Two for the Hall

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:15 AM ET

Memo to Mark Messier: It's worth the wait.

There's been all sorts of editorializing along the lines that Mark Messier, to name one of the NHL players retiring this year with undeniable Hall of Fame credentials, shouldn't have to wait three years to be inducted.

Willie Pless waited the minimum five years to get into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Rod Connop waited six.

PLESS A SLAM DUNK

Pless was a slam dunk. Everybody knew the day he retired that he'd be part of the Class of 2005 going into the Hall this weekend in Hamilton where the Edmonton Eskimos meet the Tiger-Cats in tonight's Hall of Fame Game at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

"I thought it would happen eventually," said Pless. "But it's better to have that time to reflect on things. You appreciate it more. And when it happens, it probably means more."

Connop agrees.

"I don't think anybody who goes through this experience would tell you otherwise. There is no doubt in my mind that it's better now than if this had happened to me the year I retired. It's better to let time pass. It makes you appreciate it more. It's a lot more special.

"You need that time away from the game and away from some of the attention. You need some time to take your place in real life and let the pain and some of the disappointments fade, too. You need time to remember the good people who helped you be a success.

"You not only need time to appreciate it for yourself but to appreciate how much of a part other people played for it to happen to you."

Pless, who received a big payoff in Edmonton by going up on the Wall of Fame last year, where Connop will be honoured a month from now, is the kid on the crew. Linebacker Pless retired in 1999. Connop retired in 1998. Linebacker Ray Nettles packed it in in 1980. Offensive lineman Ed George retired in 1978.

Pless was easy to vote in. He had numbers.

In his nine years in Edmonton he set Eskimo records with 813 defensive tackles including 117 in one season and a dozen in four different games. Pless played 250 regular season games with short stops in Toronto and B.C. prior to joining the Eskimos and a final season in Saskatchewan.

Connop , who had the full meal deal in Edmonton, is the Eskimos all-time leader in games played at 303, 274 of them in the regular season, 23 playoff games and six Grey Cups. He played 210 consecutive games at one point, a rare accomplishment for an offensive lineman. Those are the only stats offensive lineman end up with at the end of a career.

Connop says when he received the phone call from the commissioner in January, he was surprised.

"I knew Willie was a sure thing. I continue to be confused why I'm going into the Hall of Fame. I played offensive line and I thought I played it pretty well and I know I worked hard. But to get that phone call saying you're going into the Hall of Fame ...

"At my position you're just so happy somebody was watching, that somebody was paying attention. It's not lost on me that I'm a Canadian. I'm pretty proud of that."

Connop says he can identify with Messier in one area.

"He played a lot later into his career than the guys he started with. I would have retired at least a couple years earlier if I hadn't had Ron Lancaster as coach. He'd gone through the same thing in his career.

"The last few years, it wasn't that I didn't still enjoy the game, it's that all the guys I'd played with were gone. Larry Wruck retired. Blake Dermott retired. I looked around the room and wondered how come I was still there."

FIVE-IN-A-ROW

Connop's first year was the last year of the Eskimos five-in-a-row Grey Cup run.

"I started off as the young pup on a championship team. I left as a grizzled vet."

Pless says the best part of having a five-year wait to get in is that the "ending" comes five years after the end of your career.

"It's like a book. You start with a dream and you add chapters one at a time. Getting in the Hall of Fame is the final chapter. It's good to have to wait a while to find out the ending."


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