Calgary Stampeders Foursome To Be Feared

Foursome to fear: Grace’s move to Linebacker Row a show of solidarity

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Michael Petrie
Calgary Herald

June 3, 2005

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CREDIT: Lorraine Hjalte, Calgary Herald
The Stampeders have a lot of horsepower in their linebacking crew in the persons of, from left, Brian Clark, Scott Coe, John Grace and George White.

Life in the high-rent district wasn’t so bad, but John Grace felt the need to move to the suburbs and be with his type of folk.

So, just before Calgary Stampeders training camp kicked off, Grace packed up his belongings and moved across the locker-room to Linebacker Row.

In a cramped corner of the room, Grace occupies the stall formerly belonging to another first-rate 'backer, Alondra Johnson. To his left are Brian Clark, George White and Scott Coe.

“They’ve been after me for a long time to get me over there,” said Grace, flanked by his pals. “I was stuck between two quarterbacks and I finally succumbed to the pressures. We’ll all be here for years to come, so I figured I’d move.”

Clark and Coe are under contract through 2006, Grace is locked up through 2007 and White is set to sign a contract extension that will keep him in red and white through 2007.

“It’s basically one big, happy family back there,” said Clark. “But I tell you, if Coe doesn’t get his intestinals cleaned out, he’s going to be thrown out soon. Because there’s something wrong inside that guy’s body and he lets everyone know about it.”

This fearsome foursome is one of the Canadian Football League’s best.

They executed Denny Creehan’s defence heroically last season and became the heart of the team. But for all their chemistry and production on the field, these guys are even more prolific in a casual setting.

“We’re an eclectic bunch of guys,” said Grace. "Everybody has a distinct personality and all our personalities work well together. There’s a person for each emotion we want to portray.

“At any point in time, we can throw them out. Everyone has their own specialty.”

Grace, for example, is the group spokesman. At 28, he’s three years younger than Clark, but is the group patriarch and a steadying influence.

“I’m usually the level-headed one of the bunch,” said Grace, who is working on a master’s degree in adult education. "But once I get mad, there’s a free-for-all. It’s all-out war then.’’

“He’s 28 going on 60,” said Coe. “Grace is the comedian. You wouldn’t think it, but he keeps it all light.”

If Grace supplies levity, then Coe provides insanity.

At 25, he’s the runt of the litter. His hair is dyed red and he’s liable to show up any day with some type of cheesy prop.

“He finds ways to be noticed,” said Clark, 31. "We tease him about being a media whore and stuff like that, that’s his shtick.

“But that’s who he is and you need someone like that to counterbalance what we do, because we’re not the most outgoing people. You see us on the street and we’re quiet, but this guy’s calling radio stations to promote himself.”

“You can’t hide when you’re with Coe,” said White, 27. “If you wanted to be quiet and just be there one day, it can’t happen because he’s going to make a ruckus and do something retarded to make everybody look over at us.”

“With the three of us (Clark, White and himself), we’re all even-keel, normal guys,” said Grace. "We could go out and sit around and have a conversation and you wouldn’t even know who we were. But Coe, he’s in a dark room with shades on.

Foursome to fear: Grace’s move to Linebacker Row a show of solidarity

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“We blend in well. But Coe, he don’t blend. He’s oil in water.”

On the field, Clark is the brains of the operation. He understands the defensive system exhaustively and can put everyone in their places.

Away from the game, he’s also a smooth operator.

“He’s a car salesman now,” said White. “He knows you how to fake you into believing something.”

Added Coe: “He’ll sell a lady in white gloves a purple popsicle.”

But Clark isn’t all blue eyes and a friendly smile.

There’s evil lurking within and it goes by the name of “Francis.” It’s a dark side that earned its name from a psychotic character in the movie Stripes.

“You know things will happen when Francis comes out,” said White. “You never know what will set it off, but when it does . . .”

“We got into an incident last year at training camp when we were late getting to mess hall and steaks were being served,” said Coe. “Some of the guys and some of the coaches took three or four steaks and there were none left for us. Francis came out then and he was POed. Tables were almost being flipped.”

White also brings special skills to the group.

“George is the looks,” said Clark. “We put him out in front of everyone. He’s so damn pretty.”

“He’s the baby kisser,” added Grace. "And I might be the old guy of the group, but George is, by far, the slowest. If we’re all going somewhere, we’re always waiting on George.

“George totes more stuff than any human being possible. You go in his bag, he’s got everything from A to Z in it.”

Though they’ve only been together for one year, these guys act like life-long friends.

They talk smack, take shots, knock each other down, pick each other up and fight side-by-side.

“Even watching film, we can point each other’s mistakes out and we all laugh at each other,” said Clark. "No one gets offended, we get along good and that carries over to the field.

“I know I can count on George, John and Scott that they’re going to make a play. Hopefully, they all count on me the same way.”

It’s a special chemistry that makes going to work every day a pleasure. And it helps them be more productive.

“When I came in last year I didn’t know what my role would be,” said Coe. "I looked at the depth chart and saw George White, John Grace and Brian Clark and thought, ‘Well, looks like another year of special teams.’

"But coach Creehan used a three-four, he gave me a chance to compete and play with these guys. They’re all superstars at what they do.

“They’re the three best linebackers I’ve ever played with. I learn something every day from them. Grace yells at me every time I do something wrong. I can count on that. And I’ve improved because of it.”

Grace was the West Division’s defensive player of the year last season and he’s not even thinking about a repeat.

He realizes that was a team honour.

“As linebackers, everything you do is predicated on the guy next to you doing his job,” he said.

"If Brian hadn’t taken on so many guards and tackles last year, I wouldn’t have been in position to make so many plays.

“This year, it may be me taking on the guards and double teams.”

It doesn’t matter who get the job done, or how it happens, as long as they do it together.

“We bugged him a bit to get over to Linebacker Row,” said White. “It’s important for all four linebackers to have a cohesiveness. So, we got him over there and we’ll see how it pans out for us in the season.”

mpetrie@theherald.canwest.com