Last Monday, I unveiled my latest project for 3DownNation, a list of the top ten feuds in CFL history. Over the next two weeks, I’ll countdown the nastiest fights and most contentious disagreements in the history of the league.
Check out our previous posts below:
We continue today with the second worst CFL feud of all-time.
Number Two: Troy Westwood vs Ed Philion
The feuds on this list have had a variety of triggers, from money to racism to violent play, but rarely is it the source of a feud that gives it prominence in and of itself. A good feud is driven by a fundamental dislike between parties, one often triggered by the incompatibility of personalities. In some cases, the hatred never dissipates.
That is true in the case of Troy Westwood and Ed Philion, diametrically opposed foes. What earns them elite status on this list is the continuity of their animosity. While other feuds have burned hot and fizzled out or gone silent for years, you could count on Westwood and Philion to find fresh ways to antagonize each other throughout the twilight of their careers.
Philion was a defensive tackle with a reputation for mean and nasty play. Westwood was a kicker, removed from the aggression of the game, who couldn’t bear to keep his mouth shut. You probably know him best for inspiring the Banjo Bowl by calling Rider fans a “bunch of banjo-pickin’ inbreds.” They were specifically designed to irritate each other, they simply needed to be set on a collision course.
To understand this feud you have to know Philion’s reputation in Winnipeg. He was universally regarded as one of the game’s dirtiest players, but the Bombers were especially aggrieved. In the 2000 East Division Final, a game Westwood would dub “The Brawl in Montreal”, Philion laid a dirty hit on quarterback Khari Jones that sparked outrage. The following year, Philion turned the tables after he was injured against Winnipeg and accused the Bombers of being a threat to player safety, specifically O-lineman Brett MacNeil.
That history would inform the events of July 27, 2002. At first glance, it seemed like a standard victory for Philion’s Alouettes but MacNeil had something to share with reporters. Something had happened on the field he felt was beyond the pale and he wanted to make it public.
“We scored a touchdown and Troy [Westwood] was excited and ran up to Ed [Philion] to just give him the raspberries about the touchdown,” MacNeil recounted. “And Ed said, ‘Hey you’re part Indian, aren’t you? Hey, you’re a half-breed and your mother is a squaw.'”
Westwood was asked about the comments and confirmed the exchange had taken place.
“It was a racial statement and in this day and age, ignorance of that level shouldn’t be tolerated,” he told reporters.
Philion was aghast at the accusation and denied it outright.
“I would never question someone’s race,” he responded. “Things are said all the time during a game and we shouted a few things back and forth. But the accusation is inaccurate. There was nothing said racially.”
He believed the Bombers were using the claims as a dirty tactic.
“This is a team that just got beat,” Philion said. “Maybe they’re trying to start something to get up for the next game? This is just another tactic that’s not worth talking about.”
The slur was an extremely personal one for Westwood. While some at the time pointed out that his known ancestry was Scottish and his indigenous genetics were uncertain, his links to the First Nations community were deep and profound. He had been formally adopted into the Anishanaabe culture through the Courchene family of the Sagkeeng First Nation several years previous, people he described as being like parents to him growing up. While he had at times expressed discomfort in openly identifying with the indigenous group, those who adopted him insisted he should say it proudly. Westwood bears the traditional name Little Hawk and has been an active First Nations musician for many years.
The comments set off a firestorm of controversy. There was justifiable outrage from First Nations’ groups. Former chief of the Southeast Assembly of First Nations Jim Bear called for Philion to issue a public apology, enroll in sensitivity training, and donate $12,000 to First Nations causes for his “Gestapo-type slandering of a different race of people.” Philion remained steadfast in his denial and had to write a letter to CFL Vice President Ed Chalupka defending himself.
The fact was, Westwood wasn’t exactly being heaped with praise either. His teammate Doug Brown summed up the feelings of many in writing one of his first Winnipeg newspaper columns. He said that comments like Philion’s had no place in society, but went off on the antagonist in his own locker room.
“On a good day, Troy Westwood is a 150-pound soccer player who kicks little oval balls for a living and he is challenging 290-pound defensive tackle and ex-NFLer Ed Philion?” Brown wrote. “Obviously Ed’s response was inappropriate and needs to be investigated, but I can promise you if a KICKER ever gets in my face during a game, the CFL officiating crew is going to need a pair of forceps and some lubrication to remove the kicking tee from his large intestine.”
Every other person wanted to let the incident go but Westwood was not about to. He and Philion joined Michael Landsberg’s Off The Record in 2003 and Westwood was extremely animated as Philion desperately tried to change the topic.
“I called him an asshole to his face and he didn’t bite. I just wanted him to come over the table at me,” Westwood later detailed. “I was just scratching the surface. It was said as gently as I could. He was surprised.”
Before a 2004 matchup between the two, Westwood was asked how he still felt about the defensive tackle. Time had not softened his response.
“He’s an asshole. He’s cheap. He’s dirty,” was the response splashed across Winnipeg newspapers. “He’s made statements in the past that he denied like a coward. He’s a piece of garbage.”
Philion was initially reluctant to answer back and avoided the questions. He spent the night formulating his response and sought out reporters the next day to fire back.
“That’s one guy’s opinion and opinions are like assholes. We’ve all got one. Some of them just don’t matter,” Philion said. “I don’t know what his deal is. That’s him and he continues to embarrass himself.”
The added time had allowed Philion to do some extra research and he had a very specific criticism of the kicker. He went after Westwood’s performance in the 2001 Grey Cup.
“You couldn’t ask for a better day. The game was played indoors, without wind conditions. The kicker went one-for-four and they lost by eight points. Take the points he missed in the biggest game of his life and they would have won,” Philion reminded reporters. “If that doesn’t humble you and keep you quiet, nothing I do will make a difference.”
In the following game, it would be a Westwood miss leading to an Ezra Landry return touchdown that ultimately gave Montreal the win.
“This game exemplifies what he’s about – all talk, no substance,” Philion was sure to remind everyone.
Opinions on Westwood remained decisively split. At the 2004 Grey Cup, the second annual player poll had Westwood as the only person in the top five of both “players you secretly want to do well” and “players you’d like to see cut tomorrow.” Even his flowing locks, which Philion compared to country music star Crystal Gale, couldn’t sway his opponents.
By 2006, four years removed from the initial slur, the wounds were still raw. New Bombers coach Doug Berry was even using it to challenge his player in training camp.
“I’ll keep whispering things like ‘Ed Philion’ to him while he kicks,” Berry said of his strategy to throw Westwood off his game.
That year’s Grey Cup was in Winnipeg and the Bombers had hopes of winning at home, but they couldn’t make it past the East Semi-Final. The Alouettes had the honour of taking Winnipeg’s locker room for the game and Philion announced a special plan for Westwood’s locker.
“We’re going to pile all our laundry in Troy Westwood’s locker,” Philion told the Winnipeg press. “He wanted to know what it’s like to be at this Grey Cup, so we’ll put all our dirty laundry in his stall.”
Westwood’s reply was simple.
“You want a reply to his comments, here it is: Dear Mr. Philion, kiss my ass. Hugs and kisses, Troy Westwood.”
He would later elaborate on why his distaste for Philion continued to be so passionate.
“My problem with Ed Philion isn’t as a player but as a person. He said something very racial to me a few years ago and has never apologized. He says he never said it. He’s flat out lying,” Westwood explained. “If he was a good man, he’d own up to it. He’s a great player but I question his character.”
To Westwood’s delight, the Als lost the Grey Cup and Philion was criticized for being a distraction. He would retire that off-season.
Even as the Alouettes colour commentator the next season, he couldn’t resist a parting shot as a struggling Westwood was in the process of being replaced.
“Now he’s got time for America’s Got Talent or Dancing with the Stars,” he told listeners.
This feud wouldn’t fade until both players were out of the league and even now I would hesitate to put them in the same room.
Beyond the racism and animosity, the core of this feud was a clash of two showmen. Westwood broke the mould as a kicker with an overt personality and a fast-talking mouth. It has since served him well as a member of the media. Philion accepted the hatred he received and fed off his reputation. “I love being the bad guy,” he said at the time. “There has to be a villain.”
Every performer needs a foil and both Philion and Westwood were performers. Their careers and lives will forever be entwined because of how Philion handled himself that one day on the field and the feud that it spawned.