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Montreal Alouettes' Ben Cahoon runs upfield after making a catch against the Calgary Stampeders during first half CFL football action in Montreal, Monday, October 11, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes (Graham Hughes)
Montreal Alouettes' Ben Cahoon runs upfield after making a catch against the Calgary Stampeders during first half CFL football action in Montreal, Monday, October 11, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes (Graham Hughes)

Sean Gordon

Als' Cahoon closes out stellar career Add to ...

Sitting in an airport lounge, Ben Cahoon decided it was time to announce some momentous news to his soon-to-be-former Montreal Alouettes teammates.

So he set about tapping out a text message.

"I started clicking through my contacts to decide who to send it to. A.C. [quarterback Anthony Calvillo]came up first, and then [defensive end]Anwar [Stewart] and I'm sitting at the airport, and I'm just crying thinking about these guys," the 38-year-old receiver said. "I felt like an idiot."

Not that the 13-year CFL veteran and surefire Hall of Famer was left much time to ruminate over the memories stirred by his wireless retirement announcement, which he delivered Tuesday.

"About a minute later, I get a text back from one of them, it said: 'Who is this?' … Then the same thing happened, [safety]Mathieu Proulx was a little more diplomatic, he said, 'I lost my phone, I'm sorry, but who is this?' So that brought me back down to reality," Cahoon said.

The reality is that the American-born, Canadian-raised slotback steps away from the game as one of the CFL's all-time greats - "an icon," Als general manager Jim Popp said.

He exits as the league's all-time receptions leader, a three-time Grey Cup champion, 10-time East Division all-star and three-time CFL all-star. The record books will show the Brigham Young University product caught 1,017 passes for 13,301 yards and 65 touchdowns in 224 games.

What the numbers won't reflect, however, is the astonishing number of implausible grabs the sticky-handed Cahoon was able to make - like the 2009 "helmet catch" against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (he hugged the ball between his hands and an opponent's head).

Nor do they measure the example that a slow-footed, 5-foot-9 man could set by regularly absorbing the worst punishment a pro football defence can dish out.

"I remember talking to [Als head coach]Marc Trestman about this, and he said, 'At the end of his career, they're going to dissect him and he's going to be made of wire,' " offensive lineman Scott Flory said.

Calvillo - one of a half-dozen teammates to turn up at the news conference announcing Cahoon's retirement - said his good friend's considerable locker-room presence will be impossible to replace.

"Ben has been a great example for us on and off the field, and that's something that's going to be missed," said the veteran quarterback, who admitted to feeling melancholy at his friend's departure.

Cahoon gave heartfelt thanks to his family, his teammates, the organization, and the assorted doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors and masseurs who allowed him to keep playing.

Asked what his most memorable moment was, he said the 2002 Grey Cup parade.

His best catch? "My wife," he said.

Retirement speculation has seemingly dogged Cahoon after each of the last three or four years, and he said he would have hung up his cleats two years ago, were it not for his wife's urging to carry on.

As it was, he reached his decision to retire after the Als' 2009 championship - an injury-riddled season where his production began slumping.

"It's been a magical ride," said Cahoon, who hopes to break into coaching with his alma mater.

To a man, his now-former teammates said they have no doubt he will have as much success on the sideline as he did on the field.

"It's going to be tough not having him around next year," Flory said. "It's going to be weird."

And if Wednesday was an emotional occasion - and it clearly was for the normally stoic, deadpan Cahoon - it was also a chance for him to show the mischievous side his teammates recognize, but he has rarely flashed in public.

"I'm pleased to announce I'm the new president of the Montreal Alouettes," he began, after sitting down at a table adorned with the Grey Cup, an Als helmet, and a football on a tee.

Later, during a brief lull in the news conference, Cahoon caught Calvillo's eye: "Anthony, any questions? How are you feeling?"

"I'm feeling great," said Calvillo, who recently had surgery to remove his thyroid gland. "How's your golf game?"

"Slightly better than yours," he smiled. "Still."

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