Johnson: Cornish set to pull rare CFL double — the MOP award and Top Canadian honours
Stamps running back should be heavily favoured to beat Toronto QB Ricky Ray for CFL’s most outstanding player
It’s unclear whether Jon Cornish is obliged to still rent a tuxedo for nights like Nov. 21st’s upcoming black-tie soiree at the Delta Regina.
But if not, given an increasing frequency to be spiffed up like Fred Astaire come Grey Cup week, the number of gilt-edged RSVP invitations that arrive in the mail requesting his attendance at such la-di-da affairs, maybe he should really go out and splash some cash on his very own set of dinner dress duds.
They’re apt to come in handy again.
Beaten last year by the Argos’ all-purpose Chad Owens for Most Outstanding Player, this time, surely, there can be no doubt the Calgary Stampeders dynamic tailback will do a rare double — Most Outstanding Canadian, MOP — last achieved by Ottawa Roughriders’ receiving ace Tony Gabriel 35 seasons ago.
Cornish’s competition for the big bauble this go-round, the ageless, peerless Ricky Ray, defying the passing of the years, displaying the intricate precision of a Swiss clockmaker when health allowed him to be in control of the Argo offence. A 126.4 quarterback rating, 77.2 completion percentage and 21 TD-tosses-two-picks ratio are, indisputably, nothing short of other-planetary.
But MOP means — or should, anyway — the full meal-deal, not half a season and bit of spare change.
What atrocities could the evergreen quarterback from Happy Camp, Calif. have inflicted on bunged-up defensive secondaries had he stayed upright, remained healthy, through the maximum 18 starts? Mind-altering, most likely. But that’s still nothing more than wistful conjecture.
Just the facts, m’am. And the fact is that 10 games are far, far too small a sample size to begin honouring with major awards. No matter how jaw-dropping those 10 games may have been. And even considering that this, unbelievably, marks the first MOP finalist nod of Ray’s illustrious career.
Taken in its entirety, Cornish’s season is more than deserving (Ray did, after all, finish 2,047 yards behind passing leader Henry Burris of the Ticats) of a Most Outstanding Canadian repeat and the game’s top trinket denied him by the dynamic Owens a year ago.
“He’s so consistent,” Ray told reporters in Toronto. “I mean, he’s one of the most consistent guys we have in this league. Every week it seems like he’s going for 100 yards and that really puts his team in a lot of positions to win.
“The last few years he’s had great years so he’s going to be a tough guy to go up against.”
Too tough on this occasion it only stands to reason.
Significantly, Cornish improved in every significant rushing area to his 2012 MOP-nominated campaign. The yardage rose by 356, his average carry from 5.6 a tote to 7 on the snout and he even scored one more touchdown along the ground, 12. He seriously flirted with Willie Burden’s Stampeder franchise record of 1,896 yards and probably would’ve broken that had head coach John Hufnagel not held him out of most of the season finale against the Lions for precautionary reasons, doubtless influenced by the sight of numerous key Stampeders hobbling off the carpet at BC Place injured.
He also set a franchise record with 2,157 yards from scrimmage.
“The expectations,” Cornish acknowledged Thursday, “are a little bit different (now). Last year, I understood that to be MOP running back you have to have 1,600-plus yards. Going up against Chad Owens, I knew I didn’t have a chance. This year’s a little bit different. Going against Ricky Ray . . .
“For me, I’ve said it the last three years, Ricky Ray and Anthony Calvillo, they were the top of this league.
“For me to have the opportunity against Ricky Ray for MOP, that’s honestly one of the greatest honours I could imagine.”
Cornish is only the best player on the best team in the land. Which counts for plenty. What Ray Ricky Ray might’ve done under healthier circumstances is nothing but a moot point.
“We have guys that have been busting their butts the whole season for us to get to a 14-4 record,” said Cornish. “Definitely, anytime you have an MOP candidate, they have to come from good teams. Without the offensive line, quarterbacks, fullbacks, wide receivers blocking for me, defence playing as well as they have, special teams doing as well as they have, I wouldn’t be standing here right now. Most of this is credit to the team.
“I learned last year that the end of the season what really matters, so that’s what I was really focused on. Everything I took note of last year has helped me become a better player this year.
“I came to my own conclusion that you have to stop worrying about what the other team is doing and focus on being as good as you can be personally, and I know the offensive line has taken this to heart as well. Strive to do whatever you can do within our offence.
“I know you look at the CFL as a running back in high school and there’s no Canadian running backs, that’s what I saw when I was growing up. There was Sean Millington. He played in B.C., he was on the team but he wasn’t always the guy. Other than that, there weren’t a lot of guys I could look up to. So when I wasn’t drafted by the NFL, I was like why not be that guy? So I think it would be a boon for Canadian football.
“For a Canadian MOP to happen . . .
“I mean, it’s a Canadian league.”
And Jon Cornish its outstanding player for 2013. Regardless of nationality, age, position, sentimental pull or political affiliation.
So if he hasn’t already, he should go out and splash some cash on a tux of his very own, at least in time for the Nov. 21st soiree at the Delta Regina ballroom. So soon. Right away.
On the Tony Gabriel double.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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