We have hit the halfway point of our journey through the greatest players by number. My hope is that at some point I’ll be able to transition to talking about real football but I guess we’ll just have to see.
We are into the 50s which means we are starting to talk about a lot of linemen (something this franchise has a proud history of).
50 – Starting off with a controversial one. Any Rider historian or fan over the age of 45 will point immediately to Wayne Shaw. Not to diminish what a great career Shaw had but this one has to go to LB Jerrell Freeman. Simply put he was one of the most talented players I have every watched. He would fly around the field and always find himself around the ball. He went from an unknown Div 3 player, to a outstanding Rider to an NFL starter. He was unreal to watch.
51 – First name that came to mind was Chunky Adams. Now, I like Chunky for a lot of reasons but had a hard time calling him the greatest. The bar didn’t go a lot higher but OL John Terry gets this one. He was named an all-star twice in his 5 year tenure with the Riders.
52 – Cliff Shaw was an option but I’m sticking with the O-line theme and going OL Wayne Smith. He did not have a particularly long Rider career but he was a top end starting OL that helped put this team over the hump in 2007. He is also part of one of the greatest trades in Rider history… when the Ti-Cats just gifted us everything we needed in exchange for Rocky Butler.
53 – This one was a no brainer. It goes to one of the most unique combinations in all of sports… that being the combination starting O-lineman/Placekicker. Yes you heard me right! OL Jack Abendschan. Not only did he play O-line at an all-star level he also kicked field goals. I don’t think we will even see anything even remotely similar again.
54 – I’ll give him minor demerit points for not being able to kick a FG but for 10 years OL Jeremy O’Day was a rock solid presence in the middle of our OL. He’s arguably the best centre in franchise history.
55 and 56– Doing this in combination as the story is the exact same. Both Mario DeMarco and Ray Syrnyk were top end OL who had their careers ended much too early in a tragic plane crash.
57 – One of the toughest choices of this whole thing. Two Saskatchewan Products. Two talented linemen. Two Grey Cup Champions. Two tough SOBs. Bob Poley is probably more iconic but I’m given I slight edge to OL Brendon LaBatte. He is a 5 time all-star and has won Lineman of the Year. He also had to overcome getting that Winnipeg stink off of him… which is no small accomplishment.
58 – Shonte Peoples anyone? Come on, he was in Frontlyne. Plus he made things interesting off the field. Ok fine. I’ll go with someone who played alongside Labatte. OL Xavier Fulton. In his prime, I don’t think he got credit for how good he was at tackle. Fun fact: we acquired him from Edmonton for a 6th round pick.
59 – I did want to give this to Jocelyn Frenette for being a solid long snapper and excelling as the designated “fake an injury after the convert on a defensive or special teams touchdown so the guys can catch their breath" guy. But OL Ralph Galloway takes this one. 5 straight western all-stars and 2 time CFL all-star.