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Eskimos season opener bringing McCarty back to where it began

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Calvin McCarty has once again earned a spot on the Edmonton Eskimos roster.

He’s done it for 13th straight Canadian Football League seasons now.

But this one will start out in a way that will take the elder statesman of the Eskimos locker-room back to the beginning, when he broke into the league as a rookie in 2007.

Back then, he came into the CFL alongside another fresh face by the name of Fred Stamps, who would go on to reach the top three in both the Eskimos all-time receptions and receiving-yards lists.

“Freddie Fred, we were roommates at the old Ramada,” McCarty recalled Monday, following the first practice of the 2019 regular season. “He was No. 82 then, I was No. 28. Just an awesome teammate, worked hard, practised hard, just a great competitor. I know I was lucky to play with him.

“He’s probably one of my favourite teammates of all time too, coming in and experiencing all this together.”

And during Friday’s season opener (7 p.m., TSN, 630 CHED), as the Eskimos team Stamps played eight all-star studded seasons with takes on a Montreal Alouettes crew he ended his career with in 2015, Stamps will be honoured with a retirement ceremony during halftime.

“I’m happy for him, his family. Obviously, I wish he had an opportunity to win a cup here,” said McCarty, who went on to win the Grey Cup with the Eskimos the very season Stamps went to Montreal. “But as long as you have an opportunity to live your dream out and have a chance to play football, really, that’s what it’s about.

“Everything else is a cherry on top.”

Stamps earned 7,932 yards and 49 touchdowns on 496 catches over 117 games to sit third all-time in Eskimos receptions and second in receiving yards. He earned five straight 1,000-yard seasons to go with five division all-star honours, while leading the league in receiving in 2009 and ’13.

“For him to come here and have his moment, it’s priceless,” McCarty said. “I’ve seen him get nicks and bruises, I’ve seen him get knocked out, I’ve seen him come back. I know what kind of competitiveness he brings and that’s part of what still fuels me to this day, teammates like him that leave an impact on you. I know if he had an opportunity to come out and play this week, he would love it.

“I’m happy for him and I’m looking forward to seeing him.”

And, once he does, you can bet the pair will be doing just as much looking backward as anything.

“That was my rookie training camp roommate,” echoed Stamps, who signed a one-day contract with the Eskimos on April 2 to officially retire in green and gold. “Every time I see this guy, it makes me feel good, man, because I always said that guy, Calvin, he’s amazing.

“If you knew him, he’s got some of the best hands you’ve probably seen.”

Even if McCarty has become famous for only using one of them to catch the ball half the time.

“It’s crazy, I’ll never forget his first CFL touchdown against Saskatchewan. He reached behind and caught the ball with one hand on the guy’s back,” Stamps recalled. “That’s the type of plays Calvin made.

“And then if you stand in front of him, good luck to you, because he’ll run clean over you.”

Of course, as close as Stamps and McCarty have gotten over the years, they might not even need to be in the same stadium in order to have a conversation. Not if the separate interviews given for this article are any indication of them being on the same wavelength.

“Some of the best hands. I learned a lot from him,” McCarty grinned, as if on cue: “He’ll probably tell you I have better ones, but I’m not going to say that.

“But, yeah, I love him man, as a teammate, off the field, everything. So I’m excited for him this week.”

The one thing they weren’t able to share together was the 2015 Grey Cup championship, as Stamps was traded the previous off-season to the Alouettes for Kenny Stafford.

“It’s business, man. I don’t want to take anything away from my teammates that came here for him or whatever happened there,” McCarty said. “But I just know what he put into this franchise and he still had his fingerprints all over that team, even if he wasn’t here.”


On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge