I’ll never forget my initial introduction to the darkest day of professional football…
The Saskatchewan Roughriders had just finished playing in our final exhibition game and the players had two days off while Roy Shivers and Danny Barrett deliberated over the final roster moves. Camp was over, but for the few of us that were unsure of what the future held, there was no reason to celebrate.
What struck me on the morning that the team would start making their final decisions was how quiet the dorm room halls had become. It was a stark contrast from the upbeat and lively environment that I had come to know it as. What used to be hallway filled with music and loud conversations had become a desolate corridor saturated with anxiety and stress.
Everyone was well aware of the deadlines in which CFL teams had to submit their final rosters, the problem was that there was no way to pinpoint when, or how, players would be getting the news. Up until now, all we had heard about was that there’d be some guy that all the vets referred to as “The Reaper? involved in capacity.
The fact that nobody knew what was going on literally handcuffed us to the dorm rooms. Players weren’t going stray far from the phone or their rooms in case a member of the front office came looking for them. It made the next few hours painfully monotonous.
Not being capable of sitting around and waiting for hours, I constantly walked around the dorms searching for signs of life. There had to be somebody around that I could share my angst with.
Luckily I stumbled upon a group of guys making small talksitting around a table in the TV area.
What followed, was my introduction to the other side of pro football.
I didn’t sit down, I couldn’t, I was too fidgety, so I stood in the hallway and stared at the TV nobody was watching. I was just glad to be around other guys at this point; and was content to referee their argument about the Los Angeles Lakers.
As the banter became louder, and the boisterous familiarity returned to the hallways, in my peripheral vision I saw “The Reaper? turn the corner and begin to ascend on our group of hopefuls.
I didn’t know what to do. I froze. I wanted to walk away, as if hiding from him would shield me from any bad news he carried regarding my future as a professional athlete. The name “The Reaper? actually suited him. He was a rickety old man who didn’t shave and toted a clipboard that represented certain death. As he walked down the long corridor, his beady eyes fixated on me as if he had locked onto a target. The only thing I could muster was a muffled warning to the unsuspecting group that I had joined, “Awww sh*t.?
Like Gazelles catching the wafting scent of a predator in their presence, everyone’s head turned in the direction that my warning came from, as they realized what was approaching, the group fell absolutely silent. One could hear a pin drop.
The Reaper stopped right in front of us. He adjusted his cap slightly, as if to say, “Hold on tight fellas, this isn’t going to be easy?. Then he brought the hammer, “226, 213, 233…?
These were room numbers, and the guys in those rooms had just been cut.
As soon as The Reaper finished reciting those rooms, he peered up from his clipboard and scanned the group. I remember one of the players who was a DB slumped back into his chair as if all the air had been taken from him. He put his hands on his head and exhaled the only thing that came to his mind “Dam man?. To my right, an RB, that also resided in one of those rooms. Clearly dejected, all he could do was walk away slowly with his head down and his hands in his back pockets.
The Reaper calmly exclaimed to both players, “Ya’ll grab your playbooks and go holler at DB. He on the 2nd floor.?
He then turned, looked at me, and asked, “You know who in 213??
In my mind I screamed to high heaven, “NOT ME THANK THE LORD? but instead I looked down and muttered, “no clue, haven’t seen anyone all day?. It was like I was covering up for someone during an interrogation.
The Reaper just grunted, looked back to his clipboard and started walking off. The other player whose room hadn’t been called out, leapt up and got on his cell phone as soon as The Reaper turned the far corner. He disappeared into his room that was right in front of where it had all gone down. I never saw him again either.
For a moment I stood there, all by myself, not doing anything. I didn’t know what to do. Finally after a minute or so, I just picked a direction and walked.
I had just witnessed what it was like to be told that one’s dream would not come true. I felt bad that those guys had to find out the way that they did, but then I realized that there’s no good way to deliver this sort of news.
I saw the Reaper on three separate occasions that day, and couldn’t help but worry that he was looking for me every time. Thankfully he wasn’t, but that day will always stick out in my mind.
I hated every final cut day after that for the rest of my career. Sometimes there were surprises, and sometimes there weren’t, but every one of those days was always tough. You’ll see an outpouring on social media today, with guys voicing their feelings about how hard the day really is. Nobody wants to see another teammate’s journey come to an end. It’s one of the more emotional days in sports.
CFL organizations all across the country are finalizing decisions today and notifying a final few players that they won’t be moving forward together. Every team has their own way of going about this process and there isn’t an easy way around the conversation.
Everyone will handle today differently.
Some players sit by their phones and text each other about any news that they may have picked up on. Other players just go about their day and ignore the elephant in the room. I've even gotten a few texts today from a couple of guys asking how they looked in pre-season and if I think they're "in trouble".
The old cliché goes, “It’s just business, it’s not personal?.
Maybe that’s why it’s the worst day in sport...
Even though it is just business, it’s so hard to not to take it personal when one has literally poured every ounce of their heart and soul into that one dream for their entire lives.
The end is heartbreaking.