Conversations with Queen's legend Jock Climie

Queen’s hall of famer, retired CFL all-star, and labour lawyer speaks with The Journal about his life

Jock set the national record for season yards and later completed his law degree while in the CFL.
Supplied by Jock Climie

For Jock Climie, self-congratulation isn’t really a thing.

Even though he boasts a laundry list of accomplishments transcending three professions, the length of which would require the lungs of an Olympic swimmer to speak in one breath, he doesn’t pat himself on the back for them. And he never will.

“We all have our strengths,” he said, “and what we owe ourselves is to maximize the potential we were given.”

“We don’t get a pat on the back for that.”

In 1988, as a third-year on the Queen’s football team, Climie set the all-time single-season record for receiving yards in all of Canadian university football. Two years later, after being admitted to the Queen’s School of Law, he was chosen as the fourth overall pick in the 1990 CFL draft.

Breaking the mold from most collegiate-turned-professional athletes, Climie didn’t drop out of school. Instead, he sat down with the Dean of Law and asked to complete his degree part-time— doing a semester of school every off-season—and to his surprise, the Dean said yes.

It was the first time in the faculty’s history something like that had been allowed.

Over the next 12 years, Climie graduated law school, articled at a law firm, studied for and passed the bar exam—all while playing in the CFL. Predictably, he was no slouch there either.

Over his 12-year career—far longer than most—Climie was a three-time East Division all-star, Lew Hayman trophy award winner (the distinction given to the top Canadian player in the CFL’s East Division), and, at the time of his retirement, ninth all-time in career receptions. He also finished in the top 20 all-time in receiving yards.

After his retirement in 2002, Climie took up practicing law full-time while working as a CFL analyst for TSN. Only dropping the latter post in 2017, Climie is now a partner at the same law firm he started working at 20 years ago.

The Journal sat down with Climie to learn more about his inimitable career, both on and off the field. During the discussion, he spoke at length about his personal philosophy, some of the motivational drivers responsible for his success, as well as some unforgettable stories from the past 30 years.

One story is a 1993 CFL game where Climie took it upon himself to relax more than usual before a matchup against the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. Ragged-on for being too uptight by one of his teammates, Climie chose to ditch his compulsive pre-game rituals in favour of a laissez-faire attitude to see whether it would improve his performance.

“So, I had a beer before the game,” he said, citing a break in one of his cardinal rules. “I was totally relaxed, I was just walking around like it was nothing, went into the game laughing, joking with the guys.”

“Second play of the game […] Tom Burgess throws me a ball. It bounces off my hands, off my helmet, up in the air. [Saskatchewan’s safety] picks it off, runs it back to the one yard-line. Next play, they were in the end zone—we’re down 7-0.”

After that, Climie said he went back to the sideline and did all of his pre-game rituals to get back in the zone.

He finished the game with two touchdowns and 160 receiving yards.

The story served as a manifestation of one of Climie’s personal philosophies: to constantly develop resilience. For him, the measure of an athlete isn’t how far they can throw a ball or how high they can jump, but rather whether they have the determination to achieve a task after they’ve failed at it.

This, however, is only a small part of what makes Climie who he is. In more instances than one, he said a central part of his attitude is only looking at what’s directly in front of him.

“A lot of people get caught up in thinking about the bigger picture,” he said.

“If you’re going to a Junior A [hockey] tryout and you’re already thinking, ‘I can’t wait to score 50 goals and make it to the first round of the NHL,’ then you’re not thinking about what you’re doing in that first practice.”

Climie stated that whatever he was doing—whether it was being in the gym, or studying at the library, or even partying with his friends—he always tried to be present and focus on the task directly in front of him.

Even now, as a CFL and TSN retiree, Climie tries to keep busy and apply that same philosophy, although he’s starting to look further toward the future. Even though he’s accomplished everything he wanted professionally, he said the idea of sitting down holds no appeal to him. But now, he’s getting to pursue some of the things he hasn’t previously had time for.

“I want to do things that allow me to start enjoying the fruits of my labour,” he said, “and not feel like I’ve got to be on this treadmill, which has been rolling at a pretty high rate of speed for a long time.”

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