A look at life for a former football great and his Olympian son
Photos courtesy of the Lumsdens
Of the many names that have been associated with the 1975 Gee-Gees football team, one stands out above the rest. Without a 169-yard performance by running back Neil Lumsden, it’s possible that the Vanier Cup may have never made its way to Ottawa that special season.
Niel Lumsden would add the Ted Morris trophy for most valuable player at the Vanier Cup to his resumé as he went on to represent the Gee-Gees in the CFL. Over a 10-year career, Lumsden won three Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos and became the first former Gee-Gee to be named Most Valuable Canadian at the Grey Cup.
He also had success in the front office, winning another Grey Cup as general manager of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Now, he’s an assistant coach with the Guelph Gryphons football team.
This year, Lumsden’s lifetime worth of football accomplishments was recognized at the highest level with his induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Although there’s no doubt that Neil contributed enormously to Canadian football, he admits he had no expectation of being a hall of famer With his days of professional athletics are behind him, he’s since been able to live vicariously through his son, Jesse.
Jesse Lumsden followed in his father’s footsteps as a running back in university, though he didn’t don the garnet and grey, opting instead to play for McMaster. In 2004, he was awarded the Hec Crighton Trophy—the award for most outstanding CIS football player, the Canadian equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, This led to a career of bouncing between practice squad stints in the NFL and more serious playing time in the CFL.
After injuries became too much to handle in football, Jesse decided to make the jump to a sport most will never try: bobsledding. He joined Team Canada and eventually worked his way up to competing in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and at Sochi earlier this year.
The hallmark of the Lumsdens’ outlook on sports and life is the focus on family and pride. Despite an impressive career, both as a player and a manager, Neil admits that his greatest football memory is Jesse’s first CFL touchdown. According to the Lumsdens, family is at the heart of any successful athlete. There’s no separating football and family.
While in Edmonton, Neil explained that the team was a family affair. Players brought their kids to practice and everyone knew everyone else’s family well. For Jesse, having his family’s support during competition has been very important. The fact that they could be present in Whistler during the Vancouver Olympics made it unlike any other experience, he says.
“When I first got the email asking if I wanted to come try, my dad said, ‘Why not, it’s going to be a great opportunity’,” says Jesse Lumsden.
Both father and son comment on how important it was to have a team around them; to be supported by an organization not only helps, but is crucial to an athlete’s success, they say.
For Neil, his 1975 Vanier Cup-winning Gee-Gees team and his three-time Grey Cup-winning Edmonton Eskimos squad had this value at heart, and was a large reason for all their victories.
“They protect you, and they want to take care of you,” says Jesse.
The importance place on having a strong team is also a key reason why both men are so supportive of varsity programs. The experience of being part of a team is not only rewarding in the moment, but those experiences can also be “cornerstones” going forward in life, says Neil.
“I don’t need to win anymore,” he says. “I just want to create a situation so that (the players) can experience what I experienced.”