Football

Tales from down the line

It's raw, it's emotional, it's often personal and at times it can seem like a combination Grade 6 recess, MMA cage match and sweat soaked caldron of emotion.

CFL battles in the trenches can seem like Grade 6 recess

Saskatchewan offensive lineman Jeremy O'Day (54) and Marc Parenteau (57) have been dealing with overweight jokes for most of their lives. ((Chris Young/Canadian Press))

It's raw, it's emotional, it's often personal and at times it can seem like a combination Grade 6 recess, MMA cage match and sweat soaked caldron of emotion.

No, not parliament.

We're not fat, just big boned

When the Saskatchewan Roughriders set up for their first offensive series last Saturday against the Toronto Argonauts, the offensive line of Harris, Best, O'Day, Parenteau and O'Meara totalled out at an even 1,500 pounds.

Or 300 each, if you're weighing in at home.

No surprise that defensive linemen like to use a lot of fat jokes when chirping during a game. And that's dumb, says Marc Parenteau (all 290 pounds of him).

"Little do they realize we've been called overweight names since we were about four years old, because we've all been pretty fat all of our lives," says the Riders' right guard. "So for me to be called a fat blank doesn't really bother me anymore."

Besides, some of the fellas on the other side should talk.

"To be honest, when I'm playing a D-tackle, who weighs maybe 20 pounds less than me, he's not that far off. He's about two Whoppers away from my weight, so I'm not worried about that."

Just for the record, Scott Schultz is the heaviest defensive lineman on the Riders. He's a hefty 296.

All muscle, of course.

It's life along the offensive and defensive lines at a CFL game, where the big fellas spend 60 minutes trying to pound each other into the ground. It's language that would make a Vancouver dockyard stevedore blanch.

"It kind of goes with the game," says Marc Parenteau, who patrols the O-line for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and who can give it back in two official languages. "There are some comments you make during a game you'd probably get arrested for if you said that on the street."

Perpetual halos

Like all self-respecting offensive linemen with a perpetual halo over their heads, Parenteau says it's the D-Line folks who always start things, just because they think the blockers are holding. Or shoving in the back. Or chop blocking.

"I like to give it back," he says. "Usually I start off with a few choice words and as the game goes on I choose a couple more."

It can also get funny. Such as Week 1 against the Lions when everyone was chirping back and forth and Riders' centre Jeremy O'Day said to a B.C. behemoth: "Does you mother know you talk like that?" And the Lions defender said right back: "Does your mother know you talk like that?"

That broke everyone up and the linemen spent the rest of the game picking on the guy for not being creative.

Same week, over in Hamilton, Tiger-Cats' excellent offensive lineman Dan Goodspeed spent the evening chatting with Toronto D-lineman Adriano Belli. It went on for four quarters and afterwards the Argo giant was questioned about the subject.

Belli claimed they were merely exchanging real estate ideas.

Right.

But all-star Dario Romero, who patrols the D-line for the Edmonton Eskimos and has seen everything in his years here and four in the NFL, says hey, it could have happened.

"It can go from a conversation about what we did last week, or the last time we played each other to, you know, something dirty is going on and you just start running your mouth that way," says the soft spoken Washington state native.

"Like when we played Winnipeg, me and Picard [centre Dominic, now an Argo] were always going at it, it was fun and sometimes it was mean, but it was just fun. There's always one guy."

Up close and personal

Calvin Armstrong, Romero's teammate and an O-lineman, says the fact CFLers play each other a lot during a year means you do get some discussion about buying a house and what goes on in the off-season.

Plus, you know, a lot of expletives mixed in with questionable chat about wives and moms.

"I've heard Gavin Walls [old No. 98 over in Winnipeg] say some pretty over the top expletives," Armstong says. "Pretty shocking. Funny, though. Not scary shocking."

Armstrong wears the same halo that all O-boys do. And if he takes an occasional thumb in the eye, it was absolutely uncalled for.

"I don't hold anyone. I never have," he says. "It's only holding when I get a penalty. I hold twice a year, I guess."

You can hear the grin over the phone.

Talk of line talk tends to get back around to all-star Aaron Hunt, the talented Texan on the Lions' defensive four.

"Some guys won't shut up," Parenteau says. "Aaron Hunt is just a motor mouth. I don't know how he doesn't run out of breath."

But it's funny stuff, Armstrong adds.

On the other hand, over in B.C. there was Cameron Wake, now with the Miami Dolphins. In two CFL seasons he compiled 39 quarterback sacks and was twice named the league's top lineman.

A big talker?

"Cameron never said a word," Armstrong says. "Sometimes the silence is worse. He just kicks your butt and doesn't say anything."

Stressful times

Belli, a renowned talker, turned quite thoughtful when asked at practice about the tensions along the line, and he wrapped it up pretty well.

"You've got a split second to make decisions, right? This is a profession where they videotape you and you get critiqued on how well you played. So it's stressful out there, tempers flare, that's for damn sure."

In other words, if we were being filmed every moment of every day at our work, and the bosses called us out in front of everyone else for mistakes, we might do the same.

"I just try to get under [the O'line's] skin," Belli says. "Maybe grab their ass, always you let them know if they screwed up on a play. It's a mind game as much as it is physical."

And then he smiles, leans down and puts a big kiss on the reporter's cheek.

Second of the day.