‘My biggest skill is that I was a hard worker’: Bowman becomes first-ballot Hall of Famer

To those of us who were paying close attention to the CFL, there was no doubt that former Montreal Alouettes defensive end John Bowman was going straight to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as soon as he was eligible. But Bowman never saw it that way.

“It’s weird to say, but I didn’t play for that,” Bowman admitted on a conference call on Monday morning. “I know people who loved football growing up, people who started playing football when they were six years old…I only started playing football to hang out with my homies and to get a date to prom.”

Regardless of why he started playing, nobody can deny that Bowman, who is now the defensive line coach of the B.C. Lions, deserves to receive this honour. No, he was never named defensive player of the year in the CFL, but he was as consistent a performer as there was in the league.

During his 14-year career, the 40-year-old racked up a ridiculous 134 quarterback sacks, which put him sixth on the all-time list. Sure, there were some years he had more sacks than others, but he always seemed to finish in double digits. His career-high came in 2015, when he had 19 sacks.

Bowman will be the first to tell you that he was never the most talented player on the field, never the most gifted athletically, and not the biggest. But what he did better than anyone else was work.

“My only skill was work. I wasn’t the fastest, I wasn’t the strongest, I wasn’t the most athletically gifted. My biggest skill is that I was a worker. 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. I was going to outwork them for 60 minutes and we were going to see who could go the longest. That was my thing. When I tell people I was the average fan’s player, it was because people recognize hard work. You can’t relate to somebody who runs a 4.4 40-yard dash because not a lot of people do it. You can relate somebody who works hard because that’s what everybody does. That’s why I’m here.”

What makes this honour even sweeter for Bowman is that he’s going into the Hall of Fame with one of his long-time teammates, friends, and practice field rivals Josh Bourke. Both players spent off-seasons in Montreal, and they became very close over time.

“He was the best defensive end I ever played against,” Bourke said. “The beauty of what made me such a good player for all those years is that I had to fight my ass off day in and day out against arguably one of the best defensive ends to ever play the game in the CFL…There are plenty of times he made me look bad and plenty of times I made him look bad, but we competed every single day. We were best friends off the field as well, and we just knew we were going to make each other better.”

Not only does he hold the franchise record for quarterback sacks by a wide margin (he has 68 more sacks than Anwar Stewart, who is second), he also helped the Als win back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010. Bowman was selected as a CFL All-Star twice in 2010 and 2015 and an East Division All-Star eight times.

To accomplish all that by playing for just one team is even more impressive, especially in a salary cap world, in a league that has a lot of roster turnover.

“I love Montreal,” he said. “The city is beautiful, the food is beautiful, the people too. The thing I don’t tell a lot of people is that I had to deal with a lot in Montreal. Even though I was just a defensive end, I probably had nine different defensive coordinators. For me, being able to perform in any kind of scheme was my thing…I had coaches who hated me, who wanted me cut. To stay in that city and go through the things I went through is a testament to the journey. I wouldn’t change it for the world because it made me who I am.”