Jim Popp might love all his players equally and might rather not single out anyone in particular when it comes to a little extra attention.
You get the feeling that he might make a bit of an exception for receiver S.J. Green, however.
“He’s a remarkable man,” said the Toronto Argonauts’ general manager of Green, a man he brought into the league back in 2007. “I love him. It’s a remarkable story, there’s no question.”
Gazing out at number 19 as the Argos practiced underneath the dome on the University of Ottawa campus, Popp couldn’t help but pour out the pride as he walked down memory lane, thinking about his long history with Green, the spectacular pass-catcher who is looking to put a cap on a superb comeback season this Sunday.
“This is a special one,” said Popp, nodding in Green’s direction. He was talking about the 32-year-old veteran’s return from devastating knee injuries, but he could just as well have been talking about the man he shares so much history with, including a day many years ago when Green, ironically, spurned the Argos in order to remain with the Montreal Alouettes, helmed at the time by Popp.
It’s one of the reasons, but not the only one, why Popp has such admiration and gratitude for Green. “He’s an incredible person,” said Popp, glowingly.
As chronicled in CFL.ca’s long read about his comeback, written by Chris O’Leary, Green started his career with Popp and the Als more than a decade ago, a roster player who, despite his head-turning talents, couldn’t quite crack the Montreal line-up. He’d light up a practice session and he’d even light up the odd pre-season game. Still, with great depth at the receiving position, the Alouettes couldn’t find a spot for him, finally placing him on the practice roster so he could entertain an NFL offer or two.
Problem was, the Argos put in a claim, so the Alouettes put him back on their active roster, after Green decided he’d rather not go. He was starting soon after that and the rest is pass-catching history.
“Somehow he weathered it all,” said Popp of Green’s extended inactivity with the Alouettes, acknowledging just how frustrating that couple of seasons had to be.
When the Argos take on the Calgary Stampeders in the 105th Grey Cup Game, Popp will be rooting for all of his charges in double blue. And if they hoist the mug at the end of the game, there will be an emotional outburst or two, maybe none so charged as the one spurred on by the sight of Green lifting Lord Grey’s trophy over his head.
Who knows? If the scenario comes to pass, you might even see Green, the business-first, business-now, business-last veteran, get emotional too.
It would be difficult to get him to say that a win in this Sunday’s game would be the perfect way to cap his incredible comeback season, but it sure appears it’s crossed his mind a time or two. If not at the beginning of his comeback journey, maybe a little further down the road, when he was feeling confident about his knee and well on his way to putting together a stellar regular season of 104 catches for 1,462 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“It was in my vision,” said Green after Wednesday’s workout.
He did, then, at some point start to wonder about the prospects of a Grey Cup appearance, with the team around him gaining strength as the year wore on. But he doesn’t seem to consider the possibilities of a win being some sort of perfect bow on a personal triumph. In typical S.J.
Green fashion, the eleven-year vet sees it as an opportunity to take another step forward, nothing more.
“Now that it’s (a Grey Cup appearance) coming to fruition, I’m just gonna embrace this opportunity, embrace this week and take it all in and look forward to playing a good game on Sunday,” he said.
There’ll be time for personal reflection during the off-season, win or lose. For now, he is determined to keep his focus. It’s the kind of mindset, Popp said, that has helped Green return as every inch the game breaker he was before the injury.
“It goes to his rehab and his hard work,” said Popp, adding that it is true that a little good luck was probably helpful as well. But the good fortune of not having suffered a big setback during rehab would mean nothing had it not been accompanied by grit.
“You’ve gotta give him a lot of credit,” beamed Popp. “He grinded and was determined to get back and worked his tail off so hard. He got the opportunity and made the most of it.”
It’s inspiring, said Popp, but not altogether out of the ordinary, other than the level to which Green has returned after such excruciating injury.
“I wish there was an award for a player – not just him – every year, a comeback player of the year,” said Popp.
“It would be nice to add that award to the league because there’s a story, probably, like this every year.”
On Sunday, we’ll see how the story ends, at least this most recent chapter.
If the Argonauts happen to win, we can ask S.J. Green once again, if this has become his most perfect season yet.