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November 22, 2018

TITLE HUNT

EDMONTON – The story is oft-told, how Chris Matthews was at his desk as a security guard when the phone rang, the Seattle Seahawks inquiring if he’d could hustle out to a last-minute tryout that night.

How he told them the offer sounded good but that didn’t get off until 9 p.m. and wasn’t sure.

How only a year later, in front of a throng of 70,000 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., (and an estimated U.S. television viewership of 114.4 million) he was latching onto two TD passes, of 44 and 11 yards, from Russell Wilson in a heartbreaking 28-24 Seahawks’ loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX back in 2015.

How, almost overnight, his NFL rookie card had taken on the lustre of a post-impressionist masterwork discovered in somebody’s cellar.

“Everybody wants to be a champion. I’m no different,” says Matthews, on Thursday media day at the Shaw Conference Centre.

“That’s how you’re remembered.

“It didn’t work out for me, for us, in the Super Bowl but now I’ve got this chance.

“My pops has always told me: Not everybody can make it to a Super Bowl or a Grey Cup. That’s rare. And you know what’s super rare? Winning one.

“The Grey Cup is legendary. That trophy (he nodded towards the 109-year-old chalice, on hand for both C Stampeders and Ottawa Redblacks availabilities ) has been around a long time.”

(Photo by Jimmy Jeong/CFL)

It’s  been a long time since Matthews last celebrated a championship.

A very long time.

“I was 13,’’ recalls the 29-year-old former University of Kentucky Wildcats standout. “In basketball. I was playing for a team called California Select.”

At 6-foot-5 and 228-lb., Matthews certainly has the look, the lean but muscular angular build, of a beyond-the-arc shooting point guard.

“What a lot people don’t know is that I played with and against a lot of great players,” he adds. “Guys who played, are still playing, in the NBA. DeMar DeRozan. Brandon Jennings. We played against James Harden, Jrue Holiday.

“As I said, a lot of talent.

“It’s just weird that my championship came in basketball, not football.”

The 2012 CFL Rookie of the Year, while in the employ of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, of course, signed on as a Stampeder in early October when the organization was frantically trying to deal with its receiver-injury epidemic.

“I came to Calgary at the end of the year, basically, looking for an opportunity to play,” he says. “They wanted to expedite the process. And it’s been an amazing ride.

“Just so much … fun. These guys have made it a lot easier for me to come in and be productive and feel comfortable.”

“Chris, being around and playing in the CFL, the NFL, understands the journey,”says Stamps’ receivers coach Pete Costanza. “Chris has played on big stages, so he understands the workmanlike attitude that’s needed.

“He’s very locked-in.

“Chris is a quiet guy, he doesn’t talk a whole bunch unless he has something of substance to say. Those are the guys you tend to listen to. It’s not just rah-rah chatter. He has a point to make.

“In our room, there’s no one standout persona. It kinda reminds me of the 2008-09-10 teams when we had Nik Lewis, Ken-Yon Rambo and Jermaine Copeland on the same team. All big personalities but all were leaders in their own rights.

“There’s that kind of vibe here now. It’s a unique dynamic because they all hold each other accountable. They understand: We’re in this together. And if we all pull together, talk about things, we can do special things.

“And Chris has fit right in with that. He really has.”

The chance to be in this position at all came like a bolt out for the blue for Matthews.  So he is, understandably, revelling in the moment.

“The year I went to the Super Bowl with the Seahawks,” he’s recalling, “Seattle had won the year before. There was a lot of media attention focused our way. So it was kind of crazy.”

As crazy, pray tell, as bagpipes tooting and horses in hotel lobbies and table-hockey games available for players at media availabilities?

“Well, this is my first time here, at a Grey Cup,’’ says Matthews. “I played in this league for two years, in Winnipeg, and didn’t even sniff the playoffs. So I’m just enjoying myself right now.

“This is crazy fun.

“Hopefully I can become MVP of this game, the way I might’ve been in the Super Bowl (some guy named Tom Brady from the winning side walked off with that particular honor, collecting a red Chevy Colorado pickup truck for his afternoon’s work).

“Regardless of that, though, I just want to win. It’s been a while. Too long. I want to experience that feeling.

“I want a Grey Cup ring.”

A soft, dismissive head shake.

“Then I can be a football champion, and put all the basketball stuff behind me.”