March 15, 2023

Football followed after Rob Bagg put hockey career on ice

The sporting career of former Saskatchewan Roughriders receiving standout Rob Bagg includes two more passes than he would have preferred.

He was passed over in two drafts — in two different sports — but nonetheless persevered and ultimately prospered.

The story has been told many times of how Bagg was not among 47 players who were chosen over six rounds in the 2007 Canadian Football League draft.

But less attention has been paid to how his path to pass-catching was paved six years earlier, when the Kingston-born forward — then 16 — was overlooked in the Ontario Hockey League’s priority selection draft.

“I was a hockey guy, but I left it overnight when I found out that this football thing was pretty fun, too,” says Bagg, who is to return to the ice this weekend when he captains a team at the inaugural Roughrider Foundation Winter Classic presented by BASF in Saskatoon (Saturday, 7 p.m., Merlis Belsher Place).

“I definitely grew up a hockey guy. My dad (Dr. Stephen Bagg) was a hockey guy. He played at the University of Guelph. Everyone in my family was a hockey guy. We just didn’t know how great football was.”

Bagg made that discovery at age 17, as a Grade 11 student at Frontenac Secondary School in Kingston.

“I did end up signing a free-agent contract with the Belleville Bulls of the OHL, but never reported to camp because I went to high school and tried out for the football team instead,” he recalls.

“Hockey was everything to me and, when I didn’t get drafted, the only thing I knew at the time to do was to be a quitter. I really didn’t put on skates again, quite frankly, until (then-Anaheim Ducks star) Ryan Getzlaf donated some to me in about 2013.

“I just completely walked away from it. I thought it was everybody else’s fault. Then I moved on to a different sport.”

And eventually on to Queen’s University, where he excelled as a receiver.

The Roughriders took notice, quickly signing Bagg as an undrafted free agent in 2007.

Bagg was such a sensation that he actually made the Roughriders’ roster for 2007, only to follow through on his plan to return to Queen’s — his hometown school — for one more year of university football.

In seven games with the Queen’s Gaels in 2007, Bagg posted some king-sized numbers. He made 35 catches for 804 yards — an average of 23 yards per catch — and six touchdowns.

Most memorably, he caught nine passes for (get this) 341 yards in a 54-24 victory over the Toronto Varsity Blues on Oct. 20, 2007.

He burned the Blues for touchdowns of 90, 89 and 70 yards.

Bagg subsequently returned to Saskatchewan in 2008 and become a mainstay with the Roughriders, catching 364 passes for 4,705 yards and 24 touchdowns in 143 regular-season games.

In 2013, Bagg helped the hometown Roughriders post a 45-23 Grey Cup victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

But even at a time when the Roughriders luxuriated in the CFL’s penthouse, Bagg never forgot the time he spent at a lower elevation while letting off some steam.

“I’m sure my parents’ basement still has a few drywall holes,” he says with a chuckle. “Anytime I’d get mad, my dad used to always say, ‘You’re too angry. Go downstairs and shoot pucks until you calm down.’

“I remember going into my parents’ basement after the CFL draft and probably taking 1,000 shots.”

Bagg used situations such as that as fuel. In fact, that is still the case.

Now a successful real-estate sales representative in Kingston, he has maintained the inexhaustible approach that served him so well on the football field.

“It’s the same principle that I learned later in my university career that certainly extended my playing time with Saskatchewan and it carried right over into real estate,” Bagg says.

“I just find things that other agents aren’t willing to do and I do them. It has turned out to really create kind of a booming self-business quite quickly. It is a skill that serves many purposes.”

And many customers — while providing for his family as well.

Bagg and his wife, Kelly, are the proud parents of 11-year-old twins (Thomas and Ella) and eight-year-old Leo.

Thomas and Leo both play hockey. Ella, a figure skater, also excels on the ice.

“It’s rare that we have a night when we’re all in one place now,” Bagg says. “Now we’re driving to Peterborough, Barrie, Markham …

“It seems like one son or our daughter is in one area of Ontario and another one is in another area.

“We’re constantly kind of dividing and conquering, but just being able to come home every night and make sure that my kids are tucked in and having a chance to say good-night has certainly been a big plus.”

On quieter nights, Bagg is able to enjoy time with his children on the family’s backyard rink — where he has spent some time preparing for Saturday’s game.

Bagg and Roughriders kicker Brett Lauther are to captain the teams at the Roughrider Foundation Winter Classic.

The game will feature an assortment of present and past CFL players, along with former NHL forwards Ryan Bayda, Byron Bitz, Ryan Keller and Jeremy Reich.

Tickets are $25 each for spectators aged 13 and above. Children 12 and under will be admitted free if accompanied by an adult. Proceeds are to go to KidSport.

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As the game looms, Bagg looks forward to returning to Saskatchewan and catching up with former teammates and Roughrider fans.

Of course, he would like to score a goal or three, but there will also be ample time to reminisce about and appreciate a decade spent as a popular, productive and proud member of the Roughriders.

“It was such a blessed situation,” Bagg says. “You don’t walk away a millionaire, but you walk away with a million memories.”