VANCOUVER - Milt Stegall is in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. He has been given the key to the city of Winnipeg, he has a street named after him, and his career total of 147 touchdowns as a peerless pass receiver is a record that probably will never be broken.
Most significantly, however, Stegall never won a Grey Cup, despite taking a crack at it over 14 seasons with the Blue Bombers.
As the years move on, that is what he could be remembered for most of all.
Byron Parker can appreciate the feeling. As the years move on for the 31-year-old cornerback of the B.C. Lions, Parker can see his own regrettable legacy forming. Stegall, at least, got to play in two Grey Cup games. Parker never has.
After four previous visits to a division final, and never advancing farther than that, Parker is preparing for his fifth, Sunday afternoon’s (1:30 p.m.) Western championship, against the Calgary Stampeders at BC Place. The winner moves on to Toronto for the 100th Grey game, in a city where Parker played for seven seasons with the Argos.
Parker arrived in Toronto in 2005, a year after the Argos defeated the Lions 27-19 in the 92nd Grey Cup game, in Ottawa. That was two years after he helicoptered his way to the NCAA Slam Dunk title as a member of the Tulane Green Wave, an affirmation of the athletic ability he was to display in abundance later in the CFL.
A three-time CFL all-star, Parker holds the league record for interception return touchdowns with nine, one of them coming against Travis Lulay, at Rogers Centre, in Lulay’s first start as the Lions quarterback, on July 24, 2010. The pick is burned into Lulay’s memory bank because it was the decisive touchdown in a 24-20 Argo win.
Parker’s record interception return for a score came last October against Winnipeg on just the 28th pick of his CFL career. And while it’s a nice story to tell his grandkids one day, he says it doesn’t compare with the two championship rings in the possession of the Lions’ other cornerback, Dante Marsh, a nine-year veteran with the Lions.
“Dante got an all-star snub last year, and he got another one this year,” Parker said. “But what’s an all-star? It’s a media thing, a favouritism thing. I was an all-star last year. But I definitely would have traded spots with Dante last year to get that ring. You can have all the all-stars you want. Just give me the ring. I’ll take that any day.”
Parker, Marsh, Stegall and Korey Banks are among a group of CFL players, and ex-players, who live and train in the offseason in Atlanta. Marsh and Banks, his training partners, now Lions teammates, are two reasons why Parker decided to relocate to the West Coast.
When the Argos indicated they were going to move this year without him, despite his 50-tackle, five-interception, All-CFL season, Parker had a couple of options to consider -- B.C. or Montreal?
“Dante didn’t have to twist my arm a whole lot,” Parker said. “Jim Barker (Argos GM) wasn’t going to renew by contract. Both B.C. and Montreal contacted me. One of the reasons I came out here was Stoob (Lions defensive coordinator Rich Stubler). I had played with him before. Lin-J Shell (another ex-Argo) was here. Eric Taylor (yet another Ex-Argo) was here. Ryan (Phillips) is probably the best outside halfback in the league. If I came out here, he would make my job so much easier. Plus, Korey and Dante. At the end of the day, you want to play with the best.”
The Lions defence was not only No. 1 in the CFL this season, so did B.C’s offence lead the league in total yards.
For Parker, it’s a unique experience to be on a team which is efficient with the football, and without it.
For years, he played on Toronto teams that were super at defending but loathsome at attacking. The situation has changed for the better, if not dramatically, since Ricky Ray arrived this season to quarterback the Argos to offensive respectability.
Indeed, the Argonauts play the Alouettes Sunday in Montreal for the East Division title. For Toronto and B.C. to meet in the Grey Cup game, one week later, on Nov. 25, would represent the perfect storm for Parker.
“If they make, and we make it, it would be like a homecoming for me,” he said. “Toronto and B.C. in the Grey Cup -- that would be outstanding. But I wouldn’t be disappointed if the Argos don’t make. I would just be disappointed if we don’t make, because of all the hard work we’ve put in. This team (Lions) is able to score points. That was something we were just not able to do in Toronto.
“To play in a Grey Cup game . . . that would be a great accomplishment for me, over and above anything I’ve done.”
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