Hamilton Tiger Cats

Jesse Lumsden - Running Back - 2005-08 - McMaster


Scary good is what Jesse was - Steve Milton - Hamilton Spectator - 18-05-2011

Over the past decade no athlete in this city made us sit up and take notice like he did.

The hometown boy who opted to stay here for his college ball and eventually became the starting slotback on the iconic professional team his father once played for, then managed. And when he was healthy, man, was he good. Scary goooooood.
But that was the rub with Jesse Lumsden. He wasn't healthy often, or long, enough.

As expected, Lumsden announced his retirement from football yesterday in Calgary, where he was on the roster of the Stampeders and was increasingly tethered to the national bobsled fraternity, a bunch with so much macho they make football players seem neutered.

As a rookie brakeman, Lumsden crewed grizzled veteran Pierre Leuders to fifth-place finishes in both the two- and four-men events at the Vancouver Olympics, and had one of the best push-time averages of the entire Games. Now he is training as a driver and wants to pilot his own Canada sled to a medal at the Sochi Games in three years.

That'd be great for him and for Canada, but most of us would still rather see him in a CFL uniform, turning the corner and blazing toward the end zone with that trademark upright running style which was both effective and damning. Every time Lumsden touched the ball the air crackled with possibility. The size, the speed, the acceleration, the football smarts, the birth certificate, and, most of all, the nose for paydirt.

Until, and unless, the Ticats win another Grey Cup at home, Ivor Wynne

 Stadium will never see anything more electrifying than Lumsden's performance on the afternoon of August 4, 2007. He scored a 69-yard touchdown on the Cats' first play from scrimmage, dashed 75 yards for another major later in the game and rung up a stunning 211 yards in just a dozen carries. He breathed life and victory into a tattered Ticat team which had lost its first five games of the season and lit a brazenly emotional fire under the Kat Krazies in the stands.

“He runs like a man possessed,” praised Doug Berry, coach of the victimized Blue Bombers.

And, with the sense of occasion that characterizes true difference-makers, he did it on the day he turned 25, with the crowd warbling Happy Birthday. Moreover, he felt sick the entire game and immediately afterward went to the hospital to get checked for food poisoning.

In that breakthrough 2007 season, his third in the CFL, Lumsden rushed for a spectacular 7.6-yard average but reached only 743 total yards for the campaign because of a shoulder injury. The next year, he averaged 6.4 yards per carry, but could only dress for nine games.

And that was it for his Ticat career. Bob O'Billovich had become general manager, was looking to upgrade everything, felt the local hero would be better off elsewhere and didn't match a heavy offer from the Eskimos. His decision seemed justified after Lumsden was hurt, and out for the season, on his first real carry as an Eskimo but Obie was just as sickened as everyone else in football by Lumsden's outrageous, and public, bad luck.

TSN commentator Matt Dunigan said on the air right after that play that he felt Lumsden's career was over because “that was a routine football hit.” But Lumsden did make it back into uniform in October last year as a special-teams player with the Stamps. In his third game, in early November, he injured his knee on a sideline tackle and required surgery from which he's still recovering.

It's so fitting that he had scored his final CFL touchdown a week earlier with a late-game appearance in the backfield against — whom else? — the Tiger-Cats, because this guy has bay area written all over him.

He took Burlington Nelson to the Metro Bowl, he was an idol at Mac, where he won the 2004 Hec Crighton Trophy and in 2003 highlighted what might have been the greatest one minute of play in the history of Canadian university football. With first place on the line, Mac and Queen's were tied in the final minute of regulation of time at Kingston when future Ticat Craig Spear of Stoney Creek hauled in a pass from Beamsville's Tom Denison and took it 99 yards for a touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, with the clock ticking madly toward zero, the Gaels wanted to direct the ball away from Lumsden but he ran under it. At the 30-yard line, he appeared hopelessly pinned to the left sideline as the Queen's fans started to celebrate victory. But he broke from the scrum toward the middle of the field and danced past flailing defenders for a 108-yard touchdown. Mac won in overtime and went on to take yet another Ontario title. They lost the national semifinal to perennial powerhouse Laval, with Lumsden quietly nursing an ankle and elbow that were both frozen so he could even play.

After Lumsden couldn't crack the Seattle Seahawks' lineup, he came to the Cats for the final few games of 2004 and immediately indicated that there was no reason he couldn't do for them what he did on the other side of town at Mac. But the injuries not only got in his way, they blocked it. He did end up with six years in the league, slightly above average for a running back, but he was frustrated by the constant betrayal by his own body. And so were his legion of fans.

Yesterday, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon suggested that there should be a role somewhere, sometime, for Lumsden in the league.

“I'll probably reach out to him,” Cohon said. “I love him as a person; he's passionate, and he's a warrior. If he hadn't got hurt as often I think he would have developed into a true national icon.”

He still can, but it will be in a can on skis, hurtling downhill at near-lethal speeds. Dangerous and fast. Like Lumsden himself.

-- statistics --



Jesse Lumsden   McMaster
Yr Team C Yds Avg Lg TD
2005 Ham 60 307 5.1 43 1
2006 Ham 40 163 4.1 25 0
2007 Ham 98 743 7.6 75 3
2008 Ham 87 584 6.7 57 5
2009 Edm 2 5 2.5 3 0
2010 Cgy 4 40 10 13 1
Total 6 291 1,842 6.3 75 10


Yr Team C Yds Avg Lg TD
2005 Ham 11 153 13.9 78 1
2006 Ham 5 51 10.2 35 0
2007 Ham 26 348 13.4 51 1
2008 Ham 7 78 11.1 17 0
2009 Edm 3 20 6.7 12 0
2010 Cgy 0 0 0 0 0
Total 6 52 650 12.5 76 2