By Perry Lefko
For all he has done in his 17-year career, Kevin Glenn has not won a Grey Cup, but as far as he is concerned it does not define him as a person or the body of his work.
“I don’t believe it does,” he told me in Ottawa during Grey Cup week just after the Canadian Football League Players’ Association, headed by Executive Director Brian Ramsay and President Jeff Keeping, provided a State of the Union.
Kevin came to the nation’s capital for the CFLPA meetings because he is one of the team representatives for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He planned to return home to Detroit well before the Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts played in the championship game, which was an epic event.
Kevin said a player may feel a certain way about himself if he doesn’t win a Grey Cup, but he doesn’t believe that accomplishment should define you as a player, as a person, and take away from the body of work they have done.
“Now if somebody does it, that’s something they’ve accomplished, but I don’t think it should ever define you,” he added.
I have known Kevin for a long time and consider him one of the most straight-up players you’ll ever meet. He has been through a lot in his career. He has been the object of praise and the brunt of criticism. He has experienced many highs and an extreme amount of lows. He’s known what it is like to play in the Grey Cup and fall short. And he’s also experienced the hardship of breaking an arm in a game his team won to advance to the Cup, forcing him to watch helplessly from the sidelines. His broken arm mended, but it probably took awhile for his broken heart to heal.
And yet, Kevin came back to play another season and battle for his job.
He’s under contract to the Riders, and as of now he’ll head into next season battling for the starting job, whether or not Brandon Bridge, whom he split time with as the starter at various times this season, is re-signed. That’s been the kind of career it’s been for Kevin. Nothing has been handed to him. He’s had to earn it.
When Kevin talked about a player and whether he should be defined in his career by a Grey Cup victory, he referenced Dan Marino, the National Football League Hall of Fame quarterback who didn’t win a Super Bowl.
“Growing up and watching him and seeing what he did on the field and you’re out in the schoolyard or backyard or something, you drop back and say you’re Dan Marino throwing the ball,” he said. “I liked a lot of different quarterbacks, but it was his quick release and how he threw the ball so well. It was more so the stuff he did on the field. I didn’t know him off the field, but watching him in the game was something I would try to emulate growing up. Randall Cunningham was the other one. I wasn’t always the fastest guy, so running and jumping over people was probably something I could not do to emulate Randall Cunningham.”
Kevin is sixth on the CFL’s career passing list with 52,867 yards, which is an accomplishment by any measure. While he said not winning the Cup won’t define what he has done, Kevin would certainly like to win it.
“Oh, most definitely,” he said. “That’s why I continue to keep playing. Guys in the CFL, we’re not the NFL. Guys here are not going to play for so many years and up and retire and are set for life. You’re still going to have to work after you finish playing here. There’s plenty of guys who have probably made way more money than I have playing this game for a number of years that are working right now. They are not just sitting back retired. You look at the guys who sit ahead of me on these quarterback lists. All these guys are still working.
“We’re not becoming wealthy millionaires playing up here. You do it for the love of the game and the opportunity to go out and try to win a championship. I think the biggest thing is winning it in the ultimate team sport. It’s not just what you do and not what the person next to you does; it’s what you do for that person. That’s what I like about it.
“It’s like our journey to the Grey Cup this year,” he added referring to the Riders’ season-ending loss in the Eastern Final against Toronto. “We had guys in that locker room saying, ‘Man, I want to win one for Kevin.’ There were coaches after the game saying to me, ‘I’m sorry we couldn’t get this one for you.’ They are not just coaching for themselves. They’re not just coaching for the other guys on the team. They’re doing this for you. That’s what’s special to me – when you accomplish something like that in a team atmosphere. There’s so many moving parts for you to be successful in order to get that Grey Cup.”
That is what intrigues him.
“It’s not that you throw for so many yards and you win a Grey Cup that defines you,” he said. “No, it’s about what goes on in that locker room with those other guys that you’re playing with. I enjoy (being a CFL player). I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Sometimes people think when you’re a so-called celebrity and you’re getting noticed in the grocery store or the movie theatre or the airport…you thrive over that kind of stuff. I understand it’s part of what is going to happen, but I would never thrive off of it so if it doesn’t happen now I’m feeling a certain kind of way. Some people feel if they don’t have that in their life, they are less of a person. But you’re not. That’s why you have to take things into perspective. It’s part of the business. It’s part of what we do. You’re going to be out eating with your family and somebody’s going to notice you and interrupt your dinner. That’s just what is going to happen.
“If it didn’t happen, I would never feel less of a person. The same thing with the Grey Cup. I’m not going to feel less as a player if it never happens. I’ve done a lot of things that millions of athletes would love to do. I don’t have any complaints. I’ve been blessed to be able to play this game for this long and be able to play in multiple cities.”
Teammate Jeff Hecht, who won a Grey Cup with Calgary in 2015, used a military analogy to sum up what it means to be part of a team and care for your teammates.
“You don’t fight for the hatred you have for the man across from you; you fight for the love you have of the man who stands beside you,” he said of war. “This year (winning a Grey Cup for Kevin) was something that was motivating me. Maybe other guys are more selfishly motivated to win a championship. But for guys like Peter Dyakowski and Jovon Johnson and Kevin, you really want to see those players (win a Cup).”
Kevin has had more teammates that most. Aside from Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton, he has played for every CFL franchise. Toronto and Ottawa traded him before he went to their respective training camps. According to stats guru Steven Daniel, Kevin is the only player in CFL history to be on the roster of eight clubs. He is in his third stint with Saskatchewan.
“I am probably the most-travelled guy in the CFL,” he said. “That’s a legacy in itself. You have to be doing something right. I’ve seen guys come and go. They’re not just handing these jobs out.
“You’re always fighting for your job in this business. It doesn’t mean (anything) if they’ve paid you as the starter, the number two guy or the number three guy at any position You’re always fighting for your job. It is how you interpret the situation. If you’re going into the situation knowing you’re always fighting for it, it makes you that much more in tuned in order for you to be successful.”
That’s what I’ve always admired about Kevin. He’s one of the good guys in the CFL. I hope he wins a Grey Cup, but if he doesn’t and is content with that, well, there is honor in that.