Andy Fantuz was a special football player.
Plain and simple. You just don’t get guys like him very often.
From the tall wiry frame to the stride length, smooth routes and gargantuan hands – the largest in the history of the CFL combine since 2006 – there were so many parts of Andy’s game that made him unique, especially for a Canadian.
I said in a radio interview last week that Fantuz “is the gold standard of home grown talent.” As with most radio conversations I didn’t plan it, I didn’t have an agenda, it’s just how I honestly felt. Reflecting on that comment over the last week since Fantuz officially retired Thursday night ahead of his two former teams meeting has me appreciating even more the legacy Andy Fantuz leaves behind on Canadian football.
There are some in this country who have the talent from the lowest levels of amateur football to be recruited State side and give the NCAA a chance. I applaud those football players to no end for their athletic exploits, especially when they make good down South and return to show how much better their heightened competition through college has made them CFL game ready.
With that being said, there is just something about a homegrown kid making it from a Canadian high school to a U SPORTS campus and earning a prominent role on a CFL team that feels so incredibly Canadian.
Fantuz took that path and it always made me respect his professional exploits that much more knowing that he was just like every kid getting dropped off at summer football camp or wandering out to the high school practice field each day after the final bell sounded, regardless of the plummeting temperatures or risk of some hellish rain, snow and ice combination.
There are so many aspects of amateur football in Canada that have to be experienced to be appreciated. From playing in front of small crowds in high school to being excited about having a televised game in university. From figuring out how to put your pads on correctly to deciding which of your idols to pattern your game after. Maybe even deciding whether to dedicate your fandom to the iconic Argos or the upstart Renegades – lived it, I chose Kerry Joseph and the Renegades.
Andy did all of those things while growing up in Chatham, Ontario and climbed to the CFL mountain top as on of the games best receivers, national status or not.
On field what made Fantuz so much fun to watch was his understanding of time and space, route tempos and how to set up defenders. All of these skills created one of the most dynamic second down conversion machines the CFL has seen in recent memory. Fantuz made all the little plays required to stay on schedule with down and distance while still maintaining the ability to get into the end zone through a run after the catch or jump ball. He really could do it all.
The game will miss Andy Fantuz. He connected with fans everywhere as the template for how to prepare, play and perhaps most importantly carry yourself as the Canadian face of two CFL franchises over a decade plus career.
Anytime sports fans lose the right to watch someone hone their craft at such a high level there is a natural craving to see someone else have similar success, but will there be another Fantuz type home grown star receiver anytime soon?
I believe that person already exists in a CFL uniform today.
Nic Demski is an incredibly dynamic talent, so too are Anthony Coombs, Lemar Durant, Juwan Brescacin, Drew Wolitarsky and many more up and coming Canucks.
Cory Watson has had a fantastic career combining production and longevity similar to current free agent Rob Bagg and recently retired Marco Iannuzzi.
Nate Behar, Devon Bailey, Josh Stanford and Danny Vandervoort continue finding their way as young Canadian pass catchers and their time will come, but only one man has me believing CFL fans don’t have to look far or wide to watch Fantuz type excellence from a Canadian receiver in the CFL right now. Ironically enough, he too is as home grown as they get.
From Peterborough, Ontario, Sinopoli has a command of the field few at his position do. Whether due to his extensive resume in a football life full of accolades or his past as an explosive quarterback at the University of Ottawa, Sinopoli has qualities which in-game differentiate him from others.
Off the field he carries himself with a fun loving nature as Canadian as a maple syrup shot done off the back of a rocky mountain moose.
It’s fitting that the next great Canadian receiver be draped in REDBLACKS plaid week in, week out. A weekly billboard for Canadianity and a reminder to young Canadian football players everywhere that anything is possible.
The same message Andy Fantuz carried with him out of the Tim Horton’s Field tunnel Thursday night one more time to say thank you to CFL fans for their enduring love of his ability and approach.
In reality it’s us the fans who should be saying thank you for being afforded the opportunity to drive down the street and watch one of us proudly represent all that is right about Canadian football.