Finally, kudos for Kenny Lehmann
By EARL McRAE, QMI Agency
|Former Rough Riders star middle linebacker Ken Lehmann is being inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame this week. (ERROL McGIHON/QMI Agency)
OTTAWA - Kenny Lehmann and his proud family are flying off to Calgary Wednesday for the ultimate honour in his great football career — induction into the Canadian Football Hall Of Fame.
This summer he was measured for his blazer size, his ring size, had photos taken of his head for the bust, and when he gets off the plane, a ceremonial white stetson will be planted on him before a swank limo takes him to the hotel.
We at the Ottawa Sun, where Kenny’s a sales rep, are proud for him, too, having sent him off with a big gathering outside his office, a cake, a poster of him signed by all, words of congratulation, hand-clapping applause.
Through it all Kenny, 69, stood there abashed, quiet, modest, humble as ever, and if you didn’t know him, had never seen him play, and someone told you “That’s Kenny Lehmann, he was the CFL’s greatest, most ferocious middle linebacker of his era, no one more dominant,” you’d have a hard time believing it.
Very few of us in life ever become the absolute best at what we do, better than all others in our chosen skills, but Kenny Lehmann, a baker’s son from Louisville, Kentucky, stood alone and triumphantly atop the mountain in the years he played with the Ottawa Rough Riders — 1964-1971.
That he wasn’t inducted into the Hall years ago made no sense to those who played with him and against him, an inexcusable injustice when one considers the Hall has players at middle linebacker whose credentials didn’t match his.
Politics plays a part, but Lehmann was never one to play politics. Or to blow his horn. There’ve been Hall of Fame inductees who lobbied the selectors with PR campaigns. Kenny Lehmann? Never. His performance on the field should have been more than enough.
Angelo Mosca, the superb, mean, defensive tackle of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats never played the political game either, yet was rightfully inducted in 1987. As for just how great Kenny Lehmann was, no other words are needed than those once spoken by Mosca: “It’s f---ing ridiculous. How the ignorant morons on the selection committee over the years could justify keeping Kenny from being inducted is criminal. The guy was something else. Not just tough as nails, but a leader.
“He was a clean player, but there are old ex-players walking around today with limps and other injuries because they got nailed by Kenny. There are guys in the Hall who didn’t come close to having the impact in this league that Kenny had. No matter how big or tough you were, you didn’t want to get hit by Kenny Lehmann. He was a killer.”
The late Pat Marsden did play-by-play of CFL games on TV back then. He’d rave over Lehmann when Ottawa was playing. It’d usually go something like this: Saskatchewan. First and 10 on the Ottawa 40. Lancaster up over the ball. He hands off to Reed — OHHHHHH! Kenny Lehmann just DESTROYED George Reed. He PULVERIZED HIM. You don’t often see the great Saskatchewan running back levelled like that. Reed is slow to get up.
Schenley award winner
Kenny Lehmann: Four-time CFL all-star. Five-time Eastern all-star. Two-time Riders MVP. Schenley Award winner as the league’s Most Outstanding Lineman. Runner-up another time. Nominated a third time. The Riders’ defensive captain each year he played. Hugely instrumental in two Grey Cup wins. To this day, 44 years after he set it, tied for most blocked punts by a player in a CFL game: Two.
Kenny, the Hall at last — what’s it mean to you? Getting him to boast about himself is impossible. “When it wasn’t happening for me, I kind of just forgot about it. It’s nice to be remembered, but I didn’t do it alone. Football’s a team sport.”
What lingering injuries do you have from how you played? He smiles. “Well, I can’t completely extend my right arm. It only has 25% strength. I had my right knee replaced 10 years ago and I’ll have to have the other one done, too. It’s just bone on bone. And I have back pain.”
Do you have your big speech prepared for Friday night?
“Well, I’m not a great speaker. Everybody in the family kind of pitched in for me. I’m gonna start off with ‘It’s been a long time coming. I thought I’d be old and grey before I got this.’ ”
Kenny Lehmann. Grey. But never old to those of us who remember.