Stanley Bryant is right there standing alongside Chris Walby in the pantheon of Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive linemen legends.
Put Frank Rigney among those two greats as well, along with Buddy Tinsley, John Bonk and Bill Frank.
Still, with respect to Bryant let’s take this one step further and not-so subtly suggest that if the folks at the Canadian Football Hall of Fame want to get a jump on things, they could start working on his bust for the shrine right now because he is an absolute lock.
The Bombers announced that Bryant, who turns 35 in May, has signed a one-year contract extension with the club, knocking another vital name off the pending free-agent list. And ‘vital’ doesn’t even begin to describe the value of the two-time winner of the Canadian Football League’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman Award; a guy who could have won it for a third time in 2019 but fell two votes shy of Hamilton’s Chris Van Zeyl.
“No doubt this is where I wanted to be,” began Bryant in a media conference call. “It’s unfortunate that last season we didn’t get the chance to play because of the pandemic. Right now I’m just looking forward to getting back out there with my guys, my teammates and play the game of football that we’ve all been missing so much.”
That answer, in about 50 words, might just best sum up Bryant.
A soft-spoken man, he is quick to laugh – often at himself – values his friends and family and is quick to deflect praise. Even his Twitter handle – @MyHumble_Self – reflects that.
Asked Tuesday what keys, besides his durability, have made him so successful, Bryant paused for a moment and then said: “I can’t tell you, that’s a secret.”
During a 20-minute conversation with the media Bryant touched on a number of different topics, from his dabbling in real estate to the streaming TV service he and a friend have launched during the CFL 2020 season shutdown.
Yet, in discussing his decision to return to Winnipeg he kept circling back to a couple of factors: the camaraderie in the Bombers’ locker room and his desire to keep working on his craft.
He didn’t mention the word ‘legacy’, but with a few more seasons like those he has authored here he will inch that much closer to Walby, considered by many to be the best offensive lineman in CFL history.
“My body feels great. My mind is also great,” he said. “I’m still going to go out there and compete at a high level and continue to do what I’ve been doing the past few years and that’s go out there and help this team win ball games.
“It’s the type of bond we have. This will be our fourth-fifth year together (as an offensive line) and we’ve become great friends off the field and good friends on the field. It’s a brotherhood that we want to stick together… I don’t want to leave that. I don’t want to change any of that, not being able to get another chance to bring another Grey Cup to Winnipeg with my guys.”
It could be said fate has had a major role in bringing Bryant to Canada, first to the Calgary Stampeders and then to the Bombers as a free agent in 2015.
He was a tight end in college, first at Division II Elizabeth City State and then as a walk-on at East Carolina. Used primarily as a blocking tight end, he was moved to left tackle when a teammate had to quit the game suddenly because of a heart condition.
The move got him a look-see from the Denver Broncos in 2009, but he was among their final cuts at training camp. Bryant returned to Goldsboro, NC, his hometown, and was working as a bouncer at a bar on the East Carolina campus when he got a call from his agent – who also represented Dan Goodspeed, the former Bomber/then a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders – asking about his interest in the CFL.
His decision to come north turned out to be one of the shrewdest in his lifetime. Twice named the Stampeders’ top O-lineman, he signed with Winnipeg in 2015 and has won the team award here three times. He’s a five-time CFL All-Star and, like Walby, has captured the CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award twice.
“I always wanted to play professional football,” said Bryant. I always thought it would be the NFL, but I never would have guessed it would be in Canada in the CFL for this much longevity. I’m grateful and always honoured to go out and play each and every year, each and every game.
“There are some good things to being a big fish in a small pond. The CFL is continuing to grow, the CFL has treated me nicely over these last 10-11 years.”