- Free Agency
Everyone marvels at Danny Vandervoort’s hands.
So much so that his mom, Liane, likes to claim that their strength, and his athletic ability to catch anything thrown remotely in his vicinity, are descendant from her days as gymnast.
Dan Sr, on the, uh, other hand, simply points out that he wore No. 83 before his son ever did, so where else could those Velcro-like mitts have come from?
The BC Lions, no doubt, loved what they saw on film and in-person in March at the CFL Combine, where the McMaster Marauder wowed them on and off the field. So when they called Vandervoort on Sunday evening to let him know that they had taken him third-overall in the draft, media commentators described the young receiver again and again as “sure handed.”
Guess what happened next?
Vandervoort accidentally hung up on his new bosses.
“I was talking with them and I got all excited and I ran out to tell my parents,” Vandervoort said. “I went to hit ‘speaker’ but hit ‘end call’. They called me back, which was good.”
If there’s one excusable moment for a receiver’s palms to get sweaty and for his fingers to morph into thumbs, becoming the highest-drafted player at that position in six years (Anthony Parker, Calgary, 2011) is it.
A consistent threat in each of his four years at McMaster, Vandervoort piled up 2,572 yards on 148 catches in 32 games, along with 29 touchdowns. He was the 2013 CIS Rookie of the Year and was a first- or second-team All-Canadian from 2014 to 2016. At six-foot-two and 204 pounds, he already looks the part of a CFL player.
Standing on a chilly patio at a sports bar in his hometown of Barrie, Ont., on Sunday night, a Lions cap firmly and comfortably sitting on his head, Vandervoort was still letting the idea of what had happened wash over him.
“Fifteen years of my life, I feel like the hard work actually pays off now,” Vandervoort said. “You get to see the hours in the gym and practicing and you get to go somewhere and continue playing football. It’s awesome.”
Surrounded by his family, friends and a few former coaches and teammates, Vandervoort had a few dozen people around him as everyone watched TSN’s broadcast of the draft. The Lions’ call buzzing in his pocket — he warned friends not to call him for a couple of hours — was the only thing that jarred him out of the surprisingly cool state he’d been in.
Earlier in the day, at the family’s home just a five-minute drive from the bar, Dan Sr. and Liane joked that they were more stressed than their son. Danny sat on the couch and shrugged off any pre-draft anxieties. “Nothing you can do about it,” he said, while the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers game neared its conclusion.
“It’s like I’m going through it,” Dan Sr. said, standing next to the TV (he didn’t sit down much), readying the posters and a highlight reel of Danny that he was bringing to the bar.
As they watched the basketball game, Danny’s family — his sister Alysha was there with him, as were his grandparents and an aunt and uncle — wondered where he might end up. For parents that have seen every game of football at every level that their son has played, the hope was for an East Division team. Toronto or Hamilton would be the easiest, of course, Liane said, but they could drive to Montreal or Ottawa.
Over the 15 years that Danny has been playing football, the family has mastered the road trip. They drove to Lethbridge, Alta., when Danny played for Team Ontario as a high-schooler. They drove non-stop for 27 hours in March to be there with him when he was at the draft combine in Regina.
“Football’s in our blood,” Liane said. Alysha, after wishing she could have played tackle football as a kid, remembers a family trip to Canton, Ohio, to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“We went to the Hall of Fame and in that stadium there was a high school game,” Danny said. “We sat and watched it.”
“Anywhere we go we try to find stadiums,” Dan Sr. added.
“I welled up. Sunday night was the first time Dan had ever seen his son so excited, so emotional. I’d never seen him break down and have a tear in his eye.”
– Dan Vandervoort Sr.
After years spent at Argos and Ticats games with the kids, after watching Danny come bounding into the middle of the bar with the Lions on the other end of the phone (for a few more seconds anyway), the family was already planning its longest football road trip yet. At the same time, Dan and Liane were trying to balance the idea of watching their son leave them and move across the country.
The party wasn’t Danny’s first choice. If he had it his way, he would have been on the water with his dad on Sunday, fishing, chatting, waiting for the call to come. Danny doesn’t like the attention, Dan Sr. said. He didn’t want the posters up in the bar, didn’t want his highlight reel running on a TV that the group had commandeered next to the TSN broadcast.
Dan convinced him to go ahead with all of it, though. The people in the bar were the same ones that made the 90-minute trip from Barrie to McMaster the last four years to watch him play. They were old teammates, training partners, coaches and friends. He listened to his dad because, well, that’s his dad and that’s how it’s always been.
“He’s my best friend. I know dads and sons always say that but we do everything together,” Dan said. “We play football, I throw the ball around with him, we have a lot of things, fishing.”
Dan Sr. coached him his first five years in football. Since Danny came home at the end of April after finishing his sociology degree, the two would go to Danny’s old elementary school, St. Nicholas, to throw the ball around after Danny had finished his two-a-day workouts.
Danny doesn’t show a lot of emotion, Dan Sr. said. That’s just how he’s always been, on and off the field. He came home one day in 2013 out of the blue, with a tattoo on his left shoulder and told his dad it was a tribute to him.
“I welled up,” Dan said.
Sunday night was the first time Dan had ever seen his son so excited, so emotional.
“I’d never seen him break down and have a tear in his eye. I’m serious,” he said. “He just keeps himself…he’s way more composed than I am.
— Chris O’Leary (@olearychris) May 7, 2017
“It’s kind of like my best friend is leaving me, but I’m so happy for him. There’s nothing more exciting than him going third overall in the CFL draft. How could you be disappointed?
“It’s just amazing. I’m so proud of him,” Liane said.
“I’m sad and happy at the same time because he’s going so far away, but he’s been building up for this for his whole life.”
Liane is confident that everything will work out, even if it means her son has to go as far away as possible. As soon as he was drafted, everyone kept mentioning the tattoo. It was a sign, they said.
The tattoo is of a lion. Danny’s tribute to Dan Sr., who’s a Leo.
“Everyone jokes that I got it for (the B.C. Lions) and I have orange hair, so all the signals kind of matched up,” Danny said. “It’s actually for my father, but it works out.”
That’s how it goes on Draft Night. The parents who handed their kid a chance to play the game he now loves are presented with a memory they’ll never forget. An athlete is handed an opportunity to compete at the next level. And a team wagers a chunk of its future on a pair of hands they hope will, one day, hoist a Grey Cup.