Derek Mortensen / Electric Umbrella
Solomon Elimimian, a no-doubter of a Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee, vividly recalls a time when uncertainty reigned.
“In 2009, when I got cut from the Buffalo Bills, I didn’t have a job,” the legendary Canadian Football League linebacker reflects. “I was at home with my mom and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had a college degree, but I didn’t want to do anything else but play football. Football was the end-all, be-all.”
The end of his time in Buffalo turned out to be the beginning of something remarkable.
After resurfacing in football with the B.C. Lions in 2010, Elimimian established himself as one of the CFL’s all-time greats — the rare defensive player who was honoured as the league’s premier performer.
There was another flood of accolades on Thursday, when the Hall of Fame announced that Elimimian was among the seven 2023 inductees. He enters the Hall in his first year of eligibility, at age 36.
“I look back on my career and I say I won, not because I’m a Hall of Famer and not because I have a lot of awards,” Elimimian says. “I won because of what I was able to overcome. I was able to overcome the obstacles and that’s what’s gratifying to me.
“I was told I was too small. I was told I wasn’t fast enough. I was able to overcome, year in and year out. That’s what winning looks like to me.”
There were wins aplenty over a decade in professional football.
He was twice honoured as the CFL’s defensive player of the year, receiving that award in 2014 and 2016.
He doubled as the most outstanding player, period, in 2014, after establishing a CFL single-season record for defensive tackles (143). He fattened that total to 144 three years later.
Even in 2019, after being released by the Lions shortly before training camp, Elimimian established once more that he was a top-tier defender.
In his one season with Saskatchewan, he was named a West Division all-star for the sixth time. He had made the CFL all-star team on four occasions.
“He was not only a tremendous player on defence, but also a tremendous leader in the locker room,” says Dan Clark, who as a Roughrider was named the CFL’s all-star centre during Elimimian’s one season in Saskatchewan.
“To be able to share the field with Solly was exceptional. Especially with what he did with B.C., to be even a speck in his journey in football was unbelievable.”
Elimimian’s journey began in Calabar, Nigeria, where he was born on Oct. 21, 1986. The family eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he grew up before attending the University of Hawaii.
“The CFL gave a kid from inner-city L.A. an opportunity to live out a dream and really flourish in a beautiful country,” Elimimian says.
“When I think about the Hall of Fame, it’s a culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice — not just from myself, but from those around me.
“The old saying is that it takes a village. My family, my friends, my coaches and my teammates have played a big role in it.”
Elimimian is quick to thank, among others, his brother (Abraham) and father (Isaac) — foundational figures whose faith has been unwavering.
“The most gratifying thing I’ve had in the last few days was my dad saying he was proud of me as a son,” Elimimian says.
“People have sacrificed so much time and so much effort and I’m so gratified to have made them proud. Coming from a family of immigrants and seeing my dad overcome and to see what he went through, that’s what success feels like to me.
“The Hall of Fame is the culmination of all of that.”
He enters the Hall alongside four other players (John Bowman, Lloyd Fairbanks, Josh Bourke and Larry Crawford) and two builders (Larry Smith and Jacques Dussault).
Bowman, a former standout defensive lineman with the Montreal Alouettes, is also being enshrined in his first year of eligibility — a la Elimimian.
The official inductions are to take place Sept. 15 in Hamilton.
Elimimian — now the president of the CFL Players’ Association — is the 32nd person to enter the Hall after having spent at least a portion of a playing career in Saskatchewan.
The Roughriders’ honour roll also includes Eddie James (inducted in 1963), Dean Griffing (1965), Martin Ruby (1974), Ron Atchison (1978), George Reed (1979), Gerry James (1981), Ron Lancaster (1982), Ed McQuarters (1988), Ted Urness (1989), Ken Charlton (1992), Tom Clements (1994), Bill Baker (1994), Bill Clarke (1996), Al Benecick (1996), Ray Elgaard (2002), Roger Aldag (2002), Dave Ridgway (2003), Willie Pless (2005), Bobby Jurasin (2006), Alondra Johnson (2009), Don Narcisse (2010), Jack Abendschan (2012), Tyrone Jones (2012), Eddie Davis (2015), Gene Makowsky (2015), Geroy Simon (2017), Clyde Brock (2020), Henry Burris (2020), Fred Childress (2020), Will Johnson (2021) and Paul McCallum (2022).
“I want to give a shout-out to the Saskatchewan fans — the 13th man,” Elimimian says.
“I had a great time playing in Saskatchewan. It was something special.”