February 12, 2018

Daniels at home with the Stampeders

DaVaris Daniels from a July 29. 2017, game against Hamilton (Photo by David Moll)

The din swirling around U.S. Bank Stadium, the tumult of 67,612 pounding like a jackhammer on the eardrums, the clock slowing to a virtual crawl and Tom Brady with the ball.

It’s all on a private Blu-Ray playing on a loop in DaVaris Daniels’ head.

“Man, you’ve got the greatest quarterback of all time on the other side, two minutes left and everybody is expecting him to pull another rabbit out of that hat of his, march down the field and win the game,’’ marvels the acrobatic pass-catcher.

“Then, to finally see that clock hit zero, the ball on the ground, all the Eagles players raising their hands in the air, some dropping to the ground, it was an amazing sight, an amazing feeling.

“Such an emotional moment.

“Then running on the field, finding my dad and seeing tears fall from his eyes, it puts in perspective what this game really means.

“What being a champion really means.”

The Super Bowl dream at last fulfilled for his dad Phillip, a 15-year defensive lineman in the NFL and now defensive quality control/assistant defensive line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, the title focus can now turn to the son.

In jarring contrast to such scenes of euphoria in Bloomington, Minn., the tomb-like silence of 70 days earlier inside TD Place Stadium in the wake of the Stampeders’ 27-24 Grey Cup loss to the Toronto Argonauts.

In a little over two months, he felt the depths and experienced the heights.

Visceral pain on Nov. 26th.

Untethered joy on Feb. 4th.

“To see my dad like that … his whole career he never made it to a championship. I made it to a national championships in college and now two Grey Cups and lost ’em all.

“So you know that moment (Feb. 4th), the one he was experiencing that day, doesn’t come along very often, if ever.

“So for them to come out on top, it kind of felt like a victory of mine, as well.

“What my dad experienced at the Super Bowl, I want to feel in Calgary.”

On Tuesday, having already made some difficult salary-cap calls as the Feb. 13th free-agency deadline hurtled ever nearer, Stampeders’ GM John Hufnagel nailed down one of his off-season priorities, re-upping Daniels.

The league’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2016, Daniels was limited to 13 starts last season but still has superb numbers: 98 receptions for 1,628 yards and 13 touchdowns in 24 career regular-season starts.

A flair for the dramatic, a penchant for the spectacular catch and an innate ability to turn scarcity into abundance would’ve made him a highly-coveted asset for any number of other teams.

“It actually wasn’t as easy as I thought it’d be,’’ admits Daniels of the free-agency uncertainty. “Definitely a tough process. Out on the market, I probably would’ve heard a lot of things I’d have liked to hear. But I don’t think anything I did hear could’ve replaced what was in my heart.

“And what was in my heart was that I wanted to stay in Calgary. This is the organization that gave me a chance. Now I don’t have to go into another team and start all over. I can continue to work and become a better player than I was last year.”

Much, however, has changed about the Stamps since snowy Grey Cup Sunday in our nation’s capital.

Fullback Rob Cote and offensive tackle Dan Federkeil both retired. Safety Joshua Bell quit to become defensive secondary coach. Thundering tailback Jerome Messam is exiting. Sack master Charleston Hughes was dealt away. Super-efficient slotback Marquay McDaniel has been released to pursue other opportunities.

“There’s gonna be a whole different dynamic in that locker-room this year,’’ acknowledges Daniels. “Cote was one of our leaders. Bell’s still there but he’s in a different part of the office now. Charleston is Charleston – The Mouth is leaving.

“So we’ve got to find guys to step into those roles.

“With Quay gone, I gotta step up and be a leader for my group. I know I’m only in my third year but I would love to put it on my shoulders, to help fill that void. Quay was a big part of our offence, the most consistent player in the CFL in my opinion.

“That’s something I’ve wanted to be: Somebody that everybody can rely on. I think I’m ready to assume some of that responsibility, see more balls. I’m never going to complain about seeing more balls. I definitely want that role, that pressure, be the guy relied on in that moment.

“If need be, I’m ready.”

At 25, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish alumnus should just now be hitting the peak of his considerable powers.

“I just want to come back and try to go for it another time,’’ says Daniels. “Getting to the Grey Cup twice and just falling short is something that feels unfinished.

“Something that feels … wrong. I want to come back and right it.

“This is the best team I’ve been a part of.

“No reason to chase the dream with anybody else.”