On June 21, Mike Reilly made his return to Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, this time a member of the B.C. Lions. Reilly had just come off a six-year run in Edmonton that saw him become one of the top two players in the CFL, a most outstanding player award winner, and a Grey Cup champion. But then, just like that, he was gone.
No matter the sport, seeing a beloved player switch teams is always strange, regardless if you were a hardcore fan or not. If you’re not a fan of a player’s particular team, seeing a star finally change teams can be really exciting, like seeing Bryce Harper leave the Washington Nationals for the Philadelphia Phillies, or any NBA superstar change teams this decade. But, if you’re a fan, and you’ve grown attached to the player while he was with your team, this creates a very peculiar dilemma. You try to hold on to loving that player as much as you did when they were winning games for your team, but find you’re not really able to.
Take any player I cared about in the last 15 years — Jose Bautista, Darcy Tucker, DeMar DeRozan, Chris Bosh, even Vernon Wells. These players were my favourites for years. Sometimes, I was sad when they moved on; other times I was OK with it. But, in every case, I more or less stopped caring how they did and whether they won. Yes, I was ecstatic when Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter in the playoffs, but I was not the least upset when his Phillies lost to the Cardinals in Game 7 of the NLCS that year.
In the CFL, this phenomenon is even more strange. Reilly was an excellent player and a fantastic Eskimo. For his first two years, he ingrained himself to us fans by repeatedly getting up and shrugging off every monstrous sack he would take. All of a sudden, in his third season with the team, the Eskimos were finally good and Reilly won a Grey Cup. From there, he went on to have his best three seasons of his career, but never got back to the title game. Now, he’s gone, and the Eskimos have moved on just fine. Trevor Harris, in his first three games, looks as good as Reilly ever did.
It’s hard to know how you’re supposed to feel when this happens. Never was this more true than when Ricky Ray was traded to the Toronto Argonauts.
Ray had been the starter for the Eskimos for nine seasons and won two Grey Cups early on, in 2003 and 2005. However, by 2011, at 33 years old, it seemed he had nothing left in the tank. He was worse at escaping sacks than Eli Manning. I think I speak for most Eskimos fans when I say none of us really cared when Ray was traded before the 2012 season.
Instead, Ray won the Grey Cup the very next season, and again in 2017. I cheered for him, yes, but it wasn’t the same. I suppose this is a lot like breaking up with someone. You think you’ll care about them forever only to realize a year after that you’re alright. Except, I didn’t cry when Curtis Joseph signed with the Detroit Red Wings, and Kawhi Leonard made me happier than any girlfriend ever has.
Dillon Giancola covers Peace Region sports for the Alaska Highway News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.