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How fantastic does it feel to play in the 100th Grey Cup? There has to be one word, maybe two, to describe the emotions a player feels after he spends most of the season injured, then suddenly reemerges and contributes significantly to his team’s championship pursuit.
Calgary Stampeders receiver Maurice Price thought on the question for a moment, after Calgary’s final full practice Friday. He narrowed his eyes, despite maintaining an enormous smile. His expression was a funny mixture of concentration and joy.
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“I don’t know, it is hard to find the words right now,” he said finally. It really is difficult to talk about the destination when the journey is not finished, yet.
But Price can speak on the length of his journey, because it has been long…too long. “I lost track a long time ago,” he said. Wikipedia says the itinerant 27-year-old has made 11 stops in six years. Kansas City, New England, San Francisco, Baltimore, Washington, and Tampa Bay in the NFL, Florida in the UFL, Jacksonville and Orlando in the Arena League, and Calgary, twice.
A football player’s life is tough, unpredictable, and unglamorous, and Price knows all these things. “Nomad,” is how he describes himself.
But the toughest challenge came this season; Price fractured his ankle in training camp just when Calgary decided to take a close look at him as a viable downfield weapon.
The Stampeders could have nursed Price back to health in six to eight weeks, and then released him. But they did not. Instead, Calgary jettisoned veteran receiver Ken-Yon Rambo at the end of June, and Calgary offensive coordinator Dave Dickenson quietly told Price he had a chance, and the sliver of hope was enough to embolden him.
“I was like, ‘Well they’re keeping me around for a reason,’” Price said. “So when I came back I wanted to show that appreciation…I didn’t want to come back out of shape or looking anything less than I was looking before I got hurt.”
He moved slowly from crutches, to a walking boot, to interval training on a stationary bike. But the hands and his football brain, in particular, never atrophied.
“The work ethic is pretty amazing,” said Calgary quarterback Kevin Glenn. “[Price] would come out to practice with a helmet on, [even in] hot weather, sit on a chair and catch balls…he never wanted to stop getting better.”
“The league doesn’t stop because I got hurt,” Price said. “I felt like I had to keep up with everybody else.”
Price returned against Winnipeg in mid-September, and made seven catches for 81 yards in his first three games. But an incredible 56-yard catch-and-run touchdown against Hamilton in Week 17, through heavy snow in Calgary, revealed the powerful speed that explodes from his muscular 6-foot-1, 200 pound frame.
“That is why we recruited a 4.29[second sprint over 40 metres] receiver,” said head coach John Hufnagel. And Price has yet to gear down — since Week 18, Price has 22 catches for 487 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
“He is an explosive receiver,” said Hufnagel, and throughout Grey Cup week, several members of the media have crowded the sidelines during Calgary’s practices and wondered aloud if Price has quickly begun a new personal journey, toward the league lead in receiving yards next season. When he stands still, all Price can do is shrug and grin.
“It took time to get [to the Grey Cup], but now that it is here, it feels like it is all happening so fast, all happening at once,” he said.
Glenn knows how awesome Price should feel about his hard work: “He didn’t know whether he was going to be able to come back to play, so he didn’t wait until he was put on the roster to take advantage of his opportunity. He took it as soon as he got hurt.”
Price tries to talk through his emotions, but he struggles to find the right words
“Everybody back at home [in Orlando, FL], my family and stuff, they are just so proud of me, we’re just basking in the moment,” he said.
“The store back in Calgary just got my replica jersey, and my mom, she still can’t believe it. For it to be 100th Grey Cup, it just kind of puts it in perspective. I don’t know, it’s crazy…it’ll mean even more, obviously, if we win.”