have talked several times since then," Cahoon says. It's going to be difficult to walk away from football, a game he has been playing for 22 of his 38 years and a job that provides him five to six months off each year. "We always take a month or so after the season just to forget about football so we can make a decision with a fresh perspective," says Kim. "We have just taken it one season at a time for the past five years or so.
It seems like every year he would continue to put up big numbers and still feel like he had more football in him. Then his general manager would call, dangling a new contract." Cahoon is having his least productive season since 1999, with 61 catches and one touchdown with three games remaining for the division-leading, 11-4 Alouettes, but he doesn't feel his age. "I feel surprisingly good," he says. "I've learned a lot about how to take care of my body, and that is an ongoing learning process. I've come across a few things this year that have really helped me correct exercises, for instance. I am running as well as I have in three or four years." So Cahoon might play another year. Kim, the one who was so reluctant years ago, now dreads the day it must end. "I am so grateful that he went with his heart 13 years ago rather than do the practical thing I was hoping for," she says. "He has had such an amazing career, and it has been an unbelievable adventure for our family. ... The reality is this will all be coming to an end sooner rather than later. I will really miss watching him play. It has been a great ride."
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