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January 23, 2018

Rob knew time was right

Rob Cote announces his retirement on Jan. 23, 2018 (Photo by Jessica Littel)

So many of them exit the premises swearing on a stack of Gideons that they’re prepared for the Great Unknown stretching out before them.

Many might even stubbornly think they believe it.

Often, deep down, they really aren’t.

“I am,’’ Rob Cote said, looking you straight in the eye, as always. “I really, really am at peace with this decision.’’

And you’re convinced. Instantly. Without reservation.

“I know I got a little sad there a couple times. But I think I have a right to be a little sad,’’ he joked.

“My whole life, I’ve always had a bit of a complicated relationship with football.

“I really loved it, worked hard at it, but I never let it define me.

“When you’re in this role, that’s how a lot of people define you. As a football player. People who don’t know me, anyway. I always had to fight against that.

“It’s not who I am.

“It’s what I do.”

Or did.

 

In stepping away from the game after 11 seasons in the Calgary Stampeders’ red-and-white colour scheme, as symbolic to the franchise as that horse galloping across the helmets, with wife Natalie and his kids Miller and Wynn on hand, parents Cam and Kristy, assured teammates both past and present, Cote leaves an understated but significant legacy.

“Something that my parents instilled in me is that life is not about moments of recognition,’’ he said, Wynn, on best behaviour, perched on dad’s lap. “It’s about consistently being the person you choose to be and working to become the person you want to be.

“Only by doing that, living that way, will you have moments such as these.

“I think I’m more proud now, sitting on the edge, than I ever was during it. During it, you’re just in the thick of it and just working every day to bring something to a team. I was a part of a lot really special teams.

“It was one helluva ride. I wouldn’t change any of it for anything.”

 

Cote’s importance has never been lost by those inside the Stamps’ inner circle.

“Today’s a bittersweet day,’’ acknowledged GM John Hufnagel. “I’m so proud of Rob. What he’s done in the locker room and on the field. It’s special when a man like that can separate from the game on his own accord.

“His value to our team is far more than what was apparent.

“We counted on, maybe even took advantage of Rob, having that security blanket on the football team.”

That versatility, the willingness to subvert personal attention for collective good, is the gauge by which this career should be remembered.

“There are so many ways to measure Rob Cote’s career,’’ said punter Rob Maver. “His longevity. The way he carried himself. The effect he had on people.” Maver swept a hand to take in a crowded players’ lounge on retirement morning down at McMahon Stadium. “Look at all the people who are here today.

“If you’re talking strictly football-wise, our offence demands a lot of the fullback. Then look at the people he’s blocked for. He played with Joffrey. He played with Cornish. He played with Messam.

“It’s my opinion that Corn is gonna go down as the best running back to ever play this game. Mess could be in that conversation, too, before he’s done. And quietly ahead of them, blocking defensive ends and killing linebackers, there was No. 26.”

 

Cote, now able to spend more time with his own children, understood head coach Dave Dickenson’s absence from the formal goodbye.

“Dickie actually gave me a call this morning,’’ he teased, “telling me he’d double-booked with his kid’s field trip, which is Priority 1.

“If high-school me knew that Dave Dickenson was gonna call and say ‘stay in touch and thanks for everything,’ that would be a big win.

“Pretty amazing.

“I don’t know how many years now, 30 years, that (his parents) have been sitting three rows behind the players bench, the home bench, and it only took me 20 short years until I got to move the 20 feet in front of them and put their name on the back of my jersey.”

Maybe Maver, a pal, had the best final summation of 11 years of doing it the right way, for the right reasons.

“This is a guy who grew up a season-ticket holder, from Cochrane,’’ he said. “He’s been coming to this stadium with his family forever. He got to play with guys he grew up watching.

“He’s won the Presidents’ Ring.

“He’s won the Herm (Harrison award for community service).

“He’s won a couple of Grey Cups.

“He’s been a team captain.

“He’s been a player rep.

“He’s been relatively healthy.

“He has the respect of everyone he ever played with.

“He got married here. He and Natalie had two sons since he joined the team. His son Miller will be able to remember some of these things.

“And knowing Rob the way I think I do, at least, in his heart, he knows it’s time. He’s ready. There’s nothing really left to do in football and he has more important things in his life right now.

“To be able to recognize that, to have accomplished what he did and leave on his own terms, I’d say that’s a heckuva career, wouldn’t you?”