Kevin Glenn’s long, strange odyssey from injured star to reliable backup to Grey Cup starter

55 Yard Line

TORONTO—If anyone was wondering how much making it to the Grey Cup can mean from a player's perspective, they should speak to Calgary quarterback Kevin Glenn. At the Stampeders' media lunch Wednesday, Glenn spent over 20 minutes talking to the media hordes about just what it means for him to play in this game, but was still full of energy and ebullience at the end.

"I want to enjoy everything, everything I've missed out on," Glenn said. "It is special being here."

It's what he's missed out on that's so remarkable. The 33-year-old Glenn has gone from reluctant high school football player to injured star to overlooked backup to starting quarterback in the Grey Cup, but it's taken him a while. He's played in the CFL since 2001 with Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Hamilton and now Calgary, but he's only been to one previous Grey Cup game. That came in 2007 with Winnipeg, and Glenn wasn't able to play thanks to breaking his arm in the East final against Toronto. He said that ruined much of that Grey Cup experience for him, as knowing he wasn't able to play was painful.

"It's just a whole different mindset," he said.

The Blue Bombers lost that game 23-19 to Saskatchewan, with backup quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie completing just 45 per cent of his passes and throwing for just 225 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions (all to the Riders' James Johnson). It wasn't a great display of offensive football on either side, as Saskatchewan's Kerry Joseph only completed 38 per cent of his passes and threw for 181 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Glenn was on the sidelines, and he said it was frustrating to be unable to play when his team was so close to victory.

"It was just tough in general to watch," he said.

Since then, Glenn's career has hit some rough patches. He battled Dinwiddie for playing time in 2008 and then was released in early 2009 when the Bombers acquired Stefan LeFors, but signed with Hamilton. He'd have three up-and-down seasons with Hamilton, often starting but also frequently competing with Quinton Porter. There were great highlights such as the Tiger-Cats' road victory over Montreal in the 2011 East semifinal, but there also were plenty of low moments such as the 2011 East Final, where Glenn played well before getting hurt but Hamilton lost 19-3 to Winnipeg. Still, reflecting Wednesday, he was positive about his days with the Tiger-Cats.

"We had some good times in Hamilton," Glenn said. "Every place I've been there's been some good times."

This year didn't start off as an auspicious one for Glenn either. He was traded to Calgary in the offseason, a move that raised plenty of questions at the time, and entered the season as a clear backup to Drew Tate. When Tate went down early in the year, Glenn stepped into the void and led Calgary to the second seed in the West. Tate returned in time for the playoffs and was critical to the Stampeders' first-round win over the Riders, but fractured his wrist in the process, putting Glenn back in the spotlight for the West final. There, in tough road conditions against a dominant B.C. team, he was a critical part of the Stamps' 34-29 win. Glenn said that was a massive moment for him and the team.

"That's probably the biggest win I've been a part of," he said. "Actually winning that game, just the number of things that were going against us...this team has been through so much this year."

Glenn's been through a lot himself in his CFL career, but he said that rocky road has moulded him into the player he is today.

"You always, as a player, feel you've been shortchanged," he said. "That builds character."

He said the trade to Calgary in particular gave him new legs.

"It's like being rejuvenated, it's like your career's starting over again," he said.

Glenn said one key difference for him is he's stopped taking benchings, trades and the rest solely as a judgement of his play.

"Sometimes things have to happen for some people to be satisfied," he said. "It's not necessarily your fault."

"When you get older and you mature, you don't try to understand that stuff, you don't try to take it personally.

The rocky road may not quite yet be over, as what happens to Glenn next season's an open question. The Stampeders are obviously high on Tate, but will they opt to name Glenn their starter instead if he leads them to a Grey Cup win? Will they let both quarterbacks battle it out, or will they make a deal with another team looking for a pivot? There are already rumblings Winnipeg might be interested in trying to bring Glenn back, and he was asked about what might be ahead Wednesday, but said his focus is solely on doing his best this week.

"We'll answer that question at a later date," he said. "That stuff happens and you don't have any control over it," he said.

Several reporters asked Glenn if he wants to win to solidify his legacy, but he said that's not his motivation.

"Someone else is going to determine your legacy; all you can do is go out and play," he said. "I want to show I can go win the game, I can lead a team. ... This game, I can get the ring. That's what I play for."

That quest for a ring has brought Glenn here, but it almost never got started. Glenn said his father, Kevin Glenn Sr., is the reason he got into football, as he preferred other sports until his dad talked him into trying out for the football team.

"In high school, I was going to play basketball and baseball," Glenn said. "Baseball was probably my first love."

He said his dad and the rest of his family have been hugely supportive throughout his career,and many of them will be in attendance Sunday, including his mom, his dad, his wife, his two kids, an uncle, his mother- and father-in-law, two of his close friends and perhaps more relatives. Glenn will be ready and prepared to put on a show for them. Until game day, though, his focus is just on taking it all in.

"It's been a long while. I just want to enjoy everything," Glenn said. "I don't think I've ever smiled as much as I have this week."

Given his journey to this point, you can't blame him.

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