Lineman invisible no more

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

How guys 300 pounds-plus can be invisible most of the time is one of the great magic acts of sports, but offensive linemen manage it.

O linemen get zero notice. It comes with the territory.

They plow open paths for fleet-footed running backs and hold the enemy hordes off strong-armed quarterbacks in the knowledge that recognition accrues to them only via their coaches, rarely the fans.

The guys who run, catch and throw for touchdowns get the plaudits. The defensive guys across from them intent on making them look bad often get mentioned in dispatches, especially for sacks.

O linemen? Zero acknowledgement.

But one thing can change all that, Jude St. John has learned. Win a championship and everyone who played a part gets to take some bows.

After slugging it out in the trenches for a decade, St. John's longest season wound up with the Grey Cup in his large hands when his Argonauts knocked off the B.C. Lions in the CFL final. Over the week and a half since, St. John has received more recognition than in the previous 10 years.

"It has been incredible," the big guard says. "First, the parade with all the people cheering and yelling and being genuinely excited. Since then, there have been interviews and speaking engagements and people coming up for autographs. Yes, it's been a thrill."

One of the greatest thrills is to pen his name with "2004 Grey Cup Champions" as a tag line. It doesn't hurt that St. John is one of the more erudite Argos and well-suited to public speaking.

But aside from that, and the $12,000 per player victor's share, there is the career milestone. A lot of players go through long careers without even getting to the final game.

"I was talking with (fellow former Western Mustang) Sandy Annunziata and he made the point that if you end your career without having won the big one, it hangs over you."

It has, as we said, been a long time coming for the guy who commutes from his London home to Argo practices in Mississauga. He's happy to see the end of those long drives in his elongated season.

But at the same time, St. John is looking ahead to the defence of the Grey Cup. The Argos, he maintains, will be doing it from a position of strength.

"We have a team that a lot of players will want to be part of," he said. "The owners are solid, the coaching staff is in place, there's a new stadium coming. We will be able to pick up some free agents and sign some of our own."

New ownership pulled the Argos from status as a league-run team to solid footing. They'll play their final season at the SkyDome likely under less-than-perfect conditions (more midweek dates) now that the baseball Blue Jays owners snapped up for a song the building Ontario taxpayers are still on the hook for.

But in 2006, the Argos will move into their own digs at York University, a 25,000-seat stadium.

There were times over the lean years when St. John admits he was tempted to break out in profanity. It's been a bit of a thing with him since he was a Mustang. He wouldn't even join in the customary Mustang post-game chant.

"I always had running bets with other players about not swearing," he explained. "So I never did (the chant). But when we won the national championship (1994), I did. Holy smokes, it was nothing major."

What about as a pro, when tempers are flaring and caution is thrown to the wind?

"There are times on the field when there are things that need to be said and there is only one appropriate way to say them, but you have to bite your tongue," he laughed.

In January, St. John will be back in the classroom as a supply teacher. That might involve some tongue-biting, too.


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