September 9, 2010

Moffat: Emotional week for Alouettes

Rick Moffat

“I ride the bus with Walter everyday to practice, so it’s weird having an empty seat beside me,” says rookie Marc-Olivier Brouilette.   “It’s the kind of guy he is—always outgoing, someone you’re instantly attracted to.  Then on the field he just turns on a switch.  He turns into a warrior.”

But in the early hours of Labour Day Monday, the switch went off in the small mind of a coward.  Veteran linebacker/special teams player Walter Spencer was stabbed in the chest and saved by emergency surgery.

Some Alouettes have talked about wearing #46 on their wristbands, risking CFL fashion felony fines.   Others suggested a team effort with league approval, or more discreetly supporting Walter Spencer’s recovery by bearing his jersey number under their uniforms Saturday against Hamilton.  More than just Special Teams is missing its special man.

Walter Spencer by profession lives life like a Tasmanian Devil.  Speeding and spinning downfield creating havoc.   Busting through blocks, springing holes and hopes for others who’ll gain more glory.  Always alert to bodies flying in from the blindside, or worse, from behind.

A senseless idiot attacked Walter from behind.   On guard on the field, Walter was defenceless away from his turf, in a world where random acts of violence are rarely penalized. 

Even many Als’ fans don’t know Walter to see him face to face.   But in his hometown of Windsor, Ontario they felt the stab near the heart too.  I told Connie McCrary about the attack on Walter and she was horrified.  Connie knows how strong Spencer’s heart is.

When Walter brought the Grey Cup home in the offseason he toured it from schools to union halls (thank you, CAW!) as a fundraiser for Connie’s teenaged son Paul, a football player, still recovering from a spinal injury.

Walter’s words at the time are all the more inspiring now: “Anybody who’s ever played understands the risks.  And it’s like an unwritten brotherhood…We look out for one another.”

Our thoughts are with Spencer’s fiancée Cathy Piedad, her mother and Walter’s mother who’ve been at his bedside all week.  Cathy and Walter are getting married New Years’ Eve.  I dare suggest they wish it was 2011 right about now.

On the field, the Als will be seeking solutions and inspiration from the next “Next One.”  Adrian McPherson, off the 9-game injured list to make his first start of the season following knee ligament damage suffered in preseason, is a study in perseverance.

He’s the only player on the continent suing the NFL for injury caused by a mascot.  McPherson had rebuilt his career which careened from college scandal to Arena League obscurity.  He moved to New Orleans, bought a house, packed for his first Saints roadtrip.   “Pack for 3 days” players were told as they game planned for Oakland. 

Katrina changed the game plan.  The Saints never came home, but in some ways were never closer to the hearts of their fans.   Thankfully Katrina spared the McPherson home, but the disaster affected the family of his girlfriend (now fiancée).   Some have since picked up and moved on.   Just like Adrian.

“I was third string quarterback, running routes in practice as a reciever, even on punt and kickoff teams.  The accident ended up taking me out of a place where I wasn’t happy anyway.”

McPherson was run over by the Tennessee Titans’ mischievous racoon mascot T-Rac before a pre-season game.  Don’t laugh.   The knee injury cost him his NFL career.  Cut loose by the Saints, he failed physicals with the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs.   He’s still never seen a penny of the $20-million sought in the original suit.

“Now I’m here in Montreal with my fiancée and my daughter (5-month old Demi).  I like being around Anthony Calvillo, Coach Trestman and Milanovich.   But it’s also my option year.   I can be happy hear as #2—I’d like to stay.  But I just want to win the confidence of the organization again.”

September 10th is Tony Proudfoot’s birthday.  In two weeks he’ll lead Team Proudfoot for the 4th straight year at the A.L.S. Society of Quebec Walk to Tackle Lou Gehrig’s Disease.   Alouette stars like Anthony Calvillo, Ben Cahoon, Scott Flory and others are with the Grey Cup and everyday hero every step of the way.

This year Tony will roll the route in a wheelchair; the hideous enemy within has stolen his strength.  A machine to suction his lungs will be kept close at hand.   Here’s the transcript of an audio birthday card CJAD 800 had “signed” by some of Tony’s closest friends and admirers:

Mathieu Proulx:  “Tony, you’ve been a tremendous help over the years.  Helping us be better football players but also better people.   I wish you the best on your birthday and hope to see you soon.”

Anthony Calvillo:  “Tony you’ve done a lot for this community and we wish you the best.”

Marc Trestman:  “Hey Tony, Buddha Master, just want to wish you a very happy birthday.  We enjoy seeing you at the games; it was great to have you come into the lockerroom (before the BC game).   We didn’t show you a real good game but we’ll try to do a better job Saturday.  You’re a big part of what we do here so keep up the good work and we thank you.   Take care, Happy Birthday.”

Ben Cahoon: “Just want to wish you Happy Birthday.  We love you, you are the inspiration for our Grey Cup run last year.  Still playing for you, you’re still a big part of what we’re doing this year.  Hopefully we can bring another Cup home to Montreal for you.  Get you another ring!”

Happy Birthday, Tony.  As Wally Buono said at Grey Cup last year: “Alouette for Life.”  Teammates forever.