February 2, 2018

Winds of change for two staple rush ends

In an ideal world, Charleston Hughes left his press conference in Calgary on Friday afternoon and Odell Willis left his home in Edmonton at the same time.

The two all-star defensive ends, you hope, would arrive in Red Deer, Alta., their neutral meeting site, around the same time. Whatever bar they walk into should buy the first round. It’s been that kind of day for both of them.

Hughes, a 10-year CFL vet that has spent his entire career in Calgary, was traded on Friday.


Willis, a nine-year vet that started his CFL career in Calgary alongside Hughes, was traded from Edmonton — his home for the last five years — a few hours later.


Hughes, 34, is now a Saskatchewan Roughrider. Willis 33, is now a BC Lion. While they’ve been rivals the last eight years, both men find themselves in this fictitious bar in the same metaphorical boat.


» Frantic Friday: Recapping a busy day in the CFL off-season
» Lions acquire Willis after being traded from Esks to REDBLACKS
» On the Move Again: Willis traded to Riders
» The Snap: Rapid reaction to wild day in the CFL

Both victims of battles that no player can win — age and the salary cap — they deserve to meet up, grab a seat at the bar, have a laugh and get a much-deserved beer.

Friday started off with the same relieving end-of-the-week feel that it always has. By its end, the trades had reverberated across the league, creating a good couple of hours of transactional chaos. The east served as a very temporary out of the way layover for two of its best-ever defensive linemen, who each ultimately only moved one province over from where they woke up this morning.

At the end of the disjointed trips, both will have reunions in their new destinations. Hughes pairs with Chris Jones in Saskatchewan. Jones was Hughes’ first defensive coordinator in the CFL, holding the role in Calgary from 2008 to 2011. Willis lands in BC with new GM Ed Hervey having orchestrated the move. Hervey brought Willis to Edmonton in 2012, one of the first moves he made in his first year as the Esks’ GM.

In Edmonton, Willis found the greatest success of his career. He had 46 of his career 86 sacks in Green and Gold, but his off-field growth was the most impressive. He found the balance that many young, sometimes immature players struggle with as they grow up. Winning became more important to him than anything else, with fun a distant second. His numbers were lower in Chris Jones’ defence in 2014 and 2015, but he was a key piece of that Grey Cup-winning defence in 2015, willing to drop back from the line of scrimmage to make tackles or disrupt passes when Jones asked him to. He’d still gobble like a turkey on the sidelines to TSN cameras, but he was all business when he’d go back into the game.

In Calgary, Hughes spent a decade showing what kind of motor he had. Cut in the 2008 training camp by then Stamps GM Jim Barker and called back two weeks later after an injury, Hughes was an instant fit with the Stamps. His numbers climbed and peaked with an absurd 18 sacks in 2013. He’s stayed in double digits in three of the four years that followed, posting 16 sacks in 2016 and a league-best 11 in 2017. Always outspoken, he wore a custom-made iSack shirt on the walkthrough day of the West final last year, promising he’d sack Mike Reilly six times in the game. He boasted during Grey Cup week that Ricky Ray turtles when he sees him coming to sack him.

On the fictitious stools of that Red Deer bar, two of the CFL’s biggest personalities and most dominant defensive ends should grab a seat and commiserate over what’s been a truly strange day in the history of this league. And if it were a truly ideal world, the bartender would be Kevin Glenn himself, wearing the Argos jersey that he owned for less than a day. He’d ask them what they’d like to have and tell them that he knows how it feels.