Every time I think about one of the Canadian Football League’s most talented players, ever, I also think of Buckingham Nicks…the last names of half the supremely popular rock group Fleetwood Mac.
The football player was Tom Cousineau.
Cousineau was drafted No. 1 in the National Football League, the Connor Bedard of his time. Only two other No. 1s came north to the CFL and both played a higher profile position (quarterback): Randy Duncan (B.C.) and Terry Baker (Edmonton). Combined, they played three undistinguished seasons on the way to early retirements.
The best of the three, Cousineau played three distinguished seasons in Montreal on the way to an NFL career that lasted six more. He’d been a superstar at Ohio State, a linebacker who was drafted first overall by Buffalo but who joined the Alouettes for $150,000 plus a $200,000 signing bonus, twice the Bills’ offer.
Oh yes, Fleetwood Mac.
During Cousineau’s three seasons, I was sports director at the radio station that carried the Alouettes’ games. Part of my job was working on football broadcasts, first on the sidelines and later in the booth. In radio, you depend on talking to the athletes so you avoid alienating them and sometimes even befriending them — dead air is boring. Somewhere along the sidelines, Cousineau and I became casual friends.
A rookie who seemed a bit lonely in Canada, on a few occasions he stopped by our house to visit, or to swim with our kids because Cousineau was a big kid himself. We discovered a common interest in “rock” music and one evening while listening to a Fleetwood Mac record, he asked:
“Ever listen to ‘Buckingham Nicks’?”
We know who Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were, but not that they’d been a duo. We immediately went out and bought the ‘Buckingham Nicks’ LP, enjoyed it and still have it.
Thanks to Tom Cousineau.
He joined a Montreal team that was good and about to be mediocre, then worse. The Alouettes reached the Grey Cup in Cousineau’s rookie year, and he was the game’s most outstanding defensive player, in a 17-9 defeat. They were eliminated in the next two Eastern semi-finals, the second time as a “star-studded” team that went 3-13. This was because, at least in part, an elbow injury to their all-star linebacker sidelined him for 12 games.
He’d planned to stay five years in Montreal, but exercised an “NFL-escape” option in his contract after three. It was just as well. The Alouettes departed about a month after Cousineau did, and didn’t really come back until 15 years later. We never saw Tom again.
Buffalo still had his NFL rights, but Cousineau declared he was a free agent, eventually signing with the Cleveland Browns, who gave the Bills three draft picks. One of the three became quarterback Jim Kelly, who was so talented that his number is now retired in Buffalo.
Cousineau had his moments in the NFL but was never, understandably, the impact player he’d been in Canada. His first Montreal coach, Joe Scannella, once said this about him: “He is a very intense football player and he is very smart. That’s what Tom Cousineau is all about.”
That, and Buckingham Nicks.