Jon Gott has only been officially retired from pro football for a couple weeks, but he already thinks they don’t make them like they used to.
The iconic Redblacks centre last suited up in the 2018 regular season finale, but made his retirement official with a one-day contract with Ottawa on February 4 of this year. While Gott helped the Redblacks claim a Grey Cup victory in 2016, it is the 2015 team that holds a special place in his heart.
That year the resurrected Ottawa franchise went 12-6 and won the East Division, before falling to Edmonton in the Grey Cup. For Gott, what was truly special was that the offensive line unit of he, SirVincent Rogers, J’Michael Deane, Nolan MacMillan, and Colin Kelly started every game together, a feat few teams have come close to accomplishing since.
“It was unbelievable. I didn’t really notice until someone told us towards the end of the year that it was the same group starting every game, and that’s something special,” Gott said in an appearance on TSN 1200’s The Drive.
“I don’t think it’s happened again since that year in the CFL and it’s just something that’s a credit to everyone coming together and staying healthy, working together. That o-line room was probably the most fun I’ve had in my whole career.”
Rogers and Gott would earn CFL all-star honours for that season, as would their quarterback Henry Burris. The Redblacks have struggled to replicate that success up front since, with the 2021 season marking a new low.
The Redblacks allowed a league-leading 53 sacks last year — 13 more than the next worst team — while only fielding the same combination of five linemen in back-to-back games once all season, in the final two games. It was a mix of poor performance and bad injury luck, but an ex-player like Gott had a hard time stomaching either excuse.
“It was tough watching last year, so many injuries on that line. A lot of guys in 2015, we fought through some injuries. We could have sat a game, but we fought through injuries because we had something special going. You didn’t wanna miss out on that,” he recalled.
“I think some guys are getting a little soft as they get into the league. It’s not like back in the day where guys would fight through injuries.”
Gott himself had to battle through his fair share, particularly as an undersized offensive lineman. Barely 295 pounds on his best day, he was at a heightened risk in a physically demanding position and had to learn how to preserve his body.
“As a vet, you get smarter and you put yourself in the right positions. It’s all about angles and putting yourself where you can move a guy in and just all the little tricks that you pick up along the way,” Gott said.
“Guys would always be coming after me and I prided myself on being able to keep Hank or Trevor [Harris] up and open holes for the running back. I’m just happy that my career happened that way and I was able to have the accolades that I did.”
The Redblacks’ offensive line last year lacked much of that prowess, but there is now hope for the future with the acquisition of solid veterans Ucambre Williams, Darius Ciraco, Hunter Steward, and Jacob Ruby.
It will be a hard task for them to live up to the legacy of the 2015 squad, but at least it should make next season a little easier to watch.