It’s a criticism every sports writer has been faced with at one point or another: “How would you know? You never played the game.”
Dave Naylor has heard that dismissal more than his fair share, but it turns out that it isn’t true, if only by the slimmest of technicalities.
TSN’s leading CFL insider took a walk down memory lane on Friday, tweeting a long forgotten picture from 1995 that left even the most fervent Riders fan scratching their head. There was Naylor, hair-line already receding, decked out in a helmet and shoulder pads in full silver and green.
A former @CBCSask journalist mailed me this photo from 26 years ago. It’s from my reporter/player 4-day rookie camp with the @sskroughriders in 1995. Thank you Kathy Fitzpatrick. pic.twitter.com/35QTxPtOjH
— David William Naylor (@TSNDaveNaylor) May 28, 2021
Though it seems stranger than fiction, Naylor did indeed serve as a safety for the Saskatchewan Roughriders for one week in 1995.
It was the same week all-star Glen Suitor retired from the Riders to begin his broadcasting career, the team jokingly teased then CBC Radio reporter Naylor as his replacement. Naylor was invited to participate in the team’s four-day rookie mini-camp while filing stories for The Morning Edition, The Afternoon Edition and The Inside Track.
“I’m a little scared — a little,” Naylor told The Leader-Post at the time. “I’ll be there thinking about story-telling as much as football.”
The broadcaster, then listed at five-foot-eleven and 176 pounds “soaking wet,” had never played football before in his life but was a fully suited up member of the team throughout two-a-days. He was assigned a roommate for the duration and participated in all team meetings, meals, and film sessions.
On the field, Naylor’s safety was paramount.
“I talked to [head coach] Ray Jauch and he said, ‘We’re going to put you in a position where you can get out of the way if you’re not comfortable,'” Naylor told concerned colleagues.
Looking back on Twitter, he notes the team “got burned deep a lot in those four days!”
A return to broadcasting was inevitable for the rookie underdog. When asked about his football future mid-way through camp, Naylor quipped “another 48 hours, that’s it.” He was not retained for the main camp.
Naylor was not the first reporter to imbed with the Riders, following in the footsteps of CBC TV’s Bill Wright in 1989. Current Riders reporter Mitchell Blair noted that those covering the team today might not fair as well.
“Even if there was no pandemic, I don’t think this would be happening amongst the Rider media brethren now,” he tweeted.
“I don’t know if CTV’s Lee Jones is in game shape anymore and let’s not start talking about Rob Vanstone. Maybe Claire Hanna?”
Host of The Green Zone Jamie Nye echoed those sentiments.
“I’d snap an Achilles in the first session and puke five minutes in,” he responded, leaving just one hero qualified to take up Naylor’s mantle.
Joel Gasson, it’s time to strap on the pads.