February 24, 2017

Riders’ Chris Best retires after 10 seasons

Chris Best hasn’t been feeling his best for some time.

A double sports hernia kept the veteran offensive lineman out of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ lineup when the 2016 CFL season started. Then, as he neared a return to the field, he had a setback due to a hip issue.

He didn’t play a down all season.

On Thursday, Best announced his retirement after 10 seasons in the CFL.

“I first got diagnosed with a sports hernia in 2009 and I’ve just been fighting and fighting,” the 33-year-old said during a media conference at Mosaic Stadium.

“With the help of our medical staff, I’ve been able to play a bunch of games; my hips haven’t been holding me back up until this year. But I can’t fight through it anymore. I just can’t play at the level I need to play at to play this game the way it needs to be played.”

During the Roughriders’ final media availability of 2016, Best was hopeful of returning to the field in 2017. He required another surgical procedure, but felt he could make a comeback.

That wish won’t come to fruition. Doctors gave him all the information they could — and Best decided to call it a career.

“I turn 34 in April and I still have to get surgery; I haven’t had that yet,” said Best, the last player from the 2007 Grey Cup-winning team to leave the Roughriders. “Based on the timelines, I’d be looking at maybe being 35 or maybe being 36 and trying to resurrect my career.

“On top of playing a lot of football, I also did a lot of school, so I figured at some point I should probably use that school and get out in the real world, too.”

Best, who has worked every off-season since 2010, will continue his career with an engineering firm in Regina.

The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Best was selected by the Roughriders in the first round (fourth overall) of the 2005 CFL draft.

The Calgary product made his CFL debut in July of 2007 and went on to play in 114 career regular-season games for the Green and White.

Best won Grey Cup titles with the Roughriders in 2007 and 2013 and was their nominee for the award as the CFL’s most outstanding O-lineman in 2011.

In his first four seasons, Best played alongside centre Jeremy O’Day, who spoke during Thursday’s media get-together. O’Day is now the Roughriders’ vice-president of football operations and administration.

O‘Day praised Best’s tenacity on the field — “He was an old-school offensive lineman who believed in playing physical,” O’Day said — as well as the work he did in the community.

“Right from the beginning, Chris was a great teammate,” O’Day said. “You could tell right away that he had the work ethic to last the amount of time that he has lasted in the Canadian Football League.

“There are lots of players who show up every year and, from an offensive-line perspective, you can really tell in the first little while whether those guys are going to put the time in and the work that’s necessary to play.”

Roughriders centre Dan Clark also was on hand for the retirement of someone he called his “right-hand man.”

“It’s tough, not only from a football player’s standpoint but also because you lose a brother,” Clark said. “This guy’s been around since Day 1 when I walked into this amazing team and now it’s a sad day to see him go.

“This organization is losing not only a great person and a great individual but they lose a warrior on the football field who never let anything get in his way of competing and fighting for his team.”

The Roughriders used six players at right guard in Best’s absence last season, with (chronologically) Andrew Jones, Kennedy Estelle, Marcus Hall, Matt Vonk, Jarriel King and Josiah St. John getting opportunities.

There are other guards currently on the roster — Americans and Canadians alike — so the Roughriders have multiple options to replace Best, depending on how they want to work the ratio.

But who replaces him is not Best’s concern. He’s still adjusting to the fact that he’ll no longer be playing a sport he took up in Grade 10.

“It’s been hard, obviously,” said Best, who was joined at the announcement by his wife Emily and their three-year-old daughter, Libby. “I’ve had a little bit of time to come to grips with it based on talking with my doctors and everything.

“I’ve defined myself as a football player for more than half my life now and it’s going to be a real change, a real adjustment. There’s going to be a bit of mourning, but luckily I have a strong family behind me and that’s going to help me with this adjustment.”