Looking ahead to this month's 2019 uOttawa Gee-Gees Touchdown Dinner in collaboration with and support from 1881 Gee-Gees Football Alumni Association, uOttawa is pleased to profile each of its new Football Hall of Fame Inductees. Jean Gauthier enters the Hall of Fame for his all-star career as an offensive and defensive lineman, which spanned five seasons from 1967-1971.
It was a highly successful but somewhat turbulent time in Gee-Gees football history and Jean Gauthier was one of the constants in the trenches as the Matt Anthony era came to an end, Bob O'Billovich masterminded an Atlantic Bowl win and first College Bowl appearance, and finally Don Gilbert began the climb to 1975 glory. Jean Gauthier is appreciative of each of these legends of the Gee-Gees program for how they led the team, and what they taught him.
"My first impression of Matt Anthony was that I was looking at my dad's picture," says Gauthier, whose father was a plumber in Cornwall and worked on hot water tanks, just like the heating and electrical contractor Anthony. "He was always there for us, and he delivered some pretty awesome halftime speeches – they were heard all over!"
Indeed, Gauthier still felt like a young man in 1967, his first season at uOttawa. "I was 18 years old and I was playing with men – we had a married police officer on the team. These guys had cars and I was walking or taking the bus." Gauthier's size (he was 6-foot-2 in grade nine) would soon earn him a starting spot and he was an all-star in his second season. That year, he lived in a house on campus that had been set up by Anthony, sharing it with nine other football players. It was nice and close to the practice field at Minto – "just about the muddiest field you could find," says Gauthier.
"You don't think about things like being an all-star when you're playing. You just want to do the best you can for the team."
Gauthier calls the 1970 season one to remember. Bob O'Billovich and Jim Cain came in and brought a new level of knowledge. "We were sponges," says Gauthier. "They knew how to motivate us and stressed paying attention to details. I matured under those coaches because they taught us to take responsibility and notice the details on the field – they taught us to be thoughtful football players."
"They got us to over-achieve. We had good players but winning back-to-back important games is incredibly tough and it was because of their sideline coaching, keeping us focussed. Our coaches gave us the edge."
Gauthier and his fellow offensive linemen protected Paul Paddon to a Hec Crighton award as the nation's top player in 1970. "Paul had a great arm, and he absolutely took control of the team. The cream rises," says Gauthier. Jim Cain notes that as the left tackle for the 1970 team, Jean was "the key pass protector on Paul's blind side, and a real leader."
His successful fourth season led the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to select Gauthier in the first round, ninth overall, in the 1971 CFL Draft. He returned to uOttawa however, and completed his arts degree in Geography which would later set him on a career path to teaching, although he didn't know it at the time. All Gauthier knew was that it was important to be in school. "School came first for me and my family," he says. "There was a purpose for me to be not only in school but also an athlete. Football kept me motivated and involved in the school."
In his final season in Garnet and Grey, Gauthier flipped to the defensive line "to plug a large hole that we had at defensive tackle," as Jim Cain puts it. His versatility as an athlete and as a senior player allowed him to excel there as well, earning a 1971 OUAA All-Star award in his second position.
"The first day of training camp in 1971 I could tell that something great would happen," notes Gauthier. Don Gilbert was now the head coach, and brought yet another approach for Gauthier to learn from. "He was a great, great coach," says Gauthier, who remembers Gilbert's game-planning most of all. The 1971 Gee-Gees went to the Yates Cup and posted a 7-1 regular season record, making the team's record during Gauthier's five-year career 30-9-1.
The newest Gee-Gees Hall of Fame member has now been retired from his career as a teacher for 14 years. It has been 31 years since his first Hall of Fame induction, when he entered the Cornwall Sports Hall of Fame with the class of 1988. His kids – two sons and a daughter – were quite young then, and he looks forward to having them attend the Touchdown Dinner with him. "Having them see what their papa is being recognized for will be special. The event always gives you a nice feeling – seeing your colleagues, coaches, and teachers," says Gauthier of past Touchdown Dinners he attended. "Being in Sudbury though I missed a lot of news – the dinner was always a connection point."
Sudbury was good to Gauthier though. He and his wife, Margaret, completed Teacher's College at uOttawa and were hired right after graduation. Gauthier also completed a Bachelor of Science in Recreology in addition to his Bachelor of Education. Margaret, who grew up in Sandy Hill, became a principal while Jean founded the junior football program at École Secondaire Rayside. "I took the Matt Anthony approach when I first started, but I realized that with the younger age you couldn't be quite that intense," says Gauthier. "With the years that went by I found my own approach."
Under Gauthier Rayside won multiple city championships and the NOSSA title, and he found another opportunity to reflect the balanced student-athlete lifestyle. The school where he spent his career is in Azilda, Ont. just outside of Sudbury and is a farming community. "Kids don't envision themselves going to university," says Gauthier. "Their parents wanted them in school, and football was a way to keep them. They came to me with a lot of their daily issues growing up, but not necessarily about going on to university. I did have two former students come to uOttawa though, and I was very proud of that."
The understated pride with which Gauthier recalls his students echoes his thoughts on his own career. He is proud, but shy as well. The gentle giant cliché may be applied liberally, but it often fits. Gauthier notes he looks forward to sharing his table at the Touchdown Dinner with not only his family but his mentor and idol, Pierre Guindon. Other than that? "I'm just going to enjoy the atmosphere," says Gauthier.
The 2019 Touchdown Dinner will be held on Saturday April 27 at the Canadian War Museum. Tickets and full event information are available online here.