The two greatest running backs in Canadian professional football history were side-by-side in one other important category: their birthdays were a day apart, too.
Sunday, Oct. 1st, 2023 will go down as a bittersweet day in the life of Mike Pringle, who celebrated his 56th birthday at his home in Atlanta before learning of the sad news that the man whose record he broke passed away in Regina that same day.
“His birthday was the day after my mine,” Pringle told 3DownNation. “We both went to Washington State and then for us to both have held the CFL all-time rushing crown I thought was really, really cool.”
That’s not all the two shared in common. When Pringle traded in his Alouettes gear for the green and gold of Edmonton to finish his Hall of Fame career in 2003, he gave up his own iconic No. 27 in exchange for George’s No. 34. At the time, he was just over 2,000 yards shy of Reed’s all-time rushing record of 16,116 yards.
“(Veteran linebacker) Singor Mobley told me that if I wanted 27, he would give the number 27 to me,” Pringle recalls. “If it was anybody else but Mobley, I would have taken it but I thought that it would be disrespectful to take the number of somebody of his calibre.”
Like Reed and Pringle, Mobley was a product of Washington State University and had a long, brilliant career in professional football, spending three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and nine with the Edmonton Football Team. Pringle was intentional when selecting his new number as it reflected the person whose record he hoped to one day break.
“I had worn 34 and the fact that it was also Mr. Reed’s number, I felt that I would be able to eclipse his record with a lot of effort,” Pringle said. “I thought that would be pretty cool to choose that number and that’s the reason I chose that.”
The choice was met with some negativity in Saskatchewan from a segment of fans who weren’t happy about someone trying to break their local icon’s record, especially the same Mike Pringle who’d come to town for the 1995 Grey Cup as a member of the Baltimore Stallions and proceeded to take the cup out of Canada.
Over time, however, fans came to understand that Mike Pringle wasn’t trying to upstage Reed, but honour him. The two had first met during that windy week in Regina, the first Grey Cup party ever held in Saskatchewan.
Then in 2004, with Pringle closing in on the record, Reed showed up in Edmonton ready to congratulate his challenger on breaking his record during a game against the Calgary Stampeders. There was only one problem: Pringle didn’t break the record.
Calgary’s defence stack the box for much of the fourth quarter as they kept Pringle a yard short of breaking the record, meaning Reed had made the trip for nothing.
“Then he travelled to B.C. the following week,” Pringle said. “I thought that was extremely cool of him to do that and to be on the field to be part of that great honour.”
Of all the tributes that have poured in for Reed this week, the biggest might come from Pringle, who spent years of his life trying to chase his level of brilliance in the backfield.
The generosity and class Reed exhibited while passing his record down to a younger player was a much happier transition than what we saw from Hank Aaron to Barry Bonds just a few years later in Major League Baseball. This wasn’t lost on Mike Pringle, especially now that he’s had nearly 20 years to reflect on that iconic moment in time.
“To see your record fall is not the coolest thing in the world,” laughed Pringle. “If it happens, I hope I am as gracious to the next person as he was to me.”