HAMILTON - Jason Jimenez has spent the last six-plus seasons building a reputation as the baddest, biggest, most ornery Canadian Football League offensive lineman between Lotusland and The Hammer.
In many ways Jimenez has succeeded. The league fined him last year for a controversial hit on B.C. Lions defensive lineman Brent Johnson.
In 2007 he was involved in an incident from which Calgary defensive lineman Anthony Gargiulo emerged with a broken leg. Publicly stigmatized, even fellow CFL players donít quite know what to make of him.
But, hey, itís football. Stuff happens.
And nowhere does it happen more often then where few men dare to tread. And no time does it happen more often than when Jimenez is in the building.
He is a warrior. In his world it is the only way to survive. Right? The only way to win. Blah, blah, blah, blah. ďIím not one to associate football with war. I take exception to that because we can walk away from this anytime. Guys who go to war and end up in hospital with their limbs blown off canít walk away from anything.Ē
Thatís the other thing about Jimenez. As reputations go, his may be the most reviled, and perhaps, much distorted. Jimenez is anything but the template for the thick-headed U.S. college football graduate who couldnít count to 10 without a scoreboard.
He is erudite. Well-spoken to the point of superfluity ó in English, Spanish or German. Your choice. He has earned joint degrees in political science and criminal justice at Southern Mississippi. He comes with a ready smile. And, heís nobodyís dummy.
Itís just that in his football world, ďyou canít be a nice guy,Ē he agreed.
ďThatís the difficulty I find with the Canadian football game,Ē Jimenez said, as the Ticats prepare to play in B.C. Friday for the first time since the block that outraged and sent ripples of controversy through the league. ďMost of the offensive lineman who come from the Division 1 NCAA schools have had it ingrained into their psyche from their college offensive line coaches that thereís only one way to play the position. Thatís very raw. Very aggressive.
ďWhen I see Canadian offensive lineman that mindset hasnít been introduced as much. That isnít to say theyíre not good players. But the mindset, the philosophy, between the two styles of football differ greatly in my opinion. I think a lot of that comes from the expectations of NCAA programs, that thrive on making sure their offences are geared around tough offensive lines.Ē
Jimenez is on a verbal roll. He yanks at the tape on hands that, in a handshake, grip like steel bands. ďI believe in order to play this position you have to be a tough guy. You have to be able to take nicks and bangs and get yelled at when itís not your fault. Thatís the name of the game when you choose to play in the trenches.
ďItís a tough game in there and not many people can do it because not only do you need to be tough, you need to be smart and technically sound. At the end of the day, the smartest guys in football are the offensive linemen.Ē
A granite wall of 6-foot-7, he stands between quarterback Kevin Glenn and the mayhem of footballís trenches where games are won and lost but where the participants are rarely celebrated. The only time an offensive lineman gets noticed is when something goes wrong, when a running back gets plastered, when a penalty flag flies.
In that kind of working atmosphere it is necessary to live in a teflon bubble, necessary to develop a single-minded obsession with the next play, the next block, the next step. Everything else fades to blackness. The crowd is there; yet it isnít. The noise is there; yet it isnít. In the trenches there is only the sweat, the blood, a snarling stew of arms, legs, and bodies co-ordinated in a dance of pain and occasional ecstasy.
ďItís all about executing your play, blocking all the noise out, blocking out what people on the sideline are saying. When youíre in tune with the game, it slows down for you and it becomes easier. There have been times Iíve been so involved in games and, bang! I look up at the clock. Itís zero, zero, zero. Gameís over, and Iím like, Oh! Really?
ďIím so zoned in on each play. Youíre just so in the moment.Ē
And, in that moment there is no time for good guys or bad guys. There are only guys who survive.