When Wes Cates began his CFL career in 2006, he never thought he one day would be inducted into the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Plaza of Honour.
That’s because he never thought he’d ever be a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“When I was with the Stamps, I had some vets tell me to try to get a no-trade-to-Saskatchewan-or-Winnipeg clause in my contract,” a chuckling Cates recalled Tuesday, when he and former Roughriders executive Roger Brandvold were introduced as the Plaza’s Class of 2017.
“The first time I was there, I couldn’t believe this small town had a team, but it didn’t take long to realize that they had the best fans. My thoughts about the team and the town changed a lot from before I lived there to when I got there. It’s definitely a culture that you can’t help but get caught up in.”
Cates started his career with the Calgary Stampeders in 2006, but the dual-threat tailback was dealt to Saskatchewan just before the 2007 campaign.
“I got there and met up with my buddy Tad Kornegay,” Cates recalled, referring to a former Roughriders defensive back. “We were both complaining that we got traded the same day, he from Hamilton and me from Calgary.
“We were like, ‘How the hell did we get here?’ Then in November that same year, we were like, ‘Can you believe this? We won the whole thing and we didn’t even want to be here when the season started!’ ’’
Cates was a big part of the Roughriders’ 2007 Grey Cup-winning team. He rushed 152 times for 866 yards and two touchdowns and caught 45 passes for 452 yards in 14 regular-season games. Then, despite playing with a broken foot, the 6-foot-0, 215-pounder rushed 25 times for 128 yards in two playoff games.
Cates spent five seasons with the Roughriders, earning West Division all-star accolades twice (2008 and 2010) and CFL all-star honours once (2008). He was Saskatchewan’s nominee for the award as the CFL’s most outstanding player in 2008.
He finished his Roughriders career with 904 carries, 4,761 rushing yards, 38 rushing TDs, 183 receptions and 1,779 receiving yards in 76 regular-season games. His rushing yardage is second only to George Reed’s 16,116 in franchise history.
“I was a little skeptical (about getting into the Plaza of Honour) until I got into second place all-time,” Cates said. “Then I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know how I can miss it.’
“There are a lot of Rider greats, but I was lucky enough to be one of those guys who’s considered a great and also be on a great team that won a championship. That definitely helped boost me up the list a little bit.”
Cates, a 37-year-old product of Columbus, Ohio, lives in Regina and is employed by Vertex Resource Group. He was inducted into the California University of Pennsylvania’s Hall of Fame in 2006, so Tuesday’s honour isn’t anything new for him.
Even so, he called it “pretty awesome.”
“It’s not often that you can be immortalized and put in record books so that people, however many years from now, will see your plaque or read your name and know a little bit about what you did,” Cates said during a layover at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. “Something like this is always special. I definitely appreciate it.”
Ironically, one of the Roughriders jerseys in Brandvold’s closet is a No. 20 Cates jersey. On Sept. 22, Brandvold will go into the Plaza of Honour alongside the former tailback.
For the Saskatoon-born Brandvold, being honoured by Saskatchewan’s pro football team holds special meaning.
“I think back to how many times in the backyard I pretended to be George Reed or Ron Lancaster playing football with my friends,” he said. “You grow up being a Saskatchewan Roughrider fan and you want to be part of this.
“Obviously, I didn’t have the skills to play on the field, so how else do you get to be part of it? I was very fortunate to be engaged in the 2003 Grey Cup and that led me to the board of directors in 2005.”
Brandvold was a member of the executive committee for the 2003 Grey Cup, which was staged in Regina. That started his involvement with the Roughriders and he joined their board of directors in 2005.
In 2010, he was elected chairman of the board and began a stint on the CFL’s executive committee that season. As a member of that committee, he helped negotiate the television deal under which the CFL continues to operate.
He was co-chair of the 2013 Grey Cup at historic Mosaic Stadium and played an active role in the planning of new Mosaic Stadium.
On Tuesday, he met the media on the turf at the Roughriders’ new home — a situation he called “surreal.”
“I think back and I’ll always remember that 2012 game with the B.C. Lions when Mayor Pat Fiacco at the time, Premier Brad Wall and I announced that we were going to have this stadium,” said Brandvold, 60. “It seemed like a long ways away before we were going to get here. It’s pretty cool to be standing here right now.”
For information on purchasing tickets to the Plaza of Honour gala, contact the Roughriders’ ticket office (306-525-2181 or 1-888-474-3377) or any committee member.
Picture courtesy of the Saskatchewan Roughriders