Simoni Lawrence didn’t want to say it.
In the lead-up to Saturday’s game between the Tiger-Cats and the Redblacks, Ottawa linebacker Kyries Hebert made some not-so-nice comments about the City of Hamilton (it “stinks”), Ticats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (“he spoke to me like we were in the streets”) and Lawrence (“overrated”).
On Thursday, Lawrence did his very best not to engage.
“This being the ultimate team sport, I think it’s selfish to talk about other players to a reporter, when I can just say it on the field when I can see them, ” Lawrence said. “I watch football, I understand football, so I didn’t really care about what other people are saying. Especially ….”
Lawrence didn’t finish that sentence, but we can. Especially given the source.
The 37-year-old Hebert is the reigning East Division Most Outstanding Defensive Player but he also has a reputation as one of the league’s dirtiest players. He was suspended for one game earlier this season for a headshot on Calgary receiver DaVaris Daniels and he has been fined the maximum amount on two other occasions, including for a head hit on former Stampeder running back Jon Cornish that helped end his career.
Cornish went so far as to call on the Redblacks to release Hebert after the Daniels incident, including a #MeToo hashtag in his Tweet. That’s likely in reference to an incident of domestic violence in 2006 when Hebert pled guilty to two misdemeanours in Texas after initially being charged with aggravated assault for allegedly holding his wife’s head underwater in a bathtub and threatening to kill her during a dispute over a cell phone bill.
After his wife declined to go to trial, Hebert was sentenced to two years probation, $1,200 in fines and 80 hours community service. He also joined a domestic abuse counselling group.
“The only thing I took offence to was what he said about the city. There are kids that are from here that have to hear pro football talk about where they come from in that way,” Lawrence said. “I’ve been here six years and I know this is town. I love you, Hamilton.”
Now, about the game.
The matchup features the top two teams in the East Division at the moment, though both have had an uneven start to the 2018 campaign.
Ottawa, at 3-2, can take a take a two-game lead over the 2-3 Ticats, and gain an early advantage in their three-game season series. The two teams meet again in late October when the stakes are likely to be considerably higher.
It’s also the first game for Hamilton since the blockbuster deal that sent backup quarterback Johnny Manziel, starting left tackle Tony Washington and reserve offensive lineman Landon Rice to Montreal for receiver Chris Williams and defensive end Jamaal Westerman (not to mention two first-round draft picks.)
Rookie American Avery Jordan will assume responsibility for protecting Masoli’s blindside, while Williams will start at receiver giving the Ticats another explosive playmaker. But it’s Westerman, an all-star calibre pass rusher, who could help with two of Hamilton’s biggest deficiencies so far. The Cats have just seven sacks and – not coincidentally – are also last in the league in take-aways with six. Most tellingly, they’ve also scored exactly zero points off turnovers this season.
“We haven’t taken the ball away a whole lot and we have to knock some balls out, get some interceptions,” said head coach June Jones. “We talk about it all the time, we emphasize it in practice. It’s weird, some years you get in that rut but they do come in bunches.”
With Manziel gone, so is talk of him replacing Masoli as the No. 1 QB. Instead, Masoli’s faces an opposition linebacker running his mouth. The Manziel circus didn’t seem to phase Masoli much, so it’s extremely unlikely Hebert will.
“I have no idea what he’s talking about, but I don’t really care. Whatever you have to do to get ready for a game, I guess, trying to stir the pot, ” Masoli said. “Whether he talks smack or not, we still have go out there and play.”