Back when they were eye-to-eye in practices, when they were taking part in off-season workouts together and even when they were elbow-to-elbow at Montreal bars, John Bowman and Josh Bourke never pictured where it ultimately would lead them.
The longtime Alouettes teammates — they suited up together from 2007-2015 — are linked together once again as they head into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a part of the 2023 class.
By definition they’re opposites. There’s Bowman, the decorated defensive lineman that amassed 134 sacks through his 16-year CFL career, and then there’s Bourke, a towering pillar of an offensive tackle, who spent nine of his 10 seasons protecting Anthony Calvillo from those unrelenting d-linemen. It was opposites attracting, working perfectly together and playing a key part on one of the great teams the CFL has ever seen.
The connection is strong but it isn’t always perfect.
“I kind of felt like a little bit of a jerk because he he texted me last week and he said congratulations, he was super happy for me. At that point, I had no idea he was going in too,” Bourke told reporters on a media call.
Bourke used some colourful language to describe how he felt, apologized for using that language, then recalled dialing his teammate back to offer his congratulations to him.
“John and I were were friends for a long time, right? We’re still friends, we still talk. Not as much as I’d probably like, or he likes, life is busy. Family, kids, you know, jobs, the whole nine yards,” he continued.
“We’ll always be connected. We did a lot of things together. We were in Montreal, not just playing football, but we hung out a lot. We went to bars together, we went to events together concerts, fights, all types of different things. So it’ll be pretty special being beside him (for the Hall of Fame induction), for sure.”
That bond was first formed in practice. Bowman, a nine-time East Division All-Star and two-time CFL All-Star, would take down quarterbacks 134 times in his 14-year career, placing him seventh all-time in sacks. Bourke racked up seven East Division All-Star nods and a pair of CFL All-Star selections as well, while picking up CFL Most Outstanding Lineman in 2011. You couldn’t have two better-suited people going against each other on a daily basis.
“Iron sharpens iron,” Bowman said of those practices. “The only reason why I guess I was decent is because he made me work every day and vice versa. It wasn’t a buddy-buddy practice thing, (Alouettes head coach Marc) Trestman didn’t allow it. We were going after each other every week and we made each other better.
“He really, really deserved it and he was a worker on and off the field. He was my guy. We lived around the corner from each other.”
Their work ethics became the foundation of that strong relationship.
“My only skill was work,” Bowman said.
“I wasn’t the fastest, I wasn’t the strongest. I wasn’t the most athletically gifted. My biggest skill was I was a worker. That alone that made a lot of people like my game. That made me relentless on the field, because I didn’t care who was better than me, or whatever. I was going to outwork them for 60 minutes.”
“He was the best defensive end I’ve ever played against,” Bourke said. “I think that’s what the beauty of what made me such a good player for all those years is. I literally had to fight my ass off day-in and day-out against arguably one of the best defensive ends that ever played the game in the CFL.
“I knew I had to come to work every single day. I didn’t want to look bad, even if it’s in practice. So there’s plenty of times he made me look bad and there’s plenty of times I made him look bad, but we competed every single day.
“We just knew that we were going to make each other better and I think that carried over to the games. And when I got to the game, a lot of times it was a breeze compared to going against John Bowman in practice. Which, obviously is conducive to a winning environment and being successful.”
Between 2007-2010, the Alouettes played in three of four Grey Cup games and won in 2009 and 2010. In the nine seasons Bowman and Bourke were with the Als together, the team made the playoffs eight times before finally finishing outside of the post-season in 2015.
Joining their former teammates like Calvillo, Ben Cahoon, Chip Cox, Scott Flory and Uzooma Okeke in the Hall of Fame serves as another reminder of just how talented and dominant those Alouette teams were in the early 2000s and into the previous decade.
“I’ve always been a real try hard guy,” Bourke said, emphasizing that “I sucked at football my first three years of high school.
“I’ve always been one of those guys that really, for the lack of talent, I pride myself on outworking everybody else and it’s translated to life off the field, too. My professional career, that’s how I just like to lead life. Try to be a better husband, a better father, a better professional. (The team was) super talented but hard working.”
Bourke and Bowman join Larry Smith (builder), Jacques Dussault (builder) and Lloyd Fairbanks (player) as 2023 Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductees with Alouettes connections.