In Praise of Tucker

Want to start a robust debate among Eskimo faithful? Ask the question “which player should the Club next add to the Wall of Honour at Commonwealth?” In my mind the answer is both easy and simple.

Stars from the club’s from the Three in a Row and Five in a Row dynasties are well represented, all of them obvious and deserving choices.  There’s even a proper amount of positional democracy to the selections with a mix of QBs, running backs, linemen on both sides of the ball, a kick returner, and even a kicker.  And Jackie Parker who could do almost everything.

Receivers, one of the few glamour positions in football, are in surprisingly short supply. Only Tom Scott, Brian Kelly and George McGowan have been duly honoured by the club.

Time then for a fourth name to go up in lights.   For seven seasons, Jason Tucker glided effortlessly downfield, turning at precisely the right time to have a Ricky Ray toss land in his hands. A deadly duo who worked a simple corner post pattern like few others could.

Arriving in Canada in 2002, the former Cowboy and Bengal  cracked a receiving corps that already boasted the likes of Terry Vaughn and now Esks GM Ed Hervey.  Tucker would earn the first of four West Division and CFL All-Star honours.

The following year, Tucker would be named the 2003 Grey Cup MVP in helping the Esks to their first championship in ten years.  In 2005,  he would again play a pivotal role in the biggest game of the season, catching 5 passes for 96 yards and 1 touchdown in the Edmonton’s Grey Cup victory.

But July 25th,2008 those accomplishments ceased to matter. On that night, Tucker and the Esks were playing the Ti-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium.   Ricky Ray’s favorite target turned to snare a short dump pass and collided helmet to helmet with Hamilton’s Jykine Bradley. By football standards an innocent play, but there were catastrophic results.

From my vantage point in the press box it was hard to tell what might be wrong but within seconds both teams medical staffs had gathered around Tucker.  By the time I got to field level, the ambulance had arrived and Tucker’s face mask was being removed from his helmet. Groups of players gathered in prayer circles and the stadium, usually so raucous was deathly still.

After the game the team returned to it’s hotel in nearby Burlington to get a few hours sleep before an early morning departure and hopefully get an update on Tucker.  The word came as the team boarded the bus.  Head Coach Danny Maciocia told the players that the news was not good and that it was unlikely Tucker would return.

On August 8th  Tucker did return to Commonwealth Stadium. Wearing a halo to immobilize his broken neck, Tucker was given an emotional welcome from teammates and a standing ovation from fans.

He moved into coaching. first with the Esks and then Saskatchewan and now he’s on the staff of the Tennessee Titans. Jason Tucker is a long way removed from both the sure handed, smooth running receiver whose career ended suddenly seven years ago on a hot summer night in Hamilton.

It’s time to close the circle on a wonderful career in Canada by having Jason Tucker #83 take it’s place at Commonwealth Stadium.