In essence, the Jon Cornish Era began taking shape on Sept. 25th, 2011,
in - of all places - Moncton, N.B. That sun-splashed afternoon, in one
of those ill-fated "annual" Touchdown Atlantic experiments, a torch was
passed, a baton reluctantly exchanged, the keys to a kingdom handed
Joffrey Reynolds, the Calgary Stampeders' all-time leading rusher, was a
healthy scratch. Cornish started at tailback.
As eras go, he gave us a comparatively small sample size. But what a
Cornish announced Wednesday that he was retiring from the Canadian
Football League at the age of 31, after nine seasons.
Three times he was named the league's top Canadian player and he was
judged the best of all only two years ago. Three straight campaigns of
more than 1,000 yards. There was the magical 2013 flirting with the
2,000-yard plateau, for a glorious while taking direct aim at Mike
Pringle's single-season CFL record. He won the Lou Marsh Award that year
as the country's top male athlete.
Twenty-one 100-yard games; shattering Normie Kwong's 56-year-old
standard for yards accrued by a Canadian in 2012 and then topping
himself the next year.
That's a heckuva lot of achievement crammed into 41/2featured seasons.
The Jon Cornish Era ends prematurely, cut short by ongoing concussion
issues. The beginning of the end came in the opening game of 2014, when
Montreal's Kyries Hebert inflicted the first concussion of Cornish's
In truth, the decision to hang 'em up was already made before this
campaign began. Another concussion suffered in October only re-affirmed
"Obviously, the concussions made me think about it,'' Cornish said at a
news conference at McMahon Stadium, "but there's a certain shelf life
that a player has. Being honest, do I think I could play two more
seasons, three more seasons, at a high level?
"Yeah, I think the way I've built my game, I could continue to play.
"But at the same time, what risks am I putting myself (in)?" It's a
shame, but no great surprise. "As a Canadian football player, to know
that I have a place to go and go work, it's inspiring," he said "I fell
in love with the sport at age 12. To have the opportunity to play from
the ages of 12 to 31 … you can't ask for much more than that."
"Jon was one of those guys, when I got here, I quickly found out was one
of the few God-like people, if you will,'' quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell
said. "He's been such a rock for our team, it's hard. Hard to see him
"One thing I always say: He got me in trouble on the field. My job is to
hand the ball off, move away and grab a linebacker, whatnot. But I'd
turn around, hand him the ball and watch the guy. When he ran, I was a
As legendary Green Bay Packers' coach Vince Lombardi once noted: "Ballet
is a contact sport. Football is a collision sport."
The gamble of slashing into a thicket of beefy bruisers with murderous
intent, in the final analysis, was simply too great.
"What I liked is he said he had good cognitive (skills), feels he's
still sharp," incoming head coach Dave Dickenson said. "It's a violent
game, we all put ourselves at risk. For a guy to be able to step away …
I think he's probably right on. He's given a lot to this game. He
deserves to move forward."
Cornish, during the two years he was fully healthy, had it all; was
Power. Pace. Bust the long one. Grind the short yardage.
Perhaps gregarious offensive lineman Obby Khan, who these days owns and
operates a couple of shawarma restaurants back in Winnipeg, best cut to
the heart of Jon Cornish's success.
"There are certain backs that stay strictly within the rules. Guys who,
when they're supposed to hit the 4-hole, hit the 4-hole. Without fail.
Like clockwork.," Khan said during his brief tenure with the Stampeders
"There are guys … well, when I blocked for Charlie Roberts we had
absolutely no idea where he was going. I mean, none. Zero. The play
would be called left and Charlie'd run right. But he'd make 30 yards out
of it, so you really couldn't complain too loudly. He was just a
different kind of species, all his own.
"And then you get the guys who are just straight downhill physical
runners. I think Jon is a combination of all three of those guys."
All three, yes, and of own kind of species, too. A Canadian who could
not only boast of being the best at a position populated by studs
hailing from Florida and Texas and California, but the best player at
whatever position you chose. Period. End of sentence.
"I've never seen or played with anyone better, in my time,'' Dickenson
said. "There've been some good guys, but boy he could run. He was
strong. What I liked about him was that he read the blocks, could get
skinny when he had to, faster than people gave him credit for.
"A lot of Canadians have a lot to be proud of. This is a guy that went
to the top of the mountain. That doesn't happen very often.''