May 23, 2023

No blocking, no fear: Remembering Jim Copeland (1939-2023)

Jim Copeland, whose key interception set up George Reed’s first of 137 touchdowns as a Saskatchewan Roughrider, has passed away at age 84. 

Copeland saw regular-season and playoff duty for the Green and White from 1961 to 1964, contributing as a defensive back and punt returner. 

He also played in the league with the Montreal Alouettes (1960) and Toronto Argonauts (1965 to 1968). 

After his rookie season with Montreal, he was traded to Saskatchewan on June 29, 1961 for halfback Frank Fraser. 

Back in the days — unimaginable now — when blocking was prohibited on punt returns, Copeland settled under 229 kicks as a Roughrider. 

It was one versus 12, but he embraced and excelled at the role, in addition to contributing in the defensive backfield for 61 regular-season and nine playoff games in green and white. 

After registering three interceptions in each of his first two seasons as a Roughrider, Copeland added two picks in 1963. 

On Aug. 5 of that year, he intercepted Edmonton quarterback James Earl Wright early in the fourth quarter at Clarke Stadium. 

Copeland returned the interception to Edmonton’s 28-yard line. Bob Ptacek then hit Ray Purdin for a 19-yard completion, whereupon Reed — playing in his first CFL game — accepted three consecutive handoffs. 

He scored on the third play, from one yard out, to help Saskatchewan assume an 18-9 lead. The Roughriders went on to win 19-16. 

On Oct. 22, 1963, Copeland scored what proved to be his only CFL touchdown when he returned an interception 33 yards against the host Argonauts. 

Also in 1963, he led the Western Football Conference in punt-return yardage (352). 

The following year, he registered a career-high 72 punt returns — one of which produced a 28-yard advance. 

Copeland signed a new contract and rejoined the Roughriders in 1965, only to suffer a knee injury in the Green and White intrasquad game. 

He joined the Argonauts in September of that year and spent four typically productive CFL seasons in Toronto. 

Over his career, he registered 10 interceptions and returned 422 punts. He is fifth on the CFL’s all-time playoff list in punt returns (62). 

Copeland was named to the Argonauts’ modern-era (1945 to 1973) all-star team in 1974. 

In 1998, Copeland was inducted into the Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame. 

He died in Windsor on May 6, following a lengthy illness.