Johnson: Tate’s epiphany moment comes amidst emotional weekend
Stamps QB couldn’t attend grandmother’s funeral, but he overcame adversity in beating Riders
The crush enveloping him rivalled a Bieber sighting at junior high-school cheerleading tryouts. Amid the on-field bedlam, that large, unruly mob of teammates pawing their congratulations, and trying to wrap some sense around the utter unbelievability of it all, Drew Tate had ripped off his helmet, clutched his head in his hands and was scanning the heavens.
On his left forearm before a game that has officially cemented his reign, he’d written GRAN, in honour of his beloved 85-year-old grandma, Martha Tate, who passed away Tuesday at her home in Florence, Ala.
“This,” said Tate after it was really and truly and finally over, “is the most emotional game I’ve ever been a part of. In my entire life.
“Just a lot of stuff going on throughout the week. And just how we ended that . . . I can’t believe it. I really cannot believe it.
“I dunno, man. Crazy. Just crazy.
“You couldn’t write a better script.”
With his obligation here to propel the Calgary Stampeders into Sunday’s West final at BC Place a priority, the grieving grandson was unable to attend Saturday’s funeral down south.
“They said it was pretty sad, but there was a lot of people and they said the party back at her house was pretty fun. She was, well . . . yeah.” He stopped to compose himself. “It all went good.”
It’s easy to play the damp-handkerchief card on a night like Sunday. But the look on Drew Tate’s face, the tears welling up in his eyes at of personal loss and professional achievement, were no trite cliche.
On Tuesday, John Hufnagel announced this was Drew Tate’s start.
Now, officially, it’s his team. Leaders require epiphany moments to take ownership. Launching that 68-yard touchdown pass to a redemptive Romby Bryant down the sidelines with 39 seconds left to gut the Saskatchewan Roughriders like a hooked trout, 36-30, with only 22 ticks remaining can be classified such a moment.
We were all aware that Tate was a tough Texan. His returning from a badly dislocated left shoulder to play this season proved as much.
But persevering through his grief this week and pulling resurrection out of calamity, that is toughness of a different, more indefinable sort. Stats — 22 of 36 for 363 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions — are all well and good and indicative. But this went deeper, further, all the way down to the size and durability of the man’s ticker.
A death in the family couldn’t keep Tate down. Neither could a second-quarter headshot from Rider D-lineman Tearrius George that left him woozy.
“It’s amazing,” lauded slotback Nik Lewis. “I put myself in the same situation and how close I am to my grandmother. So I can only imagine what he’s been going through this week.
“He touches the ball every play. He doesn’t have a lot of room for error. For him to come on strong and play the way he did today, considering the situation . . . like I said, amazing.
“But that’s the reason they chose him. He’s chosen. We believe in him. We rally around him. You saw the man tonight. We’ll follow him anywhere.”
Tate confessed that after the George belt to the moosh, he didn’t remember anything whatsoever about the first half (“I got my bell rung is all”). The ending, though, is seared into his memory. And that in the final analysis, is all that matters.
The Stampeders took possession trying to recover from the shock of Saskatchewan’s startling go-ahead TD with 47 seconds left, 81 yards to travel, and no timeouts left to burn.
“Took a couple of underneath stuff, ‘Quay (Marquay McDaniel) made a great catch to move us closer,” said Tate. “And Romby’s as solid as they come. You’ve just got to keep feedin’ the guy. He might’ve missed that one, but he wasn’t going to miss another.
“I thought we had ’em that first time. But that wasn’t going to deviate me from going back to Romby. I got the corner to sit on his heels with the pump on the out-route. He just went by him over his hip.”
In the post-game euphoria, Tate proclaimed Sunday his most thrilling football moment. More memorable even than his Hail Mary pass to wideout Warren Hollway on the final play to win the 2005 Capital One Bowl in Miami that slew LSU? That play is, after all, nothing short of legendary, still, in the state of Iowa.
“This? Better? Absolutely. Without a question. Isn’t even close.”
The shot by George could’ve ended his night. Even coach John Hufnagel was taken aback by the news that Tate couldn’t remember the first half. Once his head cleared, though, after emerging from the locker-room, he went to work, going 14-for-21 for 262 yards.
“The second half I was really feeling good. At least, I knew what was going on. The second half was a big half. I missed some throws, no question. But just the way we were able to rally, that’s what you need to win these games. The road to the Grey Cup is one down and one to go.
“I told everybody before the game, or the offence at least, that there was going to be a lot of adversity. Weather the storm. Whatever it takes. Find a way. No excuses. Don’t be yelling at anyone, don’t be blamin’ anyone. Just keep fighting through the whole game. And that’s what we did.”
On Sunday, Drew Tate did far more than just post his first playoff win and book the Stampeders a date next weekend at BC Place.
“For some reason,” he marvelled, “none of us were ever flustered on offence on that drive. We just said ... let’s complete passes and see if we can get a miracle.
“And we sure did.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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