In 2007, John Chick was both a rookie in the CFL and rookie parent. He and his wife were relatively new to Regina and needed a place for their daughter to stay while Catherine laboured with their second. The family that took her in?
Kent and Shelley Austin.
A lot has changed in the intervening years, most notably the size of the Chick Family Truckster, which must now accommodate eight — yes, eight — children. They range in age from nine-years to just over nine weeks.
“We have a 12-person van that looks like a UPS truck, then we pull a trailer behind us,” Chick said with a chuckle after he was introduced as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive end. “We look like a circus at times but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My kids have been the biggest blessing in my life.”
Chick and Austin won a Grey Cup together with the Saskatchewan Roughriders that first year and there’s little question their relationship played a central role in Chick’s decision to come to Hamilton. If you’re going to move the entire circus across the country to join a new team, you’d better have faith in the man running the show.
Which isn’t to say that there weren’t other factors or suitors. Chick said there a couple of other teams interested and the reported two-year, $160,000-a-season deal he got from the Ticats makes him an expensive American player by CFL standards, though not outrageously so.
But it is quite a haircut from the reported $260,000 he was reportedly scheduled to make as a member of the Riders next season. But with a new regime in Regina, led by the unsentimental Chris Jones, Chick says he was given a take-it-or-leave it offer on a dramatically restructured deal.
The Chick family has put down roots in Regina — including the recent opening of a Cross-Fit gym — taking advantage of his status as a near-deity in the football-mad town where he’s won two Grey Cups in six seasons over two stints in the green and white.
“There was some anger, especially seeing the tears from my wife,” Chick said. “But we’ve been around the business long enough to understand it. I don’t always agree with the way things are handled but forgiveness is a big part of what we are about.”
They will maintain a presence in Regina but the plan is to bring the entire crew to the Hamilton area this spring, where they will stay for the duration of the season and, perhaps, beyond. The kids will attend local schools and Chick will continue his ongoing philanthropic work here. As someone who lives with Type 1 diabetes, Chick has been a strong proponent for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
And, oh yeah, play some football. Chick has long been considered one of the league’s pre-eminent pass rushers, a high-motor guy with 53 sacks in 91 CFL games who earned the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player award in 2009. When opposing offences scheme for the Ticats next season, Chick will undoubtedly be on their game film cut ups.
The deal is not without risk, however. Chick turned 33 last November, an age at which subtle declines in explosiveness and quickness can take root. His work ethic is unimpeachable — the man just opened his own CrossFit gym after all — but time and mobile quarterbacks wait for no man.
Nor is he a perfect fit for the scheme defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer has run the past few seasons, one that involved athletic defensive ends being asked to do a variety of different things, including pass coverage. Chick joked about his good hands and his latent desire for a pick-six but the more likely outcome is the one suggested by Austin: the Ticats will morph their defence to fit the players, including Chick.
And with the Hamilton roster in a state of flux — the team still has more than 30 players slated to hit free agency on Feb. 9, including much of the starting front seven on defence — locking up Chick slides one piece of the puzzle into to place before the market opens.
In his three-plus years at the helm, Austin has spoken constantly about culture, about his desire to bring in players that embody his vision. That’s John Chick, without a doubt. In fact, there may be only one difficult question left to answer:
Are Kent and Shelley up for babysitting all eight kids?
Notes: Ticats offensive line coach Allen Rudolph has resigned to join the staff at Arkansas State.