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Inside the CFL: Former Alouettes star Bowman weighs life after football

The Gazette logo The Gazette 2021-09-24 Herb Zurkowsky, Montreal Gazette
a man standing in a room: Montreal Alouettes' John Bowman speaks to reporters as players clean out their lockers in Montreal on Nov. 11, 2019. © Provided by The Gazette Montreal Alouettes' John Bowman speaks to reporters as players clean out their lockers in Montreal on Nov. 11, 2019.

Other than one morning when he awoke with a start, believing he still was playing and had a practice to attend, John Bowman has distanced himself from the Alouettes in retirement.

He doesn’t watch their games — or any other CFL team’s — and was unaware of their record. But he remains the first vice-president of the league’s players’ association, so hasn’t totally severed ties.

Bowman spent 14 seasons playing rush end exquisitely for the Als but, after basically living in isolation for 15 months during COVID-19, sold his Montreal condo. He’s completing what he called an extended vacation in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where the coming winter and frigid temperatures are of no concern.

Bowman relaxes most days, goes to the beach and, after 24 years of training for football, hasn’t stepped on a scale and no longer follows his infamous don’t-get-fat diet plan. He remains as engaging as ever, his infectious laugh still prevalent.

“I had no expectations,” Bowman said of retirement. “I just retired from football, but I still have to live. I decided to relax for a bit, go to the beach, chill out and not worry about the weather. The only thing that’s different is waking up in the U.S. And not hearing French is weird. Otherwise, my days are long and slow.

“It’s nice to hop on a plane and be somewhere in 40 minutes,” said Bowman, who planned to end the week with a trip to Jamaica.

Bowman isn’t certain what the future holds, but realizes he must soon transition to the workforce. He’d like to return to Canada, if not Montreal, where he has name recognition, but must apply for residency and become a citizen. Instead, he’ll probably remain in the U.S. where, he said, he’s likely low in the pecking order for any potential employer.

Coaching remains an obvious option for the 39-year-old although, following a life devoted to football, Bowman wants to see what else might be out there. A sales position remains of interest, he said, and he’d welcome something that involves travel. Bowman wants to remain active, not stuck behind a desk in an office job.

“I’d like to coach and leave my impression on players,” he said. “One thing I was good at was football. Not to brag, but I wasn’t the best athlete, I wasn’t super fast or strong. I just knew how to play. As a coach, if I can relay that to a player it’s more impactful.

“But I’d like to explore my options outside the game. Am I good at something else?”

The 6-foot-3, 255-pound, native of Brooklyn, N.Y., arrived in Montreal in 2006 after bouncing around the indoor football circuit for minimal pay. As an unheralded rookie, he remembers someone in the organization saying the team would make due with him until they could find someone better.

That player never materialized.

a person holding a baseball bat:  Montreal Alouettes’ John Bowman celebrates after sacking Calgary Stampeders’ Bo Levi Mitchell during fourth quarter in Montreal on Oct. 5, 2019. © John Mahoney Montreal Alouettes’ John Bowman celebrates after sacking Calgary Stampeders’ Bo Levi Mitchell during fourth quarter in Montreal on Oct. 5, 2019.

Bowman set a franchise record with 134 career sacks, placing him sixth all-time in the CFL. A two-time Grey Cup champion, he was an East Division all-star nine times, yet, incredibly, was named a league all-star only twice.

Always candid, Bowman became a popular interview request, especially following games and particularly during the team’s 2015-18 losing seasons. He never spoke in clichés. Nor would he evade the truth. There were brief moments of controversy, especially during the 2015 season, when former head coach Tom Higgins made Bowman a healthy scratch in consecutive games , suggesting the player’s best-before date had passed. Bowman, in turn, responded with passive-aggressive messages on social media and had the last laugh when Higgins was fired , ironically following a rare win at B.C.

Despite producing eight sacks in 16 games during the ’19 season, the organization announced in February he wouldn’t be offered a contract . Bowman was hurt not to have the opportunity to retire on his own terms, but denied any bad blood exists. Indeed, he’ll be honoured before the Alouettes’ Oct. 30 home game against Saskatchewan.

“If I felt I was done wrong or treated bad, I wouldn’t be returning,” he said. “They wanted to change the direction. That’s completely okay. I have no resentment. I don’t disagree with them moving on. They believed they’d get more for their money going younger. That’s fine. It just wasn’t my choice.”

Bowman said he doesn’t miss practice days or the painful difficulty of getting out of bed the morning after games. He came to play in each of his 230 regular-season games and misses the three hours he was on centre stage, along with the camaraderie of the dressing room.

“I always wanted to challenge myself against younger guys to see if I still had the zest,” Bowman said. “I outlasted my expiry date, as Higgins would say.”

Bowman played for one team — unusual for any import — and remained competitive until the end.

“The way my career unfolded, coming from relative obscurity,” Bowman said with pride. “Whether anyone thought I was good or bad, I worked my butt off. Individually, I did some good things, too. I had a good run.”



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