Cory Greenwood wasn’t sure if his pro football career was over.
The veteran linebacker missed all of last season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament on the first day of the Edmonton Eskimos’ training camp. To add insult to injury, the CFL team released the six-foot-two, 235-pound Kingston, Ont., native on March 14, 2018.
It was an uncertain time for the 33-year-old Greenwood. Not only was he unsure if he’d be able to successfully come back from the injury, there was no certainty a team would be interested in signing him.
But in September, he touched base with Rene Paredes, a former university teammate at Concordia and an all-star kicker with the Calgary Stampeders. Less than a week later, Greenwood joined the CFL club as a special-teams player.
On Sunday night, Greenwood got the chance to celebrate his first career football championship following Calgary’s 27-16 Grey Cup win over the Ottawa Redblacks. It was the Stampeders’ first title since 2014 and followed consecutive heart-breaking losses in the CFL’s marquee contest.
“You can never imagine it (what winning a first championship would be like). If you’ve never tasted it before, you don’t know what to expect, what kind of feelings are going to come with it,” Greenwood said.
“You never know how you’re coming back from an ACL. It was probably the longest year of my life, it definitely tested me mentally, obviously physically. I just grinded it every day. I’ve waited so long for this … This is my ninth year of pro, there are no words.”
Greenwood captured the Presidents’ Trophy as Canadian university football’s top defensive player in 2009 and was a 2010 first-round pick of the Toronto Argonauts. But Greenwood signed as a free agent with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, playing 48 games over three seasons, registering 34 tackles and one forced fumble on special teams.
After being released in May 2013 by the Chiefs, Greenwood joined the Detroit Lions. After spending that season on injured reserve, Green was let go by Detroit on Aug. 8, 2014.
Greenwood eventually joined the Argos two months later. He registered 103 tackles, seven special-teams tackles and a forced fumble in 22 games over three seasons (22 regular-season games) before signing with Edmonton as a free agent. Recovering from the torn ACL was the hardest experience of his life.
“With my age and stuff, I didn’t know what was going to happen. It definitely tested me mentally, obviously physically,” Greenwood said.
“It’s tough but that’s pro football. It’s a business, coaches change and so you’ve kind of got to go where you’re wanted. They wanted me here and I’m so grateful.”
After starting with Toronto, Greenwood said it wasn’t difficult to settle into a special-teams role with Calgary. After all, he began his pro career with Kansas City covering punts and kicks.
“I don’t have a huge ego. To come in here and play special teams, it’s just do you want to play football or not?” Greenwood said.
“I love the game, I love the grind, I love everything that goes into it. If injuries happened and I had to play, I could step in and play. If not, I’m going to dominate my duties on special teams. I’m a team guy, it really didn’t matter to me.”
Greenwood had two tackles and five special-teams tackles in six regular-season games with Calgary. He added two special-teams tackles in the Stampeders’ 22-14 West Division final win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. But Greenwood’s first Grey Cup championship didn’t come without a challenge. The Commonwealth Stadium turf became hard Sunday, making traction very difficult.
“It (the turf) was terrible. I started off in turf shoes and in the first three plays I hit somebody and fell on my (butt), so I had to switch immediately to cleats,” Greenwood said.
“The field was frozen inside the numbers, within the logos. They painted them and it was like an ice rink but, I mean, both teams had to play on it and you have to make due.”
The field conditions forced players to adjust. The slick turf meant special-teams players had to run downfield under control when covering punts and kickoffs.
“You’ve got to … make sure you’ve got your feet beneath you,” Greenwood said. “It’s tough, man, but like I said both teams had to deal with it so I feel like it levelled the playing field a lot.”
Greenwood is scheduled to become a free agent in February, but said he’s not thinking about the future just yet.
“We’ll leave that up to the business side,” Greenwood said. “I’m just trying to enjoy this moment.”