CALGARY — Jon Cornish would like fans to remember him as an unselfish player.
After nine CFL seasons, three rushing titles and two Grey Cup rings, Cornish announced his retirement on Wednesday.
"Nine years for No. 9, I think that’s fitting, but all good things come to an end," said Cornish. "I’ve been defined so many different ways as a running back, but I think the No. 1 way I would want to be remembered is as a guy that cared about the fans that he was playing for. I want to be a person that was understood to not be playing for me. I was playing for everybody else, for our team."
The 31-year-old from New Westminster, B.C., played just nine games for the Stampeders in an injury-plagued 2015 season during which he suffered a broken thumb in late July before complaining of neck stiffness after a 15-11 loss at home to the Edmonton Eskimos on Oct. 10.
"After every concussion, I never really had serious cognitive issues," said Cornish. "My issues were with the neck. Your neck gets jarred that much, probably something happened to your head as well."
Cornish also missed nine games in the 2014 season due to concussion symptoms. Despite that fact he still led the league in rushing with 1,082 yards and helped Calgary win the 2014 Grey Cup 20-16 over Hamilton, though the Tiger-Cats held him to 25 yards on nine carries.
"Going forward, I want to be an advocate for brain health," said Cornish, who made the decision after last season that he was going to retire if he suffered another concussion. "I hope to help people learn that your brain is your most important muscle and it’s really your most important asset."
Although Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said that it’s hard to see his teammate go, he understands and supports Cornish’s decision.
"I’m excited that Jon’s making the right decision for himself and his health and his family," said Mitchell. "He was somebody that was very, very fun to not only watch play the game, but to turn around and hand the ball to. He knew how to use his body and his abilities to the best of his ability and he did an amazing job of it. It’ll be tough to not have him out there on the field with us anymore."
Stampeders fullback Rob Cote said he had mixed emotions when his good friend told him of his decision to call it a career.
"I kind of knew this was coming," said Cote, who started his career with the Stamps in 2007 at the same time as Cornish. "I’m happy for him. I know he’s going to be very successful in his post-football endeavours. On a personal side, I’m disappointed to see him go. That’s been my dude. He’s definitely the greatest player that I’ve played with and one of the greatest players that I’ve seen."
Cornish was the CFL’s leading rusher and top Canadian from 2012 to 2014. He broke Normie Kwong’s 56-year-old single-season rushing record for a Canadian with 1,457 yards in 2012.
Cornish then broke his own record the following year with 1,813 rushing yards and was named the CFL’s most outstanding player. That season he became the first CFL player to win the Lou Marsh Trophy, awarded by The Toronto Star to Canada’s top athlete, since Russ Jackson in 1969.
"I remember being a kid, six years old, I just thought maybe I could do something, maybe I could be a good athlete," said Cornish, who finished his career as the fourth-leading rusher in Stampeders history with 6,844 yards despite making just 60 starts. "It’s because of the people I’m surrounded by here that I’ve been able to achieve both our team’s dreams, our fan’s dreams and my own personal dreams."
As for the future, Cornish said he’s working towards becoming a chartered financial analyst.
"I need four years of investment experience and I’d rather get that ball rolling now rather than later," he said. "I would say there is a portion of me that is nervous, excited, anxious, but at the same time, I’m a person that embraces change. This isn’t me leaving football. This is me leaving the field. I would like to contribute more to the CFL, towards the Calgary Stampeders in any way that I’m capable of."
New Stamps coach Dave Dickenson said that Cornish will undoubtedly find ways to stay involved with the game he loves.
"He’s moved on, but he’ll miss the game," Dickenson said. "He’s a football player. It doesn’t mean that he can’t find other avenues to stoke that competitive fire and still be involved in the game. Football defined him and he’s looking for other ways. He is a great ambassador for our game and a lot of Canadians have a lot to be proud of. The guy went to the top of the mountain. That doesn’t happen very often."