Johnson: Still stinging from last year’s playoff defeat, Stamps’ Tate wants validation
Martha Tate packed a whole lot of living into 85 years. She was an authentic old-fashioned Southern Belle, someone who’d head outside to feed the horses wearing heels. A “barn diva,” according to her grandson. Overflowing with spunkiness and humour and style and opinions.
“The toughest thing is, the funeral is (this) morning, and I can’t go,” that grandson, Drew Tate, is saying on a snowy, windswept morning at McMahon Stadium, far, far away from where his heart was telling him he should be. “So that’s — hands-down — the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life.
“I’ve never had anyone close to me pass away before.
“It is emotional.”
Tomorrow is a day Drew Tate has awaited for some time. Ever since tumbling awkwardly to the carpet at Rogers Centre on July 7, immediately clutching his left shoulder, then undergoing surgery that placed his entire season under threat. Going back even further, to last year’s West semifinal up north in Edmonton, when he was shockingly given the old vaudeville hook halfway through a crushing loss to the Eskimos in what had been widely advertised as a moment of epiphany in his burgeoning CFL career.
So all the pain, the frustration, the hours of rehab, the thirst for redemption and the uncertainty of all the months are funnelling into this.
“I’m trying to control it the best I can, but, yeah, I’m excited. Very excited. Mostly excited about where we are as a team. There’s a good thing going on in that locker room.
“Every year’s a different year than the year before. Regardless of whether you win the Grey Cup or don’t make the playoffs.
“Last year I didn’t get it done. Here’s another opportunity. It’s in my hands. It’s on me to make it happen.”
Preparations for that opportunity were given a sudden, sobering jolt with the news Tuesday that Martha Tate had passed away at her home in Florence, Ala. On the very day Calgary Stampeders’ coach John Hufnagel anointed her grandson as playoff starter against Saskatchewan, tempering that joy.
“We were really close. I only had one grandparent since I was four years old. She has THE most beautiful land in Alabama, on the Tennessee River. Horses. Everything. She taught horseback riding for the last 50 years, 60 years. She’s just one helluva lady.
“I called her gran. Everybody else called her Doodle. At one point I was trying to get her on Ellen or Oprah or something like that. ‘Cause, like, you have to meet this lady and see this lady to believe her.
“I was always pretty close to her because she told my mom I was either going to be a CEO or I was going to go to jail. She picked up on that pretty quick when I was kid. I’m not going to jail. I don’t plan on it. So I guess I’m somewhere in between. But she called it pretty early.”
The realization that she was gone, confesses Tate, hit him harder than Odell Willis boring in off the edge ever could.
“It wasn’t a shocker because she hasn’t been well. But just to get the call that your grandmother didn’t wake up this morning ... It took a day to get through it, get mentally ready, and then get mentally ready for Day 1 (of practice).
“I’ve got to be in tune. I’ve got to know what I’m doing. I’ve got to know what we’re doing. You can’t use that as an excuse. In this work you just can’t ever have excuses. You always have to have solutions. You always have just got to try and figure out how to get better.”
For Tate, this game can be what last year’s semi-final had promised: Validation. It carries the punch to put to bed any lingering quarterback “controversy” hereabouts moving forward. This is his show, and there’s no better way to prove your name belongs up there above the marquee than by courting playoff success. He may well be the anointed one, but with only a handful of CFL starts on his resume there remains plenty of convincing left to do.
“Absolutely. Every time I play, I feel I have something to prove. Because it still goes back to: They didn’t want me here in Calgary. I fell into their hands, pretty much. So I feel I have something to prove every time I’m on the field.”
Appropriately, the Saturday weather forecast for Florence, Ala., is lovely. A high of 23-degrees celcius and sunny to celebrate the life of an old-fashioned southern belle, in the very best sense of the term.
Far, far away, a grandson who’d love to be there to pay his respects will brace for more cold, more snow, and think of her often while preparing for the most important game of his young pro football career.
“I can focus on the game plan because I know that she’s there, right?” says Drew Tate softly.
“She’s doing what she wants. That inspiration ... I have enough intrinsic motivation that I rarely need extra motivation. But I guess this just has a script for success.
“I know my grandma really loved to watch me play, so I know this is what she’d want.
“I’ll just go out and play for her.”
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