Éric Lapointe retired today after an eight-year Canadian Football League career. Fans of the Canadian university game will always remember Lapointe as being the most dominant running back it has ever seen during his days with the Mount Allision Mounties, where he gave the small Sackville, N.B., school its last winning era in football. Beyond the records and his distinction as the first French-Canadian to win the Hec Crighton Trophy (1996 and '98) as the country's top university footballer, consider this: When I asked some of his fellow Mounties for insight into Éric Lapointe, they all e-mailed back within an hour — on a Friday afternoon no less.
From Julian Dickinson of Covers.com, a University of King's College classmate of co-blogger Neil Acharya and 2000 Mount A graduate:
"If you never saw him play at Mount Allison, you have no idea how good he really was. There was one play that probably best illustrates what he could do on the football field and what he could do for a team. It was 1996, Eric's second year. We were playing St. FX in the AUAA finals in Antigonish and we got absolutely pummelled in the first half. We must have been down at least three touchdowns and I'm sure most people in the locker room thought that game was over.
"But Eric came out in the second half and ripped off a 99-yard run that snaked all over the field, left about 10 defenders rolling on their bellies in the mud and ended with Eric in the end zone. It was the best individual play I've ever seen in a football game. He went on to rush for about 300 yards that game and brought us within a few points of winning that game. And this wasn't a cupcake defence. There were All-Canadians on the X defence, which would eventually play in the Vanier Cup.
"It was an amazing feat. At the end of the game he was bloody, bruised, covered in mud and his jersey was torn like he'd been through a war. I remember he did a TV interview after the game with his helmet on because he was so busted up about losing, he couldn't show his face. That was the same year our coach (Marc Loranger) was fired two weeks into the season, we had players suspended and all kinds of problems -- and because of Eric, we almost won the conference. That's how good that guy was.
"As far as I'm concerned, he never got his shot in the CFL until it was too late. He had a few bad injuries that a running back can't get over. Too bad. He was a tremendous running back and a great guy. It was a pleasure to play with him."
From Mathieu Gauthier, a former Mounties defensive end who helped prepare some of our CIS football previews last fall:
"Éric was one of the first French football players to make it into the mainstream pop culture in Quebec ... One quick example of his influence is in a recent recruiting event at a Montreal CEGEP. While the MTA recruiters had qualified only 5-6 guys who seamed like a right fit for MTA (only these kids got an invitation to the event), 34 kids showed up for the
presentation when they learned that Éric Lapointe was going to be there.
"He certainly had an influence on a generation of kids, who chose football instead of hockey and other sports. You should see the amount of #5 jerseys in the stands at McGill Stadium on game day.
"Unfortunately, Éric was not well known after winning his two Hecs. He won them when Laval was still a young organization and Montreal did not have a team. The French Montreal media care about the Q conference. The standings from the other conferences are not even posted but the top 75 qualifiers at a golf tournament are always there. So, he barely got coverage in the French press in Quebec at the time.
"Éric can play the political game and the PR game with the best of them. He capitalized on his sporting name to lay the foundation and to develop his 'after playing days' career in finance. He is very sucessful and to me, this is his biggest accomplishment.
"Éric has always been a very classy guy who made himself available to the kids and his fans.
From Jorge Barrera, a Sun Media national affairs reporter who was a Mounties rookie with Lapointe in 1995:
"Éric Lapointe had the aura of a star the moment he walked into the Mount Allison football locker room in his rookie year. While other rookies were subjected to the humuliating rituals of initiation, Lapointe moved above it all, his hair long and safe from the clippers.
"On the field he made things simple for his coaches. The offensive co-ordinator once remarked that running the Mt. A. offence with Lapointe was like playing Nintendo football: Sweep right, sweep left and Lapointe outran them all.
"Lapointe also signalled the last of Mt. A football's days of legitimacy. He was recruited by Marc Loranger who was fired by the school administration after a fullback was caught with steroids. Loranger said he would always assume his players innocent and lost his job.
"With the loss of Loranger, who took the mounties to the Vanier Cup, and his connection to Quebec football coupled with the Laval football program came the demise of mt.a football. The small school just can't compete for talent.
"Lapointe was Mt. A's last football star and what a star he was."