Doug Brown laughed when he was asked the question.
What do you think it is about you that made them want to put you on this t-shirt?
“I have no idea what the parameters were,” the 11-year Winnipeg Blue Bomber’s defensive lineman (2001-2011) says over the phone.
“But I am a Canadian and very proud of it. I’ve been a player rep and a captain at different times on the football team but as a player rep I really got to understand the uniqueness of the Canadian football athletes and the CFL and how it’s a national treasure to Canada.
“The relationships that fans across Canada have with this league…nothing is more Canadian than the CFL.”
In choosing Brown and 16-year offensive lineman Chris Walby (1981-96) as the players that will be on their commemorative t-shirts that tie into Canada’s 150th birthday, the Bombers went with two players that were not only outstanding at their respective spots on the field, but who are two of the game’s truly great Canadians. The Bombers will unveil their shirts for their Week 3 game in Winnipeg against the Calgary Stampeders.
“All of the things that people love about Canada are really reflected in the Canadian Football League,” says Brown, who works for radio station CJOB and writes a weekly column for the Winnipeg Free Press in his post-playing days.
“From the accessibility of the players to off the field, how involved the players get in their communities and how unassuming they are for the most part. It’s the most unpretentious professional sports world that you could see and I think a lot of those traits go hand-in-hand with how Canada views itself and how it’s viewed by others.”
Brown went into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame last year, after being named a seven-time CFL all-star, an eight-time divisional all-star and was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian in 2001.
Walby is considered one of the greatest Canadian offensive linemen to ever play in the league. A three-time Grey Cup winner, he was a nine-time CFL all-star, a 10-time divisional all-star and a two-time winner of the league’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award. He went into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
All of that to say that recognition and tributes are nothing new to him. But the tie-in with Canada’s 150th birthday makes this a special thing for Walby.
“That caught me off guard, I wasn’t expecting that,” Walby says. “You hear all the stuff about the 150th year, but you never really think…that you’re going to be associated with that in any form with the football club. I was kind of blown away. It’s a cool thing.
“For a guy who grew up in the north end of Winnipeg, born and bred here, and to come back here and play for 16 years, to me that’s pretty special. Not to get all philosophical or anything, but we live in a great country. Aside from the high taxes — every time we get taxed we bitch — and the price of beer, which I’m always going to complain about, other than that I’m pretty happy.”
Both men are happy to get this recognition together, as well.
“I wasn’t the biggest CFL fan growing up in British Columbia,” Brown says. “I went straight to the NFL out of Simon Fraser University, but the one thing I knew about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were those lightning bolts and the picture of this giant, viking looking offensive lineman-type character that seemed to be the iconic figure that went hand-in-hand with this football club.
“Chris Walby was the one thing I knew without question about the Winnipeg football club before I came here in 2001. He was this larger-than-life character.”
“Dougie was a bright star on a number of teams during a time they played where they weren’t very good, but he was very good,” Walby says. “He’s a heck of a football player and a heck of a person who’s done a lot in the community. I’m definitely very happy to be put on it with him.”
With Walby an offensive tackle and Brown an interior defensive lineman, the two wouldn’t line up even in one of those what-if, all-time hypothetical scenarios. But, in that make believe game, were they to cross paths, both men play it diplomatically.
“I’ll tell you this. If he’d have come inside, I’d have liked my chances,” Brown says. “But if I had to go out there on the edge, I’ll give (the advantage) to him that way.”
“I’d give (the win) to him,” Walby says. “I always tell him that. When we got into the ring of honour last year, I went and saw him. He was working at CJOB and he wrote me a little note saying he was glad he never had to go against me.
“I think there’s a mutual respect. It would be very interesting, but he’s a horse, too. It would be a lot of sparks flying. Who knows what would happen? I played a lot of big guys. I don’t know if I played a lot of guys with that size and that height during my time at the tackle position. I’ve got lot of respect for him, and I’m glad I didn’t have to go against him, you know?”
Photo courtesy of THE CANADIAN PRESS