They were teammates for the bulk of their CFL careers, celebrated two Grey Cup wins and spent countless hours off the field together. So it’s only fitting that Josh Bourke will enter the Canadian Football Hall of Fame with John Bowman.
“Life is crazy, after football you have a tendency to drift away from the game and guys you played with but John and I still talk on a semi-regular basis,” Bourke said. “When we played together, we were super close.
“We trained together in the off-season, we both lived in Montreal year-round, we took French classes together, we went out together, we went to movies, bars, restaurants, the whole nine yards for the better part of a decade. Part of the reason why I’m getting in is because of him pushing on a daily basis. Practising with a guy of that calibre made me raise my game every day because I didn’t want to get embarrassed on the practice field.”
The class of 2023 has a definite Montreal/Quebec flavour to it. Offensive lineman Lloyd Fairbanks, who spent four of his 17 CFL seasons with both the Concordes and Alouettes, will also be inducted as a player while Larry Smith — a former Als running back and team president who also served as CFL commissioner — and longtime coach Jacques Dussault will enter as builders.
Also being inducted will be former B.C./Saskatchewan linebacker Solomon Elimimian and defensive back/returner Larry Crawford, the Lions all-time leader in interceptions (51) and punt-return yards (4,058).
Montreal selected the six-foot-seven, 315-pound Bourke in the third round of the 2004 CFL draft but he returned to Grand Valley State University that season. Bourke then signed with the Green Bay Packers and spent all of 2006 with the NFL club without appearing in a game.
When Bourke joined the Alouettes, he quickly established himself as a dominant left tackle. He was an East Division all-star from 2008 to 2014 and captured the CFL’s top lineman honour in 2011. Twice he was a league all-star and appeared in 151 career games with Montreal and Toronto.
The newest inductees will formally be enshrined Friday at Tim Hortons Field, then honoured Saturday at halftime of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats-Winnipeg Blue Bombers game.
‘It’s quite an honour’
Bourke figured the Canadian Football Hall of Fame would come calling one day but wasn’t expecting it to happen now.
“It’s quite an honour,” he said. “The fact I was able to get in so early caught me off guard but I’m definitely appreciative.”
Montreal certainly did plenty of winning during Bourke’s time there. But some of his most fondest memories came away from the football field.
“I loved giving back to that community and being super involved,” he said. “Many great friendships were built in Montreal, not only with teammates but also people from different walks of life.
“I’m a firm believer of getting outside your comfort zone and your four walls and building relationships with people you normally wouldn’t build relationships with. I have many interesting friends, which is pretty cool. Obviously the Grey Cups were tremendous but I was just so fortunate to play with so many great players over the years.”
These days, Bourke lives in Macomb Township, Mich., with his wife and 2 1/2-year-old son. He works as a sales manager at Cintas, the same company he joined shortly after retiring from football and hasn’t looked back.
“By the time I ended up walking away [from football] I think it was time for me to move on,” he said. “I felt I’d accomplished everything I needed to as a player, teammate and individual. It was a pretty seamless transition.”
But the lessons football taught Bourke are now serving him well away from the game.
“When I was a player, I tried to always work extremely hard,” he said. “I wasn’t always the biggest, fastest, strongest or most talented but I took pride in working harder than everybody else.
Presently, Bourke’s life revolves around his job and family. But he hasn’t completely closed the door on a return to the football field.
“Life is busy in what I do and how I dedicate my life to my job and it takes up a lot of time,” he said. “And I’m a family man now, my family is very important to me and so on weekends that’s time for them.
“Maybe when I retire at 65, 70, hopefully, maybe I’ll have time to get back and coach a high school team or volunteer some time and get back into it. I still love the game, that hasn’t changed.”It’s just my path in life went in a little bit different direction than some former players.”