Bryan Chu--The epitome of the CFL

I know this is the Cats' site and heaven knows I detest the Als big time and have for decades but guys like Chu epitomize the CFL for me. An unassuming guy who has paid his dues and anchored a very good O-line for more than a decade and is more than a little responsible for the Hall of Fame stats that Calvillo, Pringle, Cahoon, et al have put up over those years. Every team has their Bryan Chus so I thought I'd share this with Cats fans. This is from the Nat'l Post last week.

An Argo-Cat fan

REGINA – Thirteen Canadian Football League seasons and 203 games, it seems, have passed in an instant, Bryan Chiu admits. Especially when the Alouettes’ veteran centre ponders his humble beginning and looks back on a career that seemingly was never meant to be.

It was springtime, 1997, a year after the Als selected Chiu in the second-round (18th overall) of the Canadian college draft. He was an anomaly – an Asian offensive lineman, perhaps somewhat undersized. Met at the airport upon his arrival from Vancouver by a team employee, Chiu made the arduous trek to St. Jean with defensive tackle Doug Petersen, another British Columbia product, for the start of training camp.

“I didn’t know a soul. It was late at night and I wanted a bite to eat,? Chiu remembered. “I walked around town, finally found a pizza joint and tried to make an order, but they didn’t understand. I called home and wanted to go home. I remember telling my mom I didn’t know if professional football was made for me and didn’t know if I could make it here. She told me to stick it out and give it an opportunity. I had nothing to lose.?

Chiu didn’t need the game, like so many others. He had graduated from Washington State, where he was on a full scholarship, with degrees in business and sociology. He figured if he stuck with the Als, he’d play a couple of years and get out with his health intact; perhaps eventually returning home, to the B.C. Lions, if he ever got to free agency.

“Things have a funny way of working out,? he said. “I can’t believe it. If you had told me 13 seasons in Montreal, I would have figured you were crazy.?

Saturday afternoon at Mosaic Stadium (3 p.m., TSN, RDS, CJAD Radio-800), Montreal and Saskatchewan, the league’s last two remaining undefeated teams, will meet. It’s retro week in the CFL, with each team sporting a model of its 1960s uniforms, and it will mark the 204th game of Chiu’s career. He’ll become the longest-serving Als player, surpassing defensive-tackle Glen Weir.

For now, it’s only a number to Chiu, who turns 35 next month; something to look back upon, with fond memories, when he retires – perhaps next season. Or not. It means he’s old. It means he has been fortunate, surviving the numerous collisions and pounding his body has endured over the years.

Chiu has undergone six arthroscopic procedures on his knees. His right shoulder had screws implanted years ago following surgery. He has had elbow surgery and another operation on a finger. It takes more stretching and applications of ice following games than it did years ago to recover. But he does. And he continues absorbing the pain and punishment because, he said, there’s no feeling that compares to the satisfaction in the dressing room following a victory.

“It’s like a train wreck. My whole body aches after games. I can’t put it into words,? Chiu said. “I have parts where I didn’t even know I had muscles that are in pain. But it’s the camaraderie and feeling of victory after a game that you can never replicate. The feeling you get from winning a game and accomplishing your goal … through the blood, sweat and tears. My fondest memories are from my time in the locker-room. I have no regrets.?

Now 6-foot-1 and 288 pounds, Chiu was the Als’ sixth offensive lineman as a rookie, finally starting at right guard at Winnipeg on July 3, 1997, for Mark Dixon, out with a tooth infection.

“I never thought I’d last long at guard,? Chiu said. “I wasn’t made to play guard. I was undersized and my style didn’t suit that position. I figured my career would end.?

But then, on the first play on the opening day of camp in 2000, Mike Pringle ran into Mike Sutherland, Montreal’s centre, fracturing Sutherland’s wrist. Chiu moved to centre, the Als went to their first of their six Grey Cup appearances this decade and the rest has been history.

“Clearly, this signifies longevity,? said Scott Flory, who eventually replaced Chiu at right guard and became his roommate on the road. “And you don’t get it without being good, knowing what you’re doing or being a smart pro. He has played a lot of ball and that’s a testament to the player.?

Chiu said it’s difficult to select a player or coach over the years that has left an indelible impression. However, he mentioned the fire and passion that Pringle brought to the field. “He taught me a lot about being a pro.?

The coach? It’s hard for Chiu not to pick Don Matthews, under whom he captured his only championship, in 2002. But Chiu said the respect he has gained the last two years for Marc Trestman is unbridled.

“He has rejuvenated my career,? Chiu said. “I see ball differently. We do everything as a team, and no one guy is greater than the team.?

One Cup victory means Chiu has been on the losing end an improbable five other times. But there have been far more wins than losses over the seasons, he said, and the organization’s track record is unparalleled.

“I’ve gone to six,? he said, “and that’s a big achievement. Do I wish the outcome had been different? Absoutely. I’ve played on great teams and met some great teammates. This organization is fantastic.?

In the final season of his contract, Chiu is reluctant to commit to or comment on his future. Win a title, and he and others undoubtedly will retire while on top. Regardless, he knows the sands of time are coming to a conclusion in the hourglass of his career.

“I’m just enjoying every game I have, knowing it’s coming to an end,? he said.