August 14, 2018

The Day Obby Khan Became a Winnipegger

Winnipeg Bombers Jermese Jones (57), Obby Khan (60), celebrate Andrae Thurman's (9) touchdown in first quarter CFL action in Winnipeg, Friday, Aug 4, 2006. (CP PHOTO/ John Woods)

Obby Khan had absolutely no say in the matter. None. Zilch.

The Ottawa Renegades – his hometown team and the franchise which had made him a first-round pick in 2004 – were folding, with their players to be made available to the rest of the Canadian Football League in a dispersal draft.

The draft’s date was April 12th, 2006 and, in many ways, it was not only career-changing for Khan, but life-changing. Khan heard his name called second overall by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in that dispersal draft, right after the Saskatchewan Roughriders had plucked quarterback Kerry Joseph with the first pick.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Ibrahim Khan (60) smiles to the crowd as he leaves the field after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 25-20 win over the BC Lions afer fourth quarter CFL action on in Winnipeg on Thursday, July 28, 2011. (CFL PHOTO - MARIANNE HELM)

Here we are 12 years later and Khan not only established himself as a solid contributor to the Bombers offensive line for the better part of six seasons, but he also put down some firm roots in Winnipeg as a high-profile businessman in this city.

And so, who better to represent the Blue Bombers in their annual Diversity game than Khan, a Muslim of Pakistani descent, born in Ottawa, schooled at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, and a proud Canadian and Winnipegger.

“I remember I was with my family shopping and we were at Old Navy when we got the call I had been drafted by Winnipeg,” recalled Khan when interviewed by back on the 12th anniversary of the Renegades dispersal draft. “I didn’t know anything about Winnipeg. It would have been cool to go to Vancouver because I went to SFU, but I was super pumped to be going to a football town. I always thought if I was going to build a career for myself after football this was the perfect spot to do it.

“I loved playing in Winnipeg and being in the community helped me build my post-playing-days career. It helped being a Bomber and being the only 6-4 300-pound East Indian guy with a beard walking around.”

Just as a refresher, the Renegades were born in 2002, bringing the CFL back to the nation’s capital for the first time since 1996. But after losing almost $4 million in 2005 and faced with the prospect of losing up to $6 million in 2006, the Renegades suspended operations.

Obby Khan

Obby Khan at the Shawarma Khan stand at Investors Group Field.

“I remember sitting in (owner) Lonie Glieberman’s office after the 2005 season had ended and they wanted to sign me to a five-year extension for a pretty good amount of money,” recalled Khan. “We all knew what was happening… there were rumours the team was folding. They fired (head coach) Joe Paopao before the last game. I didn’t want to have an expensive long-term contract in case another team wanted to pick me up.

“And so I said, ‘With all due respect, sir, with so much uncertainty about the franchise in the air I want to test the free agency market.’ Lonie got so pissed off at me. He lost it. He said, in a nutshell, that if I didn’t want to sign there they didn’t want me there and they were taking back the offer.

“It’s funny how things work sometimes. I was a high pick for the Renegades. (No. 2 overall in 2004 CFL Draft). I’m an Ottawa guy and I certainly didn’t know I was going to go so high in the (dispersal) draft. And now Winnipeg’s my hometown.”

Khan is now owner of five businesses – two Shawarma Khan restaurants and three Green Carrot Juice Company locations – and has a young son, Sufi. He’s ecstatic football is back in Ottawa – ‘same city, same population… it just goes to show you what a good ownership group can do’ – but also looks back at that fateful day years ago as life changing.

He played here. Put down roots here. Was diagnosed and fought through colitis to return to the game here. And he has no plans on leaving.

“I’m so grateful now when I look back at that dispersal draft,” he said. “It gave me an opportunity. I love this city. During my playing years, when I was sick, when I recovered and came back and now into retirement, this city still recognizes and supports me. I would not have had anything like that in any other city in Canada. Guaranteed.”