Roughriders receiver catches a lift to Vancouver
With no ID to get on plane, Ismael Bamba completes 20-hour trek aboard equipment truck
VANCOUVER — One day in 1982, a rookie Edmonton football writer was penning a feature on a running back named Kevin Cole who was driving Eskimo head coach Hugh Campbell crazy because he kept running left when the play was designed to go to the right, and vice versa.
The writer, whose name was also Cole, proceeded to pen a story about “Wrong-Way Cole,” the mixed-up tailback. Ha, ha, ha.
Next day, the writer found out the running back was dyslexic.
This must be how the Regina Leader-Post’s Rob Vanstone is feeling today. He wrote an entire story about backup receiver Ismael Bamba on Thursday — how he’s finally going to get to play in a regular-season game at BC Place on Saturday because the Saskatchewan Roughriders are resting several starters, including Weston Dressler — and forgot to ask the most natural question in the world: “Are you flying to Vancouver with the team or riding 20 hours from Regina in the equipment truck?”
“It wasn’t too bad,” he said, upon emerging from driver Chris Parsons’s Silverado Crew Cab at 2:30 Friday afternoon. “I slept a lot.”
Here’s the deal: Bamba — a 24-year-old born in Ivory Coast, who played his college ball at the University of Sherbrooke — didn’t have picture identification when the Riders were scheduled to fly. No driver’s license. No passport. Not even a Costco card.
So rather than take a chance that an officious ticket agent or security person would turn him away on the flight to Vancouver, or the return leg — leaving them a player short, costing Bamba his one shot at a regular season roster spot — the Riders offered him a choice: ride, or don’t travel.
As of midday Friday, when Roughrider head coach Corey Chamblin was doing interviews at BC Place, the last word of the truck was that at 5 a.m. Vancouver time, it had pulled into Revelstoke, just west of the Rockies on the Trans-Canada Highway.
Was Bamba riding up front or in the back with the bags?
“Oh, no, he’s in the back,” said head coach Chamblin, wearing the poker face as long as he could stand it. “No,” he laughed. “He’s up with the driver.”
If you’re guessing the Roughriders, and the head coach, have had a little fun at Bamba’s expense, you wouldn’t be wrong.
“He just wanted to see the scenic route,” Chamblin joked. “He hadn’t been out West, so that was an option that he had. Of course he had an option to fly, but apparently he didn’t want that one.
“We actually called the airlines, and they said he had to have some form of ID, and in order to get ID, you have to have ID, so ... It’s one of those things that will definitely go down in my memoirs and I’m sure in his, and for the next 20 or 30 years we’ll be talking about Ismael Bamba.”
When the truck finally arrived, towing a trailer jammed with trunks and bags, Ismael Bamba was wishing he was somewhere that reporters weren’t.
It’s not what he’d like to be remembered as: the 20-hour equipment truck guy.
In a way, it’s one of those “only in the CFL” stories, the ever money-conscious league that drives its equipment wherever possible to avoid the airlines’ cargo costs. It’s the story of a league, many of whose athletes are so not-quite-famous that they can’t simply show up for a flight, minus picture ID, and talk their way onto the plane, or be vouched for by the head coach.
In another way, it’s the story of a lesson given, and hopefully taken: that if you only own one piece of picture ID, a passport, you don’t send it off to your brother in New York so he can produce it on your behalf for income tax purposes, then have it get stuck in the mail on the return trip because of delays caused by hurricane Sandy.
Of course, that last part was a bit unlucky.
Bamba hasn’t been on the roster since the last pre-season game. Reporters who cover the Riders all season long couldn’t have picked him out of the team picture if challenged. The Leader-Post’s Murray McCormick flipped back through the pages of his reporter’s notebook Friday because he swore that he remembered making his one and only note about Bamba.
“Here it is!” he said. “It was a Wednesday about three weeks ago at the Credit Union EventPlex. ‘One-handed catch Bamba over Terrell Maze.’ I think I blogged about it.”
Well, anything that happens around the Riders in Regina is bloggable.
That’s what’s so perplexing about Bamba having to get to Vancouver the hard way.
“Really?” said Ken (Kato) Kasuya, the Lions’ head equipment manager, when told of Bamba’s trek. “You’d think in Regina, the Riders would be able to talk his way onto the plane. They’re the only game in town.”
“I didn’t want to take a chance on it,” Bamba said. “If they said no, I wouldn’t have been able to get here, and wouldn’t have been able to play.”
Listen, it could happen to anyone. It happened to Lions receiver Ernest Jackson when he lost his wallet in Toronto before a game and didn’t notice it until the next day at the airport. After a little discussion, a note was written acknowledging that he’d lost his ID and was with the team, and he got on.
“I guess since I was with a group of players, it was a little easier,” he said. “I think if I was flying solo, it wouldn’t have been so easy.”
It happened to Team 1040 play-by-play man Rick Ball.
“I was actually going on a Canucks trip — they were playing in Toronto and then I was joining the Lions for a game in Calgary,” Ball said. “My wallet had fallen out of my pocket in my car. It was no problem on the Canucks flight because it was a charter, but going Toronto-Calgary, I flew commercial and got to the airport and told them I had lost my wallet and hadn’t brought a passport because the trip was all within Canada.”
His solution? He hauled out the Lions’ media guide and pointed to his picture in the broadcast section. It worked.
Still, as funny as the Bamba story is on the outside, you have to wonder: if, say, quarterback Darian Durant had forgotten his wallet at home, don’t you think the Roughriders might have been able to sweet-talk his way onto the plane?
So call it a playing lesson from the pros, CFL style.
The truck pulled in at 2:30, and Ismael Bamba helped the equipment guys unload the first of the trunks and bags. In the end, he’s a rookie.
On Twitter: Twitter.com/rcamcole
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