Winnipeg Blue Bombers #94 Jackson Jeffcoat during practice at IG Field September 24, 2019
The geneses of most lifelong sports teams allegiances likely start this way – with a father or a mother spinning tales to their kids about great moments and superstar players.
My own personal example: my father, the late William Tait, was a diehard Winnipeg Blue Bombers fan who loved to reminisce about the club’s Glory Years of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Ken Ploen was his favourite. Bud Grant was a genius. And Leo Lewis in the open field always had him sliding to the edge of his seat.
My dad threw me my first pass, took me to my first game and forever reinforced his ideals about loyalty, humility, compassion and love right up to the last words he said to me before he passed:
“Please take care of your mother for me…”
There isn’t a day that goes by without me remembering my parents in some fashion, from the moment I get up in the morning and slip on my dad’s college ring as a tribute. They were spectacular people and I miss them dearly, particularly on Father’s Day weekend.
Earlier this week I spoke with Bombers defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. We talked about a lot of things including, naturally, the troubling week that was in the Canadian Football League and the uncertainty regarding a 2020 season and beyond.
But mostly we chatted about our parents, and particularly, our fathers. And, truthfully, for me it was an uplifting conversation that helped bring down the stress level, even for just a few moments one afternoon.
Jackson Jeffcoat’s dad, for those of you who may not have been introduced, is Jim Jeffcoat – who played 15 years in the National Football League with the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills and still ranks in the Cowboys’ Top 10 for quarterback sacks.
He is, of course, much more than what his Wikipedia bio reads to Jackson and his three other kids.
“My dad instilled in me so many important values,” began Jeffcoat, from his offseason base in Austin, TX. “My mom played a big role, too, obviously, but it’s Father’s Day coming up so… I learned a lot from him. He was big on tough love. He didn’t want any of us to be babied, because he had never been babied.
“My dad did not grow up with money. So, him being able to play in the NFL… he’d seen spoiled rich kids and kids that were well off, maybe other players’ kids, and he didn’t want us to be like that. He said his kids might get spoiled, but they weren’t going to be spoiled or act spoiled. He always said that.”
Jeffcoat’s description of his father sounded familiar. My dad did not grow up with money, either, although he was hardly poor. He went from the family farm in Manitou to work for the National Film Board as a photographer, to being the editor of a trade magazine, then into advertising, to teaching, and finally to working for the department of agriculture.
He was also, among many other things, a member of Mensa, which made him virtually unbeatable in Trivial Pursuit – the kind of confounding player you’d think you’d have stumped before he closed a victory by blurting an obscure answer like the one I always remember: ‘Treaty of Utrecht, 1713.’
He loved a good pun and could make my mother instantly burst into tears in laughter. He struggled with MS as he got older, but kept that mostly to himself, explaining only once to me, as his eyes welled up, that he could no longer play catch because his motor skills were deteriorating.
Anyway, thank you for indulging me for a moment before we move on…
Just for the record, Jeffcoat isn’t a father yet, but added with a chuckle, “My dad, he’ll push me with ‘When are you going to get married?’ Or, ‘When are you going to have kids?’ I think he wants to make sure the name gets carried on and he wants to spoil my kids.”
“You know,” Jeffcoat continued, “one of the things my dad really stresses is ‘Think of yourself less, but you don’t have to think less of yourself.’ He also taught me to have a tolerance to go through tough times and still be able to bounce back and be resilient. He was big on that.”
“He was always trying to teach us that things don’t always go your way and the world doesn’t revolve just around you.”
Jim Jeffcoat, FYI, has spent the last 20-plus years coaching – in the NFL with Dallas and Houston, in the NCAA with San Jose State and Colorado and most recently with the Orlando Apollos of the AAF and Dallas Renegades of the XFL before that league folded this spring. He’s currently running his own insurance agency in Dallas, and may return to coaching if the right gig arrives.
During our discussion, Jeffcoat and I talked about what makes a good parent or, more specifically, what makes a good dad.
“I would think,” said Jeffcoat with a laugh, “that it starts with not screwing things up with your kids.”
It’s that, clearly, and it’s many things to many people. For Jeffcoat, it started first with simply having his father around to serve as a role model.
“Having my dad in my life was so important because a lot of my friends did not grow up with their fathers in their lives,” he said. “I had that father figure. I had my father coming home at night and being there for me.
“He didn’t always talk a lot, but just looking at him you saw how a man is supposed to act. A man doesn’t have to be a tough, macho guy all the time. He can be compassionate, he can care for his family, let go of his ego and be humble. He can show to his kids that there’s more to being a man than just being big and strong.”
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. And a far-too belated Happy Mother’s Day, too.
Here are 10 other ponderings in this week’s First & 10 column…
1. By the way, here’s Jeffcoat on his Father’s Day plans…
“I’m actually going up to see him next weekend,” he said. “My sister, she also lives in Austin, is going up there this weekend. We’ve been splitting… I went on Mother’s Day to see mom and she came the following weekend. This time she’s going up first.
“But when I get up there we’re going fishing. Me and my dad love to go fishing. I learn a lot from him when we go fishing. We’ll talk about life, talk about whatever. We don’t always talk ball. We talk about life more than we talk about ball. There’s a good silence, too, and when you’re comfortable around someone things don’t always have to be said.
“But… I do love to ask my dad questions. I know he gets annoyed sometimes because I’m always asking him questions. I love to pick his brain about his childhood, about everything.”
2. One more from Jeffcoat before we move on, surely echoing the thoughts of many Bombers and CFL players:
“I really want to get to playing. I understand we might not have any more than eight games, but I’d just like to know. I’m still hopeful.”
3. I’m not going to jump into the growing divide between the CFL and the CFLPA – those takes aren’t hard to find elsewhere right now – but I will say this: I like the big-picture view Calgary Stampeders QB Bo Levi Mitchell offered to radio station CHQR this week:
“I would just love to see the CFL and the CFLPA act more like a unit rather than Democrats and Republicans. We have to disagree on every subject. I would just like to see us all come together as a whole and make it the best we possibly can instead of thinking about ourselves every time. Or how much money they are making compared to how much money we are making.
“We’re all wondering what’s going on. Just come together on decisions on how we can make this happen and make it such a great year for our fans.”
4. Not sure where the CFL’s 2.0 gameplan goes post-COVID-19, but it’s clear that in the first year of its existence, the Bombers clearly had the best Global player in the league in Thiadric Hansen.
And that’s not just a Winnipeg opinion. Earlier this week we posted a piece on Tobi Antigha’s road to the CFL and one of the things we touched on, but which did not make the story, were his thoughts on how quickly Hansen developed throughout the course of one season.
“You saw that as the season came to the later stages when (Hansen) started to become a true difference maker on the team,” Antigha said. “Y’all were not the only people that noticed it. As a player for Toronto we’d watch and say, ‘Who is this Global guy that is actually out here playing well and making plays?’ He was noticed around the league and I definitely took notice of him.”
5. The Bombers will have four players from last year’s Grey Cup squad chasing their NFL dreams when – or if – training camps open down south in defensive back Marcus Sayles (Minnesota Vikings), cornerback Winston Rose (Cincinnati Bengals), quarterback Chris Streveler (Arizona Cardinals) and defensive end Jonathan Kongbo (San Francisco 49ers).
Kongbo got some ink in the last week and here are two stories worth sharing. First, the tale of his road to the NFL via the San Jose Mercury News, and second, Sports Illustrated wrote about how Kongbo helps the 49ers D-line depth.
6. One more link on a story of a former Bomber getting his shot down south – kicker Lirim Hajrullahu, who turned pro with the club in 2014 as an undrafted free agent before stints with Toronto and Hamilton and is now with the Los Angeles Rams.
7.Saw it suggested this week that should Colin Kaepernick not land an NFL gig he should consider a move to the CFL. Two hot takes from this perch: No chance that happens and also, it’s a travesty he isn’t in the NFL right now.
Consider these numbers, courtesy ESPN’s Mike Greenberg.
8. If you haven’t checked out our Virtual Huddles yet live every Friday on the team’s Facebook page, it’s worth a visit. Last week’s Virtual Huddle contained the gem that Patrick Neufeld – the Bombers’ 300-pounds or so veteran guard – considers himself the ‘best swimmer in the CFL.’
He was a competitive water polo player growing up. But his statement brought a priceless reaction from Andrew Harris:
“I am the best swimmer in the @CFL.”
Who out there is ready to challenge @paddyneufeld in a race?
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) June 15, 2020
9. FYI, Friday’s huddle featured defensive linemen Willie Jefferson, Steve Richardson, Jake Thomas and Jackson Jeffcoat and was one of the best sessions yet.
Among the highlights from Friday’s session was hearing Willie Jefferson belt out a chunk of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’ as part of his answer to the question ‘Name a song on your playlist people would be shocked to find?’ or discovering that Jeffcoat has a lot of Brazilian music and a ‘nerd jazz playlist’ that includes “anime stuff, pianos and video game songs like Mario and Legend of Zelda.”
10. And, finally… this also came from Friday’s Virtual Huddle and is apparently an untold angle to the Bombers’ run to the Grey Cup. Last November 7th Fleetwood Mac made a tour stop in Winnipeg and the concert was attended by Richardson, Thomas, Neufeld, Thomas Miles, Jessie Briggs, Chad Rempel, Mike Miller and John Rush.
Richardson revealed that Fleetwood Mac is all over his playlist now and Thomas offered some more insight.
“When Fleetwood Mac came to Winnipeg we all went to the MTS Centre to see them,” said Thomas. “It was right before the playoffs. I wasn’t a fan before the playoffs but I think it was a big factor in our playoff push.”
“It was,” added Richardson. “I wore their hoodie right before every game.”
Close your eyes for a moment and can’t you just picture those guys belting this out?