Sat, November 6, 2004
Weir forged athletes' bond at extremely early age

Glen Weir dwelled on an area of sports that only the athlete knows, that membership in an international, coed, non-political, equal-rights society that demands no dues beyond those paid through an exceptional career.

It is the brotherhood of the athlete.

"There's a bond between all athletes," Weir is saying as we rumble down Highway 401 with a load of frozen food on board his 18-wheeler. "It isn't just guys you played football with and against. It's all athletes.

"You speak the same language. Elite athletes are brothers and sisters under the skin."

The London Sports Hall of Fame inductee played a lot of football in his 13 Canadian Football League seasons, many of them in all-star form, with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes. The calls still come, such as one from former teammate Mike Widger a couple of weeks ago from New Jersey.

They come from other teammates, former opponents and people from other sports. It is a gratifying part of retirement.

Athletes enjoy each other's company no matter how diverse their games because all of them at the top have an appreciation for what it takes to get to there.

Each leaves his or her own stamp on the game at which they excel.

Weir was 18 when he first went to a CFL camp and when he made it at 19, the Dorchester native established what must be a first.

A few other players have gone straight to the pros from high school at that age but nobody can recall a teenaged defensive lineman making it.

One football rite has rookies stand up at an early training camp dinner, name their school and sing their school song.

Amid all the UCLAs and Alabamas, Weir stood out nearly 35 years ago. "Dorchester High," he announced when it was his turn. And there was no school song to warble.

It was his school principal, Roy Dilworth, who helped pave the way for a pro career when the youthful Weir was showing immense promise. He contacted a friend who was Ticats' team doctor and got the kid a look at training camp.

"I remember really getting banged around; I couldn't figure out where everyone was coming from and thought I was really blowing it," Weir recalled of the camp. "Later, coach (Joe) Restic told me they were triple-teaming me."

Weir was kept on for the main camp, practising with the Ticats but coming home to play with the London Lords.

"I kind of ripped right into the other team with the Lords," he says. "After playing against 30-year-olds, being in against guys just out of high school wasn't too tough."

But it was at Montreal he would make his name, not Hamilton. The following season, he was traded for linebacker Mark Kosmos, a transaction that set in motion events the Ticats would wonder about afterward.

So would Weir, about his choice to go pro instead of considering 17 U.S. college scholarship offers. He shrugs away the might-have-beens.

Weir would go on to five all-star seasons, appear in two Grey Cup games and win defensive player of one of them with deceptive moves developed as a nationally ranked high school wrestler. Quickness of foot and a patented rolling spin off blockers placed him in every quarterback's face more readily than brute strength. He still laughs about the time his favourite Alouettes coach, Marv Levy, saw him standing at the door of the weight room and ordered him away for fear lifting anything could affect his defensive tackle's unique style.

Not that it was ever easy. Weir was asking about McMaster running sensation Jesse Lumsden, who the Western Mustangs have to stop in their OUA semifinal today.

He remembered Jesse's father Neil as one of the hardest-running backs he ever encountered.

"One time, he went right over me and one of his boots got caught under my mask," he recalled.

Amid the blood and sweat, there was a lot of laughs. There was the time Weir returned $20 he'd borrowed in the offseason from Argonaut quarterback Condredge Holloway -- on the ground, after he'd sacked him during a pre-season game. There was a never-ending parade of characters that football seems to attract more than other sport.

He cited one teammate who spoke to vending machines, convinced he would be presented with a free soft drink. And a coach who enjoyed head-butting and whom he once knocked out cold. And all the bizarre rites and cadres the game engenders.

Weir, for example, was vice-president of the unofficial CFL Bad Body Club, reserved for players with odd shapes. Bill (The Undertaker) Baker was president. Weir teammate Sonny Wade was a member and so was another quarterback, Edmonton's Tom Wilkinson, who was affectionately known around the CFL as Funny-Body for his short, squarish shape.

There was heartbreak, when the troubled Alouettes were sold to become the Concordes, then delight when the Alouettes handle was restored.

Weir is pleased at the Als' resurgence.

"They're proof that smaller venues is the route to go," Weir said. "There's no sense trying to be hockey, to compete with the NHL. There's nothing wrong with filling up smaller stadiums."

That said, he says teams such as the Alouettes do not have one luxury.

"Montreal has to have a winner and if you aren't winning, they won't come and see you," he said.

As for former teammates, the ones he doesn't see, he hears from, including the other half of the dynamic

D-line duo at Montreal, Gord Judges. The recent call from Mike Widger was treated with the usual football irreverence.

"I thought Widger was dead but maybe I got it wrong and it was his liver that was dead," he said. "Or maybe it was his liver calling to tell me Mike was still alive. I don't know," he chuckled.

One way or another, Montreal is never far away for Weir even now. He hauled a load there just this week.

A good question is how far away Hamilton is. That's where the Canadian Football Hall of Fame is located. There has to be a spot there for the high schooler who turned pro and got in 13 quality seasons and a Grey Cup ring.

MONDAY: Ray Getliffe.