No one was more surprised than Rudy Phillips to learn he’d been named for induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
Granted, he was twice named the CFL’s top offensive lineman and three times was a league all-star. However, he had only spent seven seasons in Canada, creating much doubt that his body of work was extensive enough to get noticed, let alone be deemed worthy of being mentioned among the best football players ever to set foot north of the border.
But it proved to be more than enough as Phillips was named for induction Tuesday along with former players Alondra Johnson, Jim Mills and Glen Weir, as well as Tony Anselmo in the builder’s category. The five will formally be inducted in September in Winnipeg.
“It just means so much to me,” Phillips said during a conference call. “I was part of this for just seven years but seven years that I thought we tried to make ourselves better each game . . . and to reach a plateau like this is amazing.
“I’m very thankful.”
The 2009 class, while very deserving, paled in comparison to the notoriety of the ’08 crop, which was headlined by such perennial all-stars as quarterback Doug Flutie, running back-receiver Mike (Pinball) Clemons and CFL rushing leader Mike Pringle along with standout centre John Bonk and longtime Saskatchewan Roughriders director and president Tom Shepherd.
Phillips signed with Ottawa late in the ’81 season and reached the Grey Cup as a rookie with the 5-11 Rough Riders, who nearly recorded the biggest upset in CFL championship history before losing to the heavily favoured Edmonton Eskimos 26-23 in Montreal.
Phillips captured the CFL’s outstanding lineman award in ’82 and ’83 before signing with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills following the ’84 campaign. He returned to Canada in 1986 with Edmonton and spent two seasons there before finishing his CFL career with Calgary in 1988.
There’s no denying Johnson’s body of work. The rugged middle linebacker spent 16 seasons in the CFL, including 13 years patrolling the middle of the Calgary Stampeders’ defence.
Johnson, 43, broke in with the B.C. Lions in 1989 before joining the Stampeders in 1991. After his tenure in Calgary, Johnson finished his career in 2004 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“I guess this is the closer to an outstanding career for me,” Johnson said. “This is the icing on the cake, it doesn’t get any higher than this as a professional athlete.”
The five-foot-11, 225-pound West Texas State product was a three-time CFL all-star and finished his career with 1,085 tackles, leaving him second behind Willie Pless (1,331) when he retired. Johnson has since been surpassed by long-time Toronto Argonaut Mike O’Shea (1,241). Johnson was a three-time Grey cup winner with the Stampeders (1992, 1998 and 2001) but says the club should’ve won more.
“I know that for a fact that we should’ve won more,” he said with a chuckle. “But with the talent that we had, teams were up for playing us.
“They knew they had to play their best and a lot of times we went out, we got their best.”
Mills, 47, a Vancouver native, played his college football at the University of Hawaii before being drafted in the ninth round of the 1983 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts. The offensive tackle spent two seasons with Indy before joining the B.C. Lions in 1986 before signing with Ottawa as a free agent 1994. But he returned to Vancouver to finish his career with the Lions in 1995.
He was named the CFL’s outstanding lineman in 1990 and 1991 and earned league all-star nominations in 1988, 1990, 1991. Yet Mills said he was genuinely surprised when given the news of the induction.
Weir, 57, of London, Ont., spent his entire 13-year CFL career with Montreal but actually broke in with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats when as a 19-year-old he practised with the CFL club, then would return home on weekends to play for the London Lords. The following year the Ticats dealt him to the Als for linebacker Mark Kosmos.
Weir played 203 regular-season games between 1972 and ’84. He appeared in five Grey Cup games, winning two. He was named the Grey Cup defensive MVP in ’77 and was a six-time East Division all-star and three-time CFL all-star.
Anselmo, 91, became a director with the Stampeders in 1967 and served as the club’s president in 1973-’74 and on its advisory board from 1974 through 1982. He also played a big role in the development of McMahon Stadium as a multi-purpose facility and in 2001 was inducted as a builder to the Calgary franchise’s Wall of Fame.
The following year, he was named to the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
“It’s wonderful and it’s about time,” Anselmo said when asked about his reaction to being named to the Hall of Fame. “I’m 91 years old and don’t have many years left.
“But I appreciate the honour.”