Stanley Bryant is now regularly introduced this way: as one of the Canadian Football League’s greats and a player absolutely destined to be enshrined in both the Winnipeg Football Club and Canadian Football Halls of Fame.
So, let the record state the 36-year-old all-star left tackle – who officially scribbled his name on a one-year contract extension with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this week – has certainly come a long way, both literally and figuratively, since the days when his professional career was at a crossroads.
Back then – and following his release from the Denver Broncos in 2009 – Bryant found himself working as a bouncer at Club Phoenix in Greenville, N.C.
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“After I got cut from Denver I came back home, and nothing was happening. I needed to pay rent and have some money coming in and I had a friend who was the head bouncer at Phoenix and he let me come on with them,” Bryant explained to bluebombers.com. “Downtown Greenville you’ve got bars, night clubs and our famous hot dog stand (Sup Dogs). It had been ranked the No. 1 party city in the U.S. for a couple of years.
“I didn’t see too many crazy things. I didn’t get into a fight with anyone, but I broke up a few and threw a few people out. Back then I was hoping another NFL shot would come. But I was saying if I was asked to do arena or any indoor league I’d be done, and it was getting close to that.”
Funny how fate works sometimes, isn’t it? It turns out Bryant’s agent also represented Dan Goodspeed – the one-time Blue Bomber then with the Saskatchewan Roughriders – and through his connections he was able to land his client a shot with the Calgary Stampeders.
Bryant would make his first CFL start at right tackle for the Stamps in Winnipeg to face the Blue Bombers in the regular season finale.
“Right here in Winnipeg at the old stadium against Odell (Willis), Phillip Hunt, Doug Brown,” Bryant recalled. “I do think about that… that being my first start and then circling back all these years later with me playing for Winnipeg. I can’t think of being anywhere else now, not at this moment in my life.”
Bryant will head into his 13th CFL season this spring, spending the first five in Calgary before signing as a free agent with the Blue Bombers in 2015. Over that span he has been named the league’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman four times – a league record – while being named a CFL all-star seven times. Just to put that into perspective, the iconic Chris Walby was named the top lineman twice and was a nine-time CFL all-star.
There are many similarities between the two greats: Walby was a defensive tackle converted to the offensive line; Bryant was a tight end who, as he jokingly puts it, ‘ate his way to becoming an offensive lineman.’
Walby was a fiery leader on the field while Bryant leads quietly, but the two men also manned the trenches for eons. Walby retired when he was 40; Bryant – now 36 – is hoping he can play for as long as that, too.
“I tell myself each and every year at this stage in my career – every year I think about retirement,” he said during his media availability at IG Field Friday morning. “But sitting back and just reflecting, talking with family and friends I knew that I wanted to continue to play. My body feels fine. I love playing football still. I love the camaraderie. I love the team. I love my teammates. I didn’t see a reason for me to retire as of yet.
“I love to play football. I don’t think there’s anything else right now in my life that I’d rather be doing. I can’t see myself working… I love football.”
Critical in his decision to return was that passion for the game. Bryant, even after all these years, also still gets nervous before any contest, but has been able to prolong his career through his skillset and the wisdom that comes from experience.
All of that, and the pursuit of another Grey Cup championship, is what keeps him motivated in continuing to build his legacy.
“I know I’ve been consistent over the years and just want to continue to strive to do that,” he said. “I don’t want to have a down year or anything like that. I want to be remembered as a guy that came out and played and was dominant each and every year, each and every possession. So, in the off-season I just pride myself on refocusing and telling myself I’m the best and just go out there and just try to do that and continue the legacy that I have.”
Don’t, however, mistake that last answer for bravado. Bryant doesn’t do that, as evidenced by his Twitter handle – @MyHumble_Self – and the fact he enjoys the media spotlight as much as a trip to the dentist’s chair. Reinforcing that was the answer he gave Friday when asked if he thought about wanting to be seen as the best offensive lineman in league history.
“No,” Bryant said instantly, “because I just go out there and play. And then at the end of the season, you never know how those awards are going to go. So, I just go out there and try to be the best that I can be. I think everything else will take care of itself. I’m one of those guys who believe that if it’s meant for you, then it’ll come. I’ve been doing that, I guess what, 12, 13 years now. And things have fallen into place for me, so I’ll just continue to do that.
“The CFL has done a lot for me,” he added. “I always say there’s nothing wrong with being a big fish in a small pond. I’ve met great people, built great friendships, seen different parts of the world because of the CFL, and just meeting those people, too. I mean, I love the CFL. I have no doubt that it’s one of the better leagues, and we just need more attention. I think that a lot of people see that as well.”