As far as John Bowman is concerned, you’ve got three choices for two spots, and he’s one of the three.
“Me, Chuck, and Odell,” says the 14-year vet. “That should be the list!”
With that, he laughs a thunderous laugh, and a playful tone for a winding conversation is cast.
Bowman has always been a good interview, I’ve found. Thoughtful and precise in his answers. Comfortable in his own skin, with a splash of self-deprecation. Honest, it seems, too. Should the future hall-of-famer not be so when it comes to his views on his own place within the league he’s called home for 14 years?
Fourteen seasons, all with Montreal. From sixth on the depth chart as a rookie in 2006, to the face of the Alouettes’ pass rush for the entirety of the past decade, as well as two or three seasons before it.
At the outset, my goal is really to get his opinion on the defensive ends nominated for the CFL’s All-Decade Team, presented by LeoVegas.
“This is just to create some traffic and some clicks,” says Bowman of the concept. He’s laughing again, aware of the discord this kind of list can create. The mischief.
“It’s fun though,” he adds brightly.
MORE ON THE ALL-DECADE TEAM
We get his opinion on the defensive end position and more, as a relaxed Bowman thinks about what’s made him an across-the-league fan favourite, recalls his favourite sack and takes a look across the line of scrimmage at some of the offensive linemen who are eligible to be named among the decade’s best.
“Strictly speaking, on defensive ends — and I’ll include myself in this one — you have three defensive ends, we’ve all played the whole 10 years in the decade, says Bowman, building a rationale for his views on the matter.
Longevity matters to him. And longevity is one of the things — one of the many things — his top three candidates at defensive end have.
“Chuck” would be Charleston Hughes, of course, and Odell is Odell Willis. The only three candidates on the list who, as Bowman stated, played every single season from 2010 up to and including 2019.
Bowman isn’t bragging. He’s not flexing. He’s being straightforward. On at least three different occasions during our conversation, he makes it clear that his intent is not to trash anyone else. He’s not in the demolition business when it comes to the accomplishments of his pass-rushing brothers. But he knows where he stands, so why hide from that?
“That’s nothing against anybody else,” Bowman continues, knowing that CFL fans are going to have to seriously consider the impact that Willie Jefferson, for one, has had over six seasons. Among defensive ends, Jefferson is the only one to be named the CFL’s Defensive Player of the Year during the decade.
Voters need to take a hard look at the likes of Shawn Lemon, too, a nine-year vet who stands fourth in the sacks-per-game category, just ahead of Bowman (Hughes leads in this category).
But if you’re willing to see it Bowman’s way — that a high rate of production over a longer period of time supersedes a handful of monstrous seasons — then you are likely to agree with him that he, Hughes and Willis stand apart.
Hughes was the leader in sacks for the decade, with 119. Bowman was next at 105 and Willis was third with 93.
Of the 105 he had during the decade, Bowman remembers well the day he got to 100 for his career. But that milestone sack, coming early in a game against Saskatchewan on the last day of the 2015 season, does not rank as his favourite.
“I wanna say I jumped over somebody,” says Bowman tentatively, struggling to bring the memory into focus.
Then, it comes. “You know what? I jumped over Stef Logan, against B.C. I don’t remember what year that was, 2015 or something like that.” (It was 2014)
“I don’t know if he thought I was gonna run him over or if he went low. He just ducked his head,” remembers Bowman, laughing. “Thought I was gonna run him over and didn’t think I could jump over him.”
Tackles? Hughes was tops over the course of the decade, with 407, Bowman not far behind at 371, and Willis was third with 251.
In the turnover battle, the order is the same; Hughes forced 28 fumbles, Bowman 23. Willis and Lemon each had 22. While Willis and Hughes intercepted three passes each, Bowman scored his first career interception in his 14th season, picking off B.C.’s Mike Reilly last September.
Statistics play a large part in any sensible voter’s selection process for any position on the All-Decade Team. However, intangibles can easily come into play in tipping the scales, and all of the candidates have legions of fans who adore them not just as players, but as people, too.
That can be said of Hughes and Willis, and most certainly it can be said of Bowman, who has enjoyed an across-the-league admiration for years. It’s not just in Montreal.
“We’ll say with the exception of Winnipeg, last year, with some choice words,” laughs Bowman, asked if he agreed with the perception that he has enjoyed being respected but not villainized in other cities.
He thinks about it for a moment, then offers up a glimpse into how he sees himself.
“I’m genuine, I don’t brag,” he begins. “I’m not on Twitter posting highlights. I treat people respectfully, I don’t badmouth people.”
“I remember when I was sixth on the depth chart. People were like, ‘He’s hustling, at least.’ I didn’t come into this league with much fanfare. I took advantage of the reps I was given.”
“I guess people can relate to the blue collar guy that worked hard to achieve what he got.”
Before I can move on to the next question, Bowman blurts out one more ingredient.
“And I dress nice, too,” he says,” playfully. “Everybody likes a good dresser.”
Looking back on the beginning of John Bowman’s career, as well as this last decade, it’s only natural to peer into the future as well. Having just celebrated his 38th birthday, Bowman was ready to take on one more season in 2020.
The global pandemic and the postponed beginning to the CFL season that has come along with it might mean it’s all over for Bowman. He was feeling pretty certain that this would be his final campaign, ready to hang up his cleats with gratitude.
“I don’t wanna play until I feel I can’t walk anymore,” the native of Brooklyn, N.Y. says, thankful that his pro football career hasn’t left him with any real, lingering troubles.
Now, it seems, might be the time for him to bend to the wishes of his loved ones, who’ve been dutifully supporting his gridiron life for so many years now.
“I can’t keep teasing y’all like this,” he says cheekily. “I can’t jump into another decade.”
That seems firm, and all, until I remind him that some athletes just continue to confound, into their forties. I mention that Gordie Howe actually played in the NHL when he was 50, so why not him too?
“If somebody’s willing to pay me, I’ll do it,” Bowman replies. The tease is back on again.
His place on the All-Decade Team is up to the voters, now, and Bowman left them with one more tantalizing piece to chew on as they consider the candidates.
As good as he’s been over the years, Bowman made 2019 his best season ever when it comes to tackles, recording 45, in sixteen games. Eight sacks? Far off his career high of 19, set in 2015, and half the total that Hughes had last year. Four more than Willis, though.
That’s merely a snapshot, however, and we already know that for John Bowman, a snapshot or two doesn’t cut it when it comes to serious consideration for the All-Decade Team. An album stuffed with photos stretching from the era of Davis Sanchez on the corner to the era of Davis Sanchez on the panel is a prerequisite.
“People are havin’ great years, fantastic years in the last few,” Bowman concedes. “But if we’re talking about the whole decade, there’s three people who’ve played this entire decade. Two of ‘em have played pretty good.”
“And me? I’ve just been chuggin’ along,” he says.
BOWMAN’S PICKS FOR OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Bowman can help you out a bit when it comes to making your offensive lineman selections for the All-Decade Team presented by LeoVegas. Or maybe not. Because his list is all offensive tackles and that list is more than two.
As often as he got to the quarterback during his career, Bowman more often didn’t, as is the case with any defensive lineman. And he knows who made his pursuit the most difficult over the course of the decade.
“I can think of a few,” he says. “SirVincent (Rogers), he’s been good. Tony Washington, we’ve had our battles. Derek Dennis has only played four years (and a portion of a fifth) but has been good. Chris Van Zeyl. Those four, right off the top of my head.”
I’ve got he list of candidates in front of me and Bowman does not. So I’m at a bit of an advantage there. I mention Stanley Bryant.
“Oh, excuse me! What am I talkin’ about?” Bowman replies with considerable scorn for his oversight. “He shoulda been the first name!”
All the men he speaks of are offensive tackles, as Bowman feels he has the most knowledge of them. Sure, he’d twist inside on occasion and take on a guard, but that was uncommon. “I mostly played edge,” he says.
“There it is,” I thought to myself, as I wrote those last few lines. “The definitive list of tackles as judged by one of the great defensive linemen ever to play in the great northern league.”
The phone rings. It’s Bowman.
“Jovan Olafioye,” he says, immediately. “I should have included him.”
I’ll update if he calls back again.
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