Q&A: George Reed on his health, labour disputes and the 2020 CFL season
REGINA -- CTV News Regina’s Claire Hanna sat down with CFL Legend George Reed, after his physiotherapy appointment in Regina.
The 80-year-old is a member of the Order of Canada and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1979. Reed still holds the CFL Record for Most Career Rushing touchdowns, with 134.
We showed Reed roughly five minutes worth of game footage on a tablet, spanning his 13-year career.
George Reed: Certain games I’ve played, I can remember really well.
CTV: Do you watch yourself play anymore?
GR: Not that much. If somebody has something for me to see and so forth, I’ll watch it.
CTV: When you played who was your most bitter rival?
GR: Depends. If you look at the first two years, it was the BC Lions. The next couple of years were Winnipeg. Then Calgary and then Edmonton.
CTV: Some of these plays I don’t know how you get through the defensive line. How much of it was mental and how much was physical?
GR: I had a lot of faith in my blockers in front of me. They would say if they couldn’t open a hole, they would say that. But I had a lot of faith in them and I had good vision. The thing about it is, I could start off to the right and it wouldn’t look good and I could see something back to the left and I could go to the left and everything else so I think my vision was a big part of it.
CTV: How did you not commit to one area, in case another gap opened up?
GR: I just watched my offensive lineman in front of me and I could tell what was going and what was happening just by which blocking was going and this type of thing. It was also different if you asked me to get you two yards for a first down, that was different than if it was first and 10 and I was running. So I wasn’t concerned about going a long ways, I was concerned about getting a first 10 and continuing to go that way. If it was first and 10, I could cut and move anyway I wanted to.
CTV: Who was the best blocker in front of you that you played with?
GR: I had a great offensive line but I think one of the best was Ted Urness, the center. He was outstanding in everything else and could have played in the NFL, that’s how good he was. But we had a very strong offensive line with him and Al Benecick and Clyde Brock. These guys we had a big offensive line that could move people.
CTV: Do you like watching yourself?
GR: I haven’t watched a lot of games, but you know it’s interesting to watch what we had to go up against and a lot of times our halfback was hurt so I had to carry a lot of load and so forth.
CTV: We saw you doing some activities here today, what were you doing?
George Reed: We’re trying to strengthen my lower legs and so forth. I had two back operations and I’m not back to where I should be. So I come and Chantale (Reed’s physiotherapist) she hollers at me and screams at me about what I should do. I try to do it and we’re basically working on trying to get my back back, and at the same time keep my arms in shape.
CTV: Were the two back surgeries due to football injuries? (Reed had an operation in 2017, and another in 2018)
GR: Probably has something to do with it and everything else. It just came up on me all of a sudden. But I wouldn’t trade anything for it, or anything else, it’s just a matter of trying to work and trying to get strong. We had a good thing going and then we had that pandemic so we had to take off a month or so, so it’s like starting all over again, we have to try to build up to where we were before.
CTV: What activities did you have to stop doing because of your injuries?
GR: Just moving around freely. I have to depend on my wheelchair for going to football games. It’s just difficult to just stand and move like I used too. I have to be careful of how I do that. Once you get in your mind of what you have to do, I think you can do it.
CTV: Things are a lot different now from when you played football, did players workout in the gym? Did you lift weights?
GR: We lifted weights but we didn’t have all of the equipment. We had maybe a couple of barbells. When I lifted weights it was basically after I felt an injury or something, but I didn’t lift a lot of weights. Once the season started I went to the YMCA, I used to lift a lot of weights to start the season. I would try to go into camp at about 80 per cent and build from there to 100 per cent and get ready to go.
CTV: You lifted at the YMCA? The Roughriders didn’t have a workout facility?
GR: No. We didn’t have a workout facility. We had a shower with four shower heads and we had a big tub, whirlpool that also served as an ice bath. The stuff that they have now, that they’re working with, we could dream about it but we had nothing like that. I had a good trainer in Sandy Archer. He was ahead of his time so we probably did some things back then, before other teams started doing it, like ice treatment.
CTV: When you had an injury, did you get physiotherapy?
George Reed: Whatever our trainer said that he wanted me to do, that’s what I did. I would be beat up after a game and it would probably take me about three days and I’d be ready to play again. When I first started we played a lot of close games. We’d play in Toronto on Friday night and Montreal on Sunday afternoon. You didn’t worry about it. It’s probably bad for me to say it but just give me a beer, let me settle down, give me some food and I’m ready to go. It was normally very hot, it was probably 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit in Montreal and Toronto. It was tough. You can moan and groan about it but it’s time to play and away you go. One season I played four games in 11 days. It was one of those things, you had to play, and the guys used to laugh and say if you want to, you can line up 16 games in a row in 16 days and we can go home. That’s the way the guys felt about it. My offensive lineman, as long as you gave them a beer after the game, they were ready to play.
CTV: You make the players now seem soft compared to you guys, they get one game every two weeks sometimes!
GR: We played what was put in front of us. The schedule would come out and of course when we first started out we’d go out East, play two games, Friday night Sunday afternoon. It was just something that was there. These guys never faced that because of different things. I probably caused some of it, because I was the one that pushed for a lot of it with the Players Association. I was President for a long time. I pushed for changes. I can remember guys making $2,000-$3,000 in a season. When I became President I pushed and got that changed so at least the guys were making $11,000 was the minimum. They took advantage of some of the guys.
CTV: Right now, what are your observations with regards to issues the CFL and the Players Association are trying to negotiate?
GR: I don’t mean to be disrespectful but I think they put too much in the media. I think if you sat down at a table and you worked things out, and if you can’t work things out today, you agree to meet tomorrow or next week and work on the issues. It seems like now, everybody wants to showboat too much, to show which side is right, which side is wrong. I think it’s wrong in all sports. I look at my phone and read stuff, and everything you hear is, “we got to see if the players and owners can get along and if they can agree on this,” and I think there’s too much of it. I think you go behind closed doors, you work it out. You have a fistfight if you have to have it. When you leave a room, you shake hands and say ‘I’ll see you in three years and we’ll go through this again’.
CTV: When you workout now, do you motivate yourself thinking of your career?
GR: No, I motivate myself by the people that are trying to help me. That’s what motivates me, people who want me to get better. Chantale works really hard with me, she knows what I want to accomplish. She works hard at it to get me there because that’s what I want to do.
CTV: What’s your goal?
GR: My goal is too get up off of this thing here (his walker) and walk around. Whether I have to walk with a cane or not, but I’m tired of this thing here. That’s what my goal is, number one is to get up, and if I have to walk with a cane, and start with that and pretty soon throw the cane away, that’s what I want to do.
CTV: How close are you?
George Reed: We were doing very well until this epidemic came. She had to close up for six weeks and I couldn’t do anything. I did a little bit at home. It’s different, you cheat a little bit or put it off until the next day, it’s not like you have a schedule where you get things done. I think I’m making improvements and I’m getting better. Hopefully in a little while we’ll have some startling news for you.
CTV: You’ve inspired so many people in Saskatchewan, in Canada with your play, but I think this is going to inspire people who have health goal of their own. What would you say to them?
GR: You never give up. You have to continue on working and set goals for yourself. A lot of the times you can achieve those goals and maybe you’ve set the goal too high, but it’s something you can always work towards. If you do that then someone will be very surprised of what the body can overcome and what the body can do.
CTV: You had some friends that set up that GoFundMe page for you, there’s people who are really looking out for you, what does that support mean to you? And what does Chantale mean to you?
GR: It means the world to me. A lot of the times everybody thinks everything is fine. But the work that Chantale is doing with me, and the GoFundMe page, was very surprising. I really appreciate it. I had a couple issues they helped me clear up and I was happy with that. I’d just like to thank people, like Chantale and everybody else that have helped me out a little bit.
CTV: If there’s no season, and it is 2021, how excited are you to be back there, cheering them on, and hopefully walking into the stadium?
GR: I miss going to the stadium. I might have missed one football game since I had my first back surgery, but I think it was exhibition and I just didn’t want to go. But I enjoy going to games and watching the guys and seeing them improve and especially this past year when everybody thought we’d wind up in first place. I hope to go back, it’s a good outing for me. Nobody bothers me and I kind of sit there and watch the game, and that’s what I like.
CTV: What are your thoughts on what’s happening in the 2020 season?
GR: I wish they’d make up their minds whether we’re going to have a football season or not so I can set my mind to it. I’d say it’s a little difficult right now. You sit at home, you watch a baseball game, nobody’s in the stands. They’re talking about playing hockey but nobody’s going to be in the stands. Without people in the stands hollering and screaming, all you’re doing is going through the actions, going through the motions. I hope they decide whether we’re going to have a CFL season. If we have to play with no people in the stands go ahead and do that, but let’s get going so we can get ready for 2021.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity.