So what it is it like to be a Canadian Football League player?
To find this out, I asked the player who was once deemed to be the smartest person in Canada – Saskatchewan Roughriders’ offensive lineman Peter Dyakowski. I had the occasion of chatting with Peter during Grey Cup week (and have interviewed several times before), where he provided me with an interesting answer.
“What I like about being a CFL player is it’s not a job,” he told me back in November. “It’s way more than a job. I have a sense of belonging to something – my team – that’s important to a lot of people.”
It was particularly relevant because of the gathering of CFL players this past week in Winnipeg for a variety of functions that included: meet and greet with fans, media interviews, and the Combine for top Canadian university/college prospects for this year’s Draft. A who’s-who was there, but Peter wasn’t among the players.
“It makes sense not to have offensive linemen there because they will steal the spotlight,” Peter told me. “It’s nice to have an event like this in the off-season to help the quarterbacks and the receivers get attention.”
If you don’t know Peter, his smarts are only exceeded by his wit.
In all seriousness, he thinks bringing a multiple of CFL players for a week to interact with fans and the media and include it with the Combine is a fantastic idea because it bridges the gap between the end of the season in November and the start of the season in less than three months.
“There’s so much energy and enthusiasm in the CFL fan base,” Peter said. “This gives everyone an opportunity to spend a bit more time with some of their favourite players, get to know them a little bit more and be accessible in the off-season where everyone is in the middle of football withdrawal, so it’s kind of nice.”
Peter has been busy in the off-season with some rentals and building projects in the Hamilton area, and he’s not feeling slighted in any way being overlooked by higher-profile players. Why I think it might have been a good idea for Peter to be there is because he personifies what it means to be a CFL player, particular one who is not the centre of attention.
“As an offensive lineman I’m a bit more of a role player than your quarterback – maybe a bit more anonymous – but I’m part of something that means a lot,” he said. “Even though we’re just playing a game, there’s a feeling of being involved in something important; helping to build something that’s a lot bigger than just me as an individual. The amount of emotional investment that (fans) have in us – the highs that they get and the lows that they get, the amount that they care about what we’re doing – is something special. It makes it feel significant.”
Peter is being paid to do a job, but he said it’s more than just earning a paycheque and cashing it every single week.
“I value getting put in a stressful situation,” he said. “I like the high stakes, the pressure, the sense of belonging to something important to a lot of people.”
“I like having to put all the chips on the line every single play. If I don’t do my job perfectly, there’s a guy on the other side who is also getting paid who’s going to make a quarterback, whom I care for very much, feel a lot of pain.”
He played in Hamilton for 10 years, long enough to establish himself as a prominent player on the team and in the community.
“People got to know me,” he said. “I got to know a lot of people in the city. I got to really love the city. I got to really like a lot of these people that were pulling for the team – who we’re playing for at the end of the day. That’s a great experience to have that sense of belonging.”
He signed with the Toronto Argonauts when the Ticats released him in February, 2017, but was traded before training camp began to Saskatchewan. He played all 20 games (regular season and playoffs) as a starter.
“I got to be a part of something incredible,” he said. “Hamilton has an incredible fan base. It’s a city that loves its football team. Saskatchewan is a province that loves its football team, and it’s something to have an entire province behind you like that. You cross the border into Saskatchewan and it’s green and white everywhere. To see the league from that perspective, I’m so lucky.”
“I got to spend 10 years in the best fan base in the east and now I’ve spent one season so far with the best fan base in the west and even the league itself. It’s a world-class organization. It lets you see what the CFL can be.”
I wondered if there is a way to take that Saskatchewan feeling, emotion and passion and spread it across to the eight other teams.
“It’s impossible, but you’ll certainly always have some which are stronger than others,” he said. “I don’t know if you can replicate and bottle what they have in Saskatchewan and take it to Toronto, for example. Every city, every region has its own identity and they’ll support their team in their way.”
“There’s so many people in Toronto who like the Argos, and their new stadium is a beautiful setting. The Eastern final showed a lot of people what a great place it is to come out for a football game. That and the ownership have put them on the right track and you’re going to see year over year over year Toronto getting back to what it was. “Remember, it wasn’t long ago where Toronto was attracting such huge crowds they had to build a SkyDome for them. That’s not ancient history. I’m very bullish, but that will always be different from what we have in Saskatchewan and different from what we have in Hamilton. And it will always be different from what we have in Ottawa. Every city has its own identity.”
“One of the cool things about being a player as well playing in front of the home crowd is you get to go on the road to all these different cities and play in all these different stadiums against those home teams. It’s an awesome thing to get to go across Canada, playing in all these different cities, and it’s something I’ve treasured for the last 11 years.”