OTTAWA – The first one, back on Nov. 28, 2008, with 66,308 onlookers congregated inside Montreal’s Big O, hurtled by like China’s Shanghai Maglev express train, which whistles along at 267.8 mph.
“Honestly, what I remember most about that,’’ muses Brandon Smith, a decade older, wiser, “is how everything moved so … fast.
“That whole week I was like ‘Damn, these are long days that go by quick. So much to do, I don’t have time to stop and take a breath.’
“The magnitude of it – playing against Montreal, in Montreal – was kind of lost on me. I was just a rookie, right? Truthfully, it was just a blur.
“You win (22-14) and it’s great. But then you just think it’ll always be this way.
“After you get a couple in, you can kinda compose yourself because you know what to expect, understand how hard it is to get back again, and then on top of that to be successful.”
Sunday at TD Place Stadium marks the fifth Grey Cup appearance for the 33-year-old defensive back out of Sacramento State.
Each as a starter.
From Montreal’s cavernous Olympic Stadium to the Rogers Centre in 2012, on to B.C. Place two seasons later and then BMO Field last year, Smith’s been a quiet, dependable constant patrolling the Stampeders secondary.
“Five Cup appearances? That,’’ lauds Stamps’ DB coach Kahlil Carter, “is impressive. Very impressive. A testament to his entire career. He’s been durable, tough. The best kind of ability, you know, is availability. And Smitty’s been available for this team for 10 years.
“He’s been an all-star in this league, a Grey Cup champion. We’re looking for him to lead on Sunday. By example, with physicality, understanding our schemes.
“Everybody’s rooting for Smitty. We may joke that he has hands like bricks but when he catches them, the whole team gets sparked up.”
Brandon Smith gets ahold of Eskimos receiver LaDarius Perkins during the Labour Day Classic. (Larry MacDougal/CFL photo)
On Sunday, Smith is digging in inside the batter’s box. ‘Cause this is the payoff pitch.
“Yeah, 2-2 in Grey Cups,’’ he muses. “Something’s got to give, right?
“The current one, meaning this one, is always the most memorable. And it’s a rebound year. We’ve never been to the Grey Cup back-to-back years.
“Going last year, coming up short and being back now, adds another level to it, gives it an extra edge.
“This is my fifth try but I can tell you that lifting that Cup … it never gets old. If I could lift it every year, I’d never put it down. I’d be the king of lifting.
“Hoisting it, sharing it with your teammates, is the ultimate joy.”
Against the Argos, Smith is set to resume a long-standing personal duel with prolific slotback S.J. Green, second in the league in receptions (104), yards (1,462) and touchdowns (10) this season.
“Smitty and S.J. have a history,’’ smiles Carter. “He understands him. He’s had good success against him. You know the ball’s going to S.J. I think he led the league in targets.
“They’ve got other good receivers, we’ve got to be ready to match them across the board, but that match-up’s one to watch.
“You know something?’’ he says. “I’ve never been a big headline guy.
“I know my teammates appreciate me, my coaches appreciate me. The media love, who’s the best DB and all that, just falls by the wayside with me.
“I’m fine with it. I’m cool. The bright spotlight is not my deal. I just go out and make sure we’re assignment sound.”
The guys out there on the tightrope alongside him aren’t underestimating his value.
“You can’t play this game as long as he has if you don’t bring a lot to the table,’’ says Campbell. “Since the first day I got here, he’s done nothing but help me, work with me. He’s been to five Cups. A great career. Last year was my first, I was a little nervous, y’know, but he helped me get through those first couple of series.
“Smitty’s one of the most consistent guys I’ve ever been around.
“There’s a lot he does that goes unnoticed. I’d say he’s up there with Bell as far as being a leader goes. Just not as loud.”
So, it’s back for a fifth Grey Cup start.
In search of a third lift.
“You really feel like you have to take advantage of your opportunities, especially as you get older,’’ emphasizes Brandon Smith. “You reach a certain age, each practice, each game, could be your last. I might not be a 4.3 (runner) no more but I’ve been blessed with a body that’s allowed me to keep going.
“When you start seeing that light at the end of the tunnel, though, you’ve got to make the most of every day.
“That’s why whether it’s practice, a game or the Grey Cup, I give my best, because when my number’s called, when all is said and done, I want to be able to say in all honestly that I left it all out there.”