July 16, 2014

Moffat: London inching closer to starring role with Als

Rogerio Barbosa/Montreal Alouettes

He wasn’t dressed for game action in Week 1, the football equivalent of failing your audition, but aspiring actor Brandon London must be forgiven for wanting a starring role some day.  

In his fourth season with the Alouettes, he knows the importance of a great supporting cast.  Heading into Game four, the “Cultured Athlete” (@CulturedAthlete on twitter) has re-established himself in a leading role.

No, his director isn’t Oliver Stone, but this isn’t “Any Given Sunday”, still his fave football film. 

Solid Foundation

With every coming season, pundits pin Brandon London as one of those who will enjoy a breakout campaign. But for some reason or another, the rangy receiver never quite breaks through. Here’s a look at some of his best work thus far.

» 2013: London Breaks Away for Big TD
» 2013: London Hauls in Final Calvillo TD Pass
» 2013: London Climbs Ladder vs. Stamps
» 2012: London Scores vs. Boatmen
» 2012: London’s Over-the-shoulder TD
» 2011: London Scores 1st Career Major

Tom Higgins is calling the shots and this Saturday could be “Curse of the Dome: Part 13”. The Als have lost every visit to Canada’s Hollywood North since 2000, save for the year of “The Empire Strikes Back” – the outdoor win at Empire Stadium while the house of horrors that is BC Place Stadium was being renovated for the Vancouver Olympics.

This is supposed to be the Year of the Comeback for London. He just didn’t realize he had to do it from so far back.  

With Reality TV & NFL veteran Chad Johnson added to the roster, even the release of Jamel Richardson did not guarantee the lanky 29-year old London any job security.

He led all Als’ pass-catchers in receptions in the first pre-season game, but like an actor with more open casting calls than credits, one wondered why he had played virtually the entire game.

There was another star on the rise.

Kenny Stafford also impressed the coaching staff at Training Camp.  The nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter won a starting role in every regular season game. Only a high ankle sprain suffered by Stafford’s cousin Duron Carter in the season opener in Calgary put London back in the spotlight.

Both London and Stafford have defied the odds repeatedly, of course in getting to where they are, which is right at the top of the Montreal receiver charts with SJ Green.  London has as many catches (nine, with one less game played) and is second in pass-catching yards, with Stafford ranked third on the club.

“My father and I had this thing, we’d say ‘Worst to First’,” London recounted recently in the Als’ Olympic Stadium locker room.  “The only time he coached me was in T-Ball…we went from 1-15 to 15-1.”

Being the son of a career football coach is never easy.

Living up to the expectations of Brandon’s father may have seemed like a task for a super hero.  After his own college and pro football career, Mike London turned to fighting crime as a police officer in Richmond, Virginia before devoting himself the last 25 years to teaching at college and NFL players alike.

“He was hard on me at times, but only because he wanted the best for me,” Brandon says.

So there have been no pouty looks or emotional outburts from the former New York Giant who won a Super Bowl ring before joining the Als in time for the 2010 Grey Cup run.  This receiver with all the big play capability just dedicated himself to getting the chores done, even if that meant contributing on special teams.

“He’s always been diligent in his blocking assignments,” GM Jim Popp raved repeatedly and encouragingly during what seemed like an interminable slump in 2013. London may as well have been starring in “Gravity”; he may as well have been lost in space given the disconnect with Als QBs.

Brandon had spent parts of recent off-seasons in LA, hoping to jumpstart his career in modeling and acting.  This year he has rededicated himself to football, though he still has his “phone a friend” moments.

“Michael Strahan,” London revealed when I asked recently about the most famous celebrity on his contact list.  “I still call or text regularly and it’s great to hear from him…maybe I’ll get an interview slot on his show one morning.”

For Stafford, making it in football has been no walk in the park, it’s been a family picnic.

“Duron and I would see each other at reunions and that is one competitive family,” he said.

“We are blood cousins, the closest cousins you can get,” he added.  “My mom is my Uncle Cris’ sister and I was raised by my Uncle Cris’ mother which is me and Duron’s grandma, a real close-knit family.”

“I was able to see Uncle Cris play back in the heyday a few games in Minnesota and in Tampa Bay…we’d make family outings of it.”

Stafford felt no pressure to pursue the family business.  “I just always wanted to catch the ball and score touchdowns.”

Until now, his teammate London rates “Any Given Sunday” as the best football movie ever.

“It was all about the lifestyle—that movie made me want to be a pro football player,” London admits.

If they can all get healthy and productive at the same time for Troy Smith, London will be happy with life in the ensemble cast of London-Stafford-Carter-Green-Johnson not on a movie set, but in a game-changing 5-R set.