Stampeders quarterback Kevin Glenn in search of respect
Kevin Glenn, one of the most enigmatic, baffling quarterbacks to ever don a CFL crest, will look to silence his critics for good when he leads his Stampeders into the 100th Grey Cup against the Argos on Sunday. (DAVE ABEL/Toronto Sun)
They love me; they love me not. So it is for Kevin Glenn, one of the most enigmatic, baffling quarterbacks to ever don a CFL crest.
He’ll look like an all-star Flutie-esque dream one week, a star-crossed tenderfoot the next.
He’ll play lights out for three quarters, then let some defensive back punch out his lights with a head-scratching interception.
Prosperity and disappointment have been abiding companions in a career that has spanned the country from Saskatchewan to Toronto, where he never played a down, to the Blue Bombers, where he played a season too many, and Hamilton, where the Oskee-Wee-Wee crowd never did figure out whether they loathed or loved him.
And, finally, this year to Calgary.
The jury, at his latest stop, is still out. At least for one more game.
Sunday, when he finally gets his chance to play in a Grey Cup — assuming he doesn’t get sacked by a runaway streetcar between now and game time — should cement his legacy.
Rarely has one game, one result, one moment in time, meant so much in how a player will ultimately be perceived and remembered.
A victory would catapult him into the rarified atmosphere enjoyed only by those quarterbacks who have owned the Grey Cup.
Lose and he is back on the roller coaster.
“You enjoy every game. You’re happy you made it this far. But it’s not complete until you get that ring,” says Glenn. “We’re in the business of winning. Nobody remembers the runner-up.”
Nobody knows that better than Glenn. If the runner-up club had a poster boy, Glenn would qualify.
He was dealt to the Stampeders this year in the deal that sent Henry Burris to Hamilton. He was supposed to be insurance for Drew Tate. But ever since Tate was sidelined with a dislocated shoulder earlier in the season, and then broke his arm in the West semi-final, it has been Glenn who has taken them on their wild ride to the Grey Cup game. And, so it happens, that the little 5-foot-10 quarterback from Illinois State who couldn’t, is back on track.
But even in his season of contentment, there have been hiccups.
After recording his best completion percentage ever — 66.7% this season (his career average is 61.7%) — the Stampeders benched him for Tate in the West semi-final. TSN analyst Milt Stegal recently referred to him as “the Rodney Dangerfield” of the CFL. On the other hand, he’s in his 12th CFL season, and in three of the last six, he has taken his team within earshot of the pop of a champagne cork.
So he must be doing something right.
Actually, says Calgary offensive coordinator Dave Dickenson, Glenn is finally doing just about everything right.
Or, at least enough to go from standing on the sidelines whispering into a headset, to giving the Stampeders confidence that they can survive the ball-hawking Argonauts defence.
Confidence that he can put together two solid games in a row.
Confidence that this will not be like last season, when he became the toast of Tigertown in an Eastern semi win over Montreal one week, then just toast the next week when he got scorched by the Bombers.
This, says Dickenson, is a different Kevin Glenn.
“He has been consistently solid. I can’t comment when he wasn’t with me and sure, early this year when he didn’t have a feel for our offence, we’d have liked to see some different results. But as soon as he got a feel for how we do things and we built to his strengths, he just took off.”
In the past, Glenn left varying impressions. Some suggested he pressed too much. Others said it looked like he didn’t care enough.
Dickenson says reality, and public impressions, often meld like water to oil. Glenn, meantime, describes himself as ultra-competitive. It’s probably why he has been able to keep playing through a dozen seasons, many of which have ended with crushing disillusionment. But the same competitive streak might also be what has aided and abetted some of those disappointments.
Dickenson has harnessed the aggressive tendencies. He has had Glenn playing under control. Don’t panic. Just go with the game plan. Don’t do anything dumb. It has turned Glenn from a scatter-shot quarterback into one of the most consistent.
“As quarterbacks, we were a lot alike. I just tried to find out what he was good at and where I could make him better,” says Dickenson. “With him it was, let’s limit ...”
The sentence does not get completed. You know: Say no evil ...
Let’s just say Glenn is learning to keep life simpler.
“You don’t have to read every player on every play,” Dickenson says. “So it was let’s show you where to go. After that, he has great vision, great feel. Very accurate, that’s probably his greatest attribute.”
That — and simple survival.
“I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves,” says Romby Bryant, the Stampeders’ receiver who played with Glenn in Winnipeg in 2008.
“He had a pretty decent year, actually (in Winnipeg). He had three receivers with more than 1,000 yards. That’s pretty good for a quarterback.”
But the Bombers finished 6-12, out of the playoffs. All it got Glenn was run out of town.
Just a year earlier, he had carried the team within a whisker of a Grey Cup championship. The Bombers finished 10-7 and beat Montreal 24-22 in the East semi. Glenn helped the Bombers carry a 19-1 lead into the fourth quarter in the final against Toronto.
He was less than 15 minutes from finally getting a shot at his first Grey Cup when he took the snap and tried to hand off the ball. Instead, the ball fell to the Rogers Centre turf. So did Glenn. So did a diving Kevin Eiben. When everyone got up, Glenn had fractured his arm.
Goodbye Grey Cup.
As he watched from the sidelines, overmatched rookie Ryan Dinwiddie quarterbacked Saskatchewan to a Grey Cup win, even though he was wearing the Blue & Gold. To this day, Glenn believes he would have made a difference.
“I think we would have won” he says.
Chances are he’s right. But he didn’t win then — and he still hasn’t.
He completed 325 passes this season — just eight fewer than Anthony Calvillo. He threw for 4,220 yards — more than Ricky Ray — only 11 fewer than Travis Lulay. That’s heady company.
This season, he surpassed 40,000 yards in career passing. He has eight consecutive seasons with at least 3,000 passing yards.
But a dozen seasons into his football journey, he does not own the ultimate prize. Until that is won, he never will be recognized as an elite quarterback.
For a dozen seasons, he has loved the game more than the game has ever loved him back.
“I love to do this. At one point in our lives we all did this for free just because we loved it. I still have that passion and I don’t think there has ever been a season that ended with me saying, ‘I think I want to retire’, ” says Glenn. “I’m very competitive ... I want to keep coming back and try to get (a Grey Cup ring)
“I just have a fascination for this game. It’s a setting that you can’t express in words ... relationships last forever. You see guys 10, 15 years later and when they get together they still talk about what happened in games, in the locker room. It’s those memories ... the camaraderie that you can’t take away from this game that I love.”
So he has been the proverbial kid in the candy store this week, a smile from here to Steeltown, a video camera dangling from his arm the moment he arrived in town. Giddy like Scrooge discovering Christmas.
“I just want to enjoy it all,” he says.
At the Stampeders’ media lunch Wednesday, Glenn spent more than 20 minutes talking to reporters. The next day, there was another 20-minute press conference and never was there any indication he felt it was an inconvenience.
But what now?
Regardless of how many touchdown passes he throws, yardage he piles up, how long he plays — and, at age 32, Glenn says he wants to keep playing until they drag him off the field — this game is the ultimate prize. Ultimately, it’s the only one that counts.
He knows it. His teammates know it. “You go to a Grey Cup and lose and (you) don’t matter,” says receiver Marquay McDaniel, who also played with Glenn through the tumultuous seasons in Hamilton.
“But you win one or two and suddenly you’re an all-time quarterback. For quarterbacks, their reputations — fair or not — are based on championships. Winning this game would do something big for his legacy. He deserves this.”
His coaches know it.
“It’s important to him just to win one,” says Dickenson. “It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good player if you don’t win one. But it’s an eight-team league. So in your own mind you think you have a good shot. He’s been a starter eight, 10 years. I think it’s due. There have been a lot of highs and lows, a roller coaster for him. So I want to make sure he stays with what we do. It’s not all going to go smooth (Sunday). He’s going to have some challenges. Hopefully he finds a way to win.”
It looked like he might find a way in Hamilton.
He had set franchise records in 2010 with 33 touchdown passes and 388 completions. But it was as if the Ticats could never quite commit to him, often bumping Glenn and Quinton Porter up and down the depth chart.
Still, there he was engineering a stunning 52-44 win in 2011 over Calvillo’s Alouettes in the East semi, completing 23 of 32 passes. A week later, the Grey Cup dream ended once again in an equally stunning 19-3 loss to Winnipeg. The drop-off seemed inexplicable.
Many, both inside and outside the Ticats organization, didn’t believe Glenn could lead the team to a championship. Hamilton general manager Bob O’Billovich did not respond to a request this week for an interview.
Today, while Burris and the Ticats sit at home, Glenn sits 60 minutes from a championship with the Stampeders.
Few imagined it could happen this way.
Even Glenn himself emerged from last week’s victory over the heavily favoured B.C. Lions speechless with joy.
“I can’t explain how I felt after the Western final,” Glenn says of finally finding a path to Grey Cup Sunday.
“It was like something significant — like marriage, the birth of my kids, graduation. It’s like ... you knew you had really accomplished something you had worked so hard to get to.
“As a player you always feel cheated, but it also makes you stronger. So I want to enjoy everything I’ve missed out on (in past seasons); the press conferences, the practices, the events ... all the CFL fans you meet. I just can’t wait until Sunday.”
The irony of how he has come to this moment is not lost on Glenn. The stadium in which his Grey Cup hope was snatched away in 2007 is where he now has a chance to redeem that same championship dream.
He says, “I’m getting a chance to play because the injury I had (after the collision with Eiben) is exactly the same injury that is now keeping Drew out. So things happen for a reason.
“Sometimes when bad things happen, as athletes, the first thing you ask is why. Sometimes it takes five years to get that answer and I think we’ll get that answer Sunday.”