The Montreal Alouettes are hoping that a stifling defence will lead them to victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 110th Grey Cup, but one of their best players was nearly in the opposite uniform for this game.
Reggie Stubblefield has blossomed into one of the league’s best defensive backs over the course of his rookie season, but the Alouettes initially had no space for him on their roster. Cut outright following the conclusion of training camp, the 25-year-old spent the first three weeks of the season at home in Texas believing his professional career was over.
That’s when the Bombers came calling, looking to beef up their secondary depth with the Kansas State product. It would have been a fait-accompli if not for another call moments later.
“(Winnipeg) were about to put (a contract) on the table, they were about to pull the trigger, but I decided to come to Montreal,” Stubblefield recalled this week. “It was crazy because I got a call from Winnipeg and 30 minutes later, Danny Maciocia called me. I was like, ‘You know Danny, Winnipeg just called me, I’m about to finally go to Winnipeg.’ He was like, ‘We’re about to get off the flight from Hamilton in an hour and just call me back. Let me know.'”
Faced with a choice between returning to the team that sent him packing or joining the league’s predominant powerhouse, Stubblefield remained loyal to the culture he’d bought into in training camp.
“I decided to come back because I believe in the Alouettes. I love the city of Montreal, I love the French language, and how Coach Maas puts so much pride into it, just knowing the culture and knowing where we come from, the 425, who we are as Alouettes,” he explained. “The opportunity to play under (defensive coordinator Noel) Thorpe too, a guy who I truly felt knows what it takes to get to the Grey Cup, and learn from him. It was a trigger for me, like ‘I’m going back.'”
“It’s a great group of guys, it’s a lot of great challenges, and the coaches are living up to the standard that they’ve been preaching to us since training camp. Those things have shown.”
Signed on June 25, Stubblefield made his debut that week in a 17-3 loss to Winnipeg. A month later, he took over a starting role and hasn’t looked back, notching 38 defensive tackles, three special teams tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He was selected as the team’s nominee for Most Outstanding Rookie, eventually losing out on the East Division finalist spot to Toronto’s Qwan’tez Stiggers despite allowing the second-lowest passer rating when targeted (28.7) of any defensive back in the league according to ProFootballFocus.
After securing a team-high 11 tackles and an interception in last week’s East Final rout of the Argos, fate and excellent play have placed Stubblefield on a championship collision course with the team he turned down.
“I’ve talked to a couple guys who have been like, ‘Damn bro, imagine if we were playing against you.’ I’m just blessed to be here, man,” he grinned.
“Who (the Bombers) are as a team, who they are as coaches, and the things that they stand for, just the opportunity to play with a great team that’s been having a great dynasty, I think that’s the biggest pitch that they could have made. But at the end of the day, Montreal’s the place for me.”
Stubblefield believes he could have been just as successful a player if he’d landed in the Manitoba capital, thanks to his ability to place strong-side linebacker, halfback, or safety. However, he stopped short of sharing which member of the Bombers secondary he believes he would have replaced.
“I don’t know too much about what they got going on defence. I mean, I probably could have been a practice roster guy, there ain’t no telling. That’s for them to decide,” he smiled.
“You never know what God has planned for you. Who’s to say that if I went to Winnipeg, I wouldn’t be sent back home the next week? (This week) validates my decision to be in Montreal because it worked.”
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes will meet in the 110th Grey Cup on Sunday, Nov. 19 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. Kickoff is slated for 6:00 p.m. EST.