Calgary Stampeders star Jon Cornish wins Lou Marsh Memorial Trophy
Jon Cornish was forced to make the media wait.
On a snowy December day, the Calgary Stampeders star running back, who less than three weeks ago had become the CFL’s first Canadian Most Outstanding Player in 35 years, had Monday afternoon obligations.
With a throng of cameras and notepad-toting football writers waiting inside a northwest Calgary TD Canada Trust branch, the clean-shaven 29-year-old, sporting dress pants and cardigan, shuffled behind the desk.
“Hi, can I help you?” Cornish said calmly, beckoning an unsuspecting bank customer to the teller’s booth.
Cornish had just been named the 2013 Lou Marsh Award winner.
He was Canada’s top athlete, outdistancing tennis star Milos Raonic, who became the first player — male or female — to crack the top 10 in the world, and Kaillie Humphries, a back-to-back bobsled world champion.
But Cornish didn’t seem fazed.
More than once, he apologized to his bank manager for the mid-afternoon fuss he had caused.
It was a day unlike any other for fellow employees, who shared in Cornish becoming the first football player to capture the prestigious national award since Russ Jackson did it in 1969.
“I was selected Canadian athlete of the year, so I’m going to be just that and accept it with grace and the politeness of a Canadian,” Cornish said, his bank duties on hold for a few minutes at a branch he had never worked at before, as he had simply picked up an extra five-hour shift on this day.
The significance of what many considered an upset win over Raonic — especially with many of the votes behind held by Toronto-area media where the 22-year-old tennis star grew up — wasn’t lost on Cornish.
“I was pretty taken aback,” said Cornish, who was playing video games when he got the call.
“I was a little bit ... let’s say, unprepared. I didn’t even know there was the Lou Marsh selection (Monday). I was just getting ready to go for a day of work. It was a nice little addition to my day.”
It wasn’t a total surprise for the New Westminster, B.C., product, however, as he had been asked about the possibility when he accepted his MOP trophy at the CFL awards in Regina.
“I asked my mom what it should mean to me, and she said it’s the biggest accolade I’ve ever received — and I agree with that,” Cornish said.
“To win football prizes, I’ve done that. That’s what I’ve tried to do my entire career. But to be recognized as an athlete when you’re up against Kaillie Humphries, an amazing bobsledder, Milos Raonic, a top 10 in the world tennis player ... just the amazing people I was up against, as well as the people who have been named previously — Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Christine Sinclair, Steve Nash, Sidney Crosby, Donovan Bailey, who was one of my huge people growing up — just amazing. I’m still speechless. I don’t really know how to put it into words correctly.”
Also on the six-athlete list this year were Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, figure skater Patrick Chan and decathlete Damian Warner, but Cornish’s 1,813 rushing yards — the fourth-highest total in CFL history — 14 total touchdowns and a franchise-record 2,157 yards from scrimmage were too much to ignore.
He joins Joe Krol (1946), Bob McFarlane (1950) and Jackson as the only football players to win, although McFarlane won more for his track-and-field exploits than his football performance with the University of Western Mustangs.
Measuring the impact of Cornish becoming just the fourth football player to win the award is hard to do in the moment, but bigger than any multi-million dollar television rights deal, bigger than any exposure south of the border, Cornish provided the Canadian Football League with a gift that will keep on giving.
A legit homegrown football star is something this country hasn’t seen since Jackson was piling up touchdowns with the Ottawa Rough Riders in the 1960s.
At a time when marketability and stardom is almost as important as what happens on the playing surface, it’s an opportunity for the CFL to grow the game like never before.
All the young athletes around this country who maybe didn’t see football as a legitimate option now have a name and a face to equate with success on the gridiron.
Cornish doesn’t play football for money, which is why he’s never toured NFL training camps or practice squads, and has no plans reverse course and do so now.
“Honestly, NFL players don’t have second jobs,” Cornish said. “
NFL players also have a 70% bankruptcy rate, post football. That’s not something I’m worried about. I want to be in position, so when I’m done football I’m making more money than when I was playing football. A lot of people just see dollar signs. They see nine digits, 10 digits. I’m not worried about that.”
And with that, the 2013 Lou Marsh Award winner went back to helping others worry about their money.