- FREE AGENCY
Back at Campbell Court Elementary School in Bassett, Va., a young but already pigheaded 11-year-old DeVone Claybrooks had worked extra hard on an assignment handed out during a fifth-grade class.
The topic? The inevitable: What do you want to be when you grow up?
“My teacher failed me on that paper,’’ recalls the Stampeders defensive coordinator, with no small degree of relish, “because I said that I wanted to be a professional football player and then a coach and I wanted to drive a Cadillac Escalade with 22s on it and spinners.
“She probably thought that I was crazy.
“Well, I ended up playing pro ball, then going up and speaking to her class. I drove there in my Escalade with those spinners. And she told the class I was a life lesson, living proof to never tell a kid anything is impossible as long as he or she believes it.
“And now look at me here,” he adds, an exaggerated hand sweep taking in the expanse of Municipal Plaza in front of the City Hall steps, “a two-time Grey Cup winner as a coach.
“Just goes to show, right?”
A huge throng of Stamp backers came out Tuesday to celebrate the 2018 CFL champions.
They came by car. By bus. By C-train.
Even on crutches.
“Man, I would not have missed this for anything,” announced Stamps’ O-lineman Derek (Bonecrusher) Dennis. “I’d have hopped all the way here from the hospital on these crutches if I had to.
“Woke up at 6:30 this morning, had to go for the surgery on my knee. Then jumped right off the table to be able to get here.”
Sometime during the very first game of the season, Dennis “destroyed” the bursar sack in his right knee, crystallizing pieces of it into extra bone and played on the damaged joint the rest of the way.
“I put off the surgery until the end of the season to make sure I could get to the Grey Cup with these guys. And it was so, so worth it.
“You don’t get moments like this often your life. You miss something like this you’ll regret it the rest of your days.
“I made it here just in time.”
Even the moms seemed reluctant for the celebrations to end. Sally Claybrooks, for example.
“This,” said DeVone’s biggest booster, “has been totally amazing. To see my son and the Stampeders win this Grey Cup, I can’t even really say how overwhelmed I am.”
After a full day and night of celebrating, Alex Singleton’s voice sounded like a scratched-up 33 RMP vinyl with a chipped phonograph needle.
“Just to be able to finish a rookie contract feels like such an accomplishment,’’ rasped the three-year middle linebacker. “You wanna be a player first. Then you want to make the team. Then special teams. Then you want to be a starter. Then you want to win awards and win championships.
“To have all that happen in three years, as fast as it did for me …
“And to be able to do that in a city that’s accepted me, loved me and given me everything I could ask for, from a supportive fan base to a home to live in, is just so, so special.
“I’m a full-time Calgarian. My girlfriend’s from here. Her family’s from here. This place will be with me forever. Whatever the future brings, Calgary will always be home.”
For receivers’ coach Pete Costanza, receiving another white hat to add to the collection is always a good thing.
“And getting fitted for a ring the third time is just as sweet as the first time,’’ he acknowledged. “’08 was special because it was the first one. ’14 was another great win, just because of the way the game went. And this year, with all the challenges with the receiving corps, the rotating door, and the how the guys collectively fought, it had its own unique flavour. You can’t pick a ‘best’ one.
“I’m just so glad we’re here today celebrating with the city and that were able to bring the Cup back home where it belongs.”
On the stage during the festivities, coach Dave Dickenson was one of many to give a shout-out to the fans.
“We love this city,” he bellowed into the microphone. “Regardless of what I said a couple weeks ago, WE LOVE CANADA! Hey, listen, as a transplant from Montana we live and work in Calgary because this is the best place in the world.
“Trust me on that.”
Later, as the crowd began to disperse and his players headed off to continue basking in a singular achievement, the head coach reflected on the day’s events.
“This never gets old,” he said. “It’s always fun. The celebration at game’s end really is one of a kind. So raw. So immediate. It just … happens. And you’re just so happy, kind of in shock.
“But to get back home and share the trophy with the people who have been supporting you all year … you can feel the patriotism and you can feel the love.
“Maybe some other trophies give you the same thing, I don’t know, but I do know the Grey Cup does.”
And to think, the 2019 edition will be held at McMahon Stadium a year from now.
“Become a champion and people will remember you forever,” said Dennis. “And that’s what we just did.
“Our names will be on that trophy for as long as it exists. And that’s something, when you think about it.
“Do it once, you go down in history. Do it back-to-back? In your own backyard?
“You heard it here first.”