February 23, 2017

Tuna in the C

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Stampeders’ 1992 Grey Cup championship squad.

In the coming months, we’ll be taking a look back at the squad that snapped the Stamps’ 21-year title drought and the cast of characters responsible for the conquest.

This time, we reminisce with offensive lineman Bruce (Tuna) Covernton.

Bruce Covernton
No: 60
Position: Offensive lineman
College: Weber State
In 1992: 26 years old, 1st season with Stamps
Regular season: Started all 18 games
Post-season: Started the West final and the Grey Cup

Even before setting foot in the home locker room at McMahon Stadium, Bruce Covernton was the answer to a Stampeders trivia question.

“I think I was Wally Buono’s first-ever draft pick,” notes Covernton.

Sure enough, 1992 was the year Buono added the general manager’s portfolio to his head-coaching duties and he spent the first overall pick in that year’s draft on a big o-lineman out of Weber State.

“I came in as a rookie, I started all 18 games and we won the Grey Cup,” recalls Covernton. “It was like, ‘Hey, this is pretty easy.’ ”

Covernton is joking, of course. And any rookie naivete he may have harboured quickly disappeared in the years that followed as he battled injuries and suffered the heartbreak of some near-misses by some very good Calgary teams in the mid-1990s. It wasn’t until 1998 that he and the Stamps were able to celebrate another championship.Bruce-Covernton-with-cup-inset

But in that first professional season, everything went swimmingly for the man nicknamed “Big Tuna.”

He has vivid memories of walking into the Stamps locker room for the first time.

“Everywhere I had been, I was the biggest dude in the room,” says Covernton, who stands nearly six-and-a-half feet. “But that wasn’t true anymore when I joined the Stampeders. I remember George Cortez, who was one of the assistant coaches, saying ‘You’re used to being the only gorilla but now you’re just one of many gorillas.’

“We had a lot of big guys – Tim Cofield, Harald Hasselbach, Stu Laird.

“And here I was coming out of U.S. college and I got a chance to play with Doug Flutie and become friends with him. It was pretty awesome.”

The colourful Covernton is one of the true characters in Stamps history and he was that way from the very beginning.

“I was one of the louder rookies,” he admits, “which means I was the target of all the pranks and the jokes by the veterans. It was pretty funny. Maybe I didn’t think so at the time but, looking back, it definitely was funny.”

But there were also very dark moments for Covernton in 1992.

“Two weeks after the 1992 Grey Cup, my brother died (in a snowmobile accident),” says Covernton. “So that makes the time I got to spend with my father and my brothers celebrating and drinking champagne out of the Grey Cup all the more special. In a way, it’s the last time we were all together and, for that reason, it will always be bittersweet thinking about that championship.”

Covernton remained with the Stamps through the 1998 season and the Morris, Man., native decided to make Calgary his permanent home after retiring from the CFL. He is owner and president of Big Fish Staffing, a staffing and recruiting company he founded in 2016.

He has remained in the game as a minor-football coach in the city and his larger-than-life personality has also been put to good use as an emcee for football-related events including the CUPS Stampeders Kickoff Breakfast fundraiser.