Who's Number 1?

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

Charles Roberts wasn't ducking the media yesterday, and why would he? He's not in the midst of any self-made controversies.

No, it's all sunshine and lollipops for the elusive running back these days, and he's not sidestepping any of it.

As hard to figure off the field as he is to catch on it, Blink is on the brink of eclipsing Leo Lewis as the most productive ball carrier in Blue Bomber history.

But does that make him the best Bomber back ever?

To help find the answer, we enlisted some help. After all, it takes more than one person to corral No. 1.

Our group of gang-tacklers: Canadian Football Hall of Fame quarterback Ken Ploen, former running back and current Toronto Argonauts coach Pinball Clemons and retired sportswriter Jack Matheson.

Let's start with Ploen, who had the best seat in the house for many of the Lincoln Locomotive's 8,861 yards.

Ploen has watched Roberts' electrifying career from a different vantage point, and while he says the little guy with the big attitude is good, Lewis was great.

"I want Leo Lewis, no question," Ploen said yesterday. "He was bread and butter. He threw passes, caught passes, ran power up the middle, ran outside. A team player, whether you gave him the ball or not -- it didn't matter."

Ploen says Roberts might be faster than Lewis was, but he argues Lewis's numbers are artificially low.

"We had four backs and used them all," Ploen said. "Had we been running the same system they have today, the guy would have had a piss pot more yards because he would have got the ball more."

Clemons isn't a long-time Bomber observer, of course, but he's on our panel to talk about Roberts' place in recent CFL history.

Part of the league the last 18 years, Clemons is most impressed with two things: Roberts' ability to get the most out of every carry, and the fact he brings the attitude of a pit bull, even though he's built more like a chihuahua.

"I just really love his temperament," Clemons said. "I mean, he stands all of 5-foot-6, and he's just the biggest, baddest dude on the field. He knows it, and he plays in a way where he makes everybody else understand that.

"Just a tremendous, tremendous player. He, quite honestly, is the guy I like to watch more than any other guy."

Maybe even the best he's seen up here.

"It's hard to compare eras. It's hard to compare styles," Clemons said. "He's at the top. Whether he is No. 1 or 1A or 1B or 1C, he's at the top."

That would put Roberts right up there with Mike Pringle, the CFL's all-time rushing leader. Does that automatically make him better than Lewis?

Not according to Matheson, the former Winnipeg Tribune sports editor and columnist.

Matty says Lewis will remain the real No. 1, no matter what the numbers may say by the end of the season.

"He did more things," Matheson said. "He was just a superb athlete. He was elusive and he had power. He was just the best back we ever had, that's all. And of course (coach) Bud Grant's immortal line was, 'The best football player he ever coached.' And that's in two leagues. That's quite a testimonial."

It is, and it shouldn't diminish what Roberts has accomplished the last six-plus seasons.

"I have no objection to the little guy," Matty continued. "He's a hell of a back. But he doesn't belong in the same class as Leo."

Having never seen Lewis, I'd take Roberts and Willard Reaves as the best backs of the modern Bomber era, with Roberts about to take the crown alone based on longevity.

Of course, you could argue this one forever.

The best quarterback in Bomber history (no argument there) probably sums it up best.

"Forget the comparison," Ploen concluded. "They're both great backs."


Videos

Photos