Fair to say Chris Streveler was the centre point of oh-so many memorable moments in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ march to glory last November.
Some of them – especially those featuring him at the Grey Cup parade decked out in a cowboy hat, fur coat and clutching a beer in each hand – are already cemented as part of sporting folklore in these parts.
Yet, if there was any one singular moment on the field that helped cement Streveler’s legend as a Blue Bomber, it came in the fourth quarter of the club’s victory over the Calgary Stampeders in the West Division Semi-Final.
That instance – Streveler galloping for a 24-yard fourth-quarter touchdown on a mangled ankle – comes in at #4 on our ‘10 Plays That Made A Champion’ series.
“That was the proudest moment of my football career at that point,” said Streveler in on our Handled Internally podcast. “I remember coming to the sideline and I’m going nuts. You can see it in the video. I mean, I’ve never acted like that after a touchdown.
“I had tears in my eyes when I looked at Woli (Drew Wolitarsky). He was my roommate and I told him right away what was wrong with my ankle and he was there through it all. To go through all that and play that part, play a role in that game… that was just the craziest thing.
“I still watch that clip and get goosebumps thinking about everything that led up to that point. It meant so much to me to be able to be out there with the guys.”
To truly appreciate Streveler’s emotional reaction to the TD – one which began from the moment he slid into the front corner of the end zone and continued to the Bombers’ sideline – you have to rewind a few weeks for proper context.
Streveler had been at the controls of the Bombers offence since mid-August, following a shoulder injury to Matt Nichols that would cost him the rest of his season. But after his marvellous performance in a Banjo Bowl win over Saskatchewan, the Bombers had dropped four of their next five games.
And in the days before his second-last start – a 35-24 win over Montreal – the club had made a deal to land Zach Collaros from Toronto at the trade deadline.
Compounding the situation was a serious ankle injury he suffered in the Bombers’ 17th game – a 37-33 loss in Calgary in which Streveler was clearly hobbling, but still finished.
So, it was against all that, and following Collaros helping guide the team to a victory over the Stamps in the regular season finale, that Streveler began preparing for the playoffs – even though every indication was his season would be shut down because of a fractured ankle and high-ankle sprain.
“Just going through that whole thing… I mean, my ankle was bad,” said Streveler. “I had to go to the doctor and then Al (Couture, Bombers Head Athletic Therapist) gives me the call that I’m going to be done for the year and this and that. I was devastated. Devastated.
“I took a couple of days, and this isn’t like me, but I felt really sorry for myself. I was pretty miserable to be around. But then when I started rehabbing I had this idea, ‘I’m going to come back from this. I’m going to play.’ Everyone in the locker room was like, ‘Oh yeah… go ahead and do it’ not thinking it was going to happen. I don’t think many guys knew what was actually wrong. My close guys on the team knew, but not everyone. I’d be in that tub for three hours a day just grinding and telling myself, ‘I’m coming back.’”
The Bombers tested Streveler’s ankle by having him run early in the mornings in the days leading up to the playoff game. Amazingly, his diligence in rehab and the work of Couture and his crew had yielded some progress.
“I was fired up because I knew if (Couture) let me run I wasn’t going to show any weakness to the point where I wasn’t going to be able to play,” Streveler recalled.
“At that point he pulled me aside and said, ‘Look, I don’t feel comfortable with you starting a game, but I think you can do your package.’ I was like, ‘Al, that’s all I needed to hear. Whatever you guys need I’m more than willing.’ That was my mentality. I was going to embrace any opportunity I could get. I remember (Darren Cameron, Bombers’ Senior Director of Player and Public Relations) sent me that video of me running and I’m like, ‘Yeah… I don’t look too bad.’”
Interestingly, Streveler revealed in our podcast that it was at about this time that he began getting interest from NFL teams.
“I remember having a conversation with people and it was like, ‘Should you shut it down? You’re hurt,’” said Streveler. “But there was no way I wasn’t going to finish the season if I could play. If I can play I’m doing it, regardless of the NFL. I would rather win the Grey Cup and sacrifice an opportunity down here than give up something when I know I could do it. These dudes that I’m in the locker room with every day, those are my boys. I can’t give up on them and I know they wouldn’t either regardless of this opportunity.
“Winning that Grey Cup was the most important thing to me. It was more important than making it to the NFL. Osh (Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea) always talks about this, about honouring your teammates. And that was all I wanted to do – give everything I have to be out there. I didn’t know if I was going to be out there for one play or whatever. It ended up being more than one play.”
So, given the circumstances – the pain, the doubt, the NFL uncertainty, the expectations and the pressure that came with it – damn straight Streveler had the green light to react the way he did after scoring the kill-shot touchdown with less than six minutes left in the West Semi-Final that brought down the Stamps and sent the Bombers to the West Final.
“His reaction was part of a build -up of a number things, because this whole thing started w-a-a-a-y before that game in Calgary,” said Wolitarsky. “Strev was in the fire with Nichols going down and him taking over. That’s a lot to put on the kid, man. We had some good games, but sometimes we fell short… it wasn’t Strev’s fault. We were on this losing streak and he had been dealing with that stress.
“He got that talk, that we might have to make some changes if we don’t get it going. This is a guy who was getting up at 5 every day and to be in the spotlight and kinda new to it all and have all these expectations… that’s a lot, man. I was roomies with him and I just know he was really stressed by it.
“On top of that, then he breaks his ankle and there’s this other weight to bear. I honestly felt for him. He was in therapy and he’d be talking to me at home saying, ‘I hate this. I don’t feel like I’m part of the team. It sucks.’ Injuries are the worst.”
“Then a couple of weeks later he’s telling me, ‘Honestly, bro, if I can walk and I can tape this thing up enough I think I can still play.’ I was like, ‘For real? Man, you’re wild.’ It was all because he just didn’t want to sit on the sideline and watch.
“He just didn’t want to go out that way and I think he felt he had more to give. Entering the playoffs he said, ‘Dude, we have three games. I don’t want to miss these moments because of this. I’ll take the pain to have these moments.’”
Weeks after the Grey Cup Streveler, still recovering from his ankle injury, visited the Arizona Cardinals – one of the NFL teams interested in him. Also getting a look-see from the Cards that day was Calgary cornerback Tre Roberson, who told Streveler the Stamps were convinced he wouldn’t play in the West Semi-Final after watching him hobble around in the pre-game warm-up.
But by game’s end the Bombers had pounded the Stamps in frigid conditions, rushing for 195 yards. Streveler, working on a broken ankle, had carried 13 times for 82 yards and a touchdown – leading all players in rushing for the game.
“I said to him on the field, ‘the pain is all worth it for this moment,’” said Wolitarsky. “So, when he scores on that play and we go to the sidelines… he had so much pain/ecstatic energy. There was just so much going on.
“It wasn’t just beating Calgary or beating the injury. It was beating everything that was trying to hold him back. In a way, it was about beating something big in his own personal journey. And he (censored) beat something big. He broke through that.
“That was a cool-ass moment, man. And one I’ll never forget.”
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