When long snapper Chad Rempel signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2015, he wasn’t exactly joining a Grey Cup contender.
The Blue and Gold hadn’t reached the post-season since 2011 and it appeared the championship drought had no end in sight.
It took a few years to get there, but toward the end of the 2019 season, everything seemed to be falling into place for that Grey Cup push. So, for someone like Rempel, who was there when the team was a dreadful 5-13 in 2015, and was there for the heartbreaking post-season defeats in the following years, you could only imagine what it was like for him to be sidelined when it mattered most.
In last year’s Labour Day Classic, Rempel was snapping the ball to punter Justin Medlock in the second quarter when he was blown up by Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive lineman Lavar Edwards. Rempel fell backward and his head bounced off the turf. Rempel was taken out of the game and diagnosed with a concussion.
“That was very tough on me, if I’m being honest.”
— Rempel on missing three games due to concussion
He was out of action for a couple of weeks, but returned for a home game against the Montreal Alouettes. In his first play back, he suffered yet another concussion.
Rempel missed the next three games, all of which were played against the Calgary Stampeders, including the CFL’s West Division semifinal at McMahon Stadium.
“That was very tough on me, if I’m being honest. I have been very fortunate. I think to that point, I had played 10 straight years of games without missing one due to injury. I took a lot of pride in that, so that bothered me,” the 39-year-old Rempel told the Free Press on Tuesday.
“When you’re not playing, it’s really hard to feel like you’re living and breathing those wins and losses. I struggled with that the first few games I missed and then I kind of realized ‘You know what, I can contribute in different ways.’”
The long snapper position is one that usually goes unnoticed unless A.) they mess up or B.) the starter is out with injury. To help make the transition as easy as possible, Rempel worked with rookie long snapper Maxime Latour and special teams ace Thomas Miles at practice in hopes of getting them up to speed. With concussion recovery times being so unpredictable, Rempel had no idea if he’d get to strap on a helmet again. But in the West final at Mosaic Stadium, the same field where Rempel went down with his first concussion, he was back.
“I spoke to (the coaches) and I said ‘Don’t play me because you think you got to play me. Play me if you think I can help you win. I’m telling you I’m healthy.’ I let them make the decision on that, but I waited until I was ready to play so I could say that confidently,” he said.
Medlock certainly appreciated Rempel’s return, as the kicker went 10 of 11 on field goal attempts between the West final in Regina and the Grey Cup victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Rempel, a 15-year CFL veteran who spent time with the Chicago Bears in 2004, previously won a Grey Cup in 2012 with the Toronto Argonauts. He has also been a member of the Ticats and the Roughriders.
“I didn’t know how they’d react. I had an idea, but they blew it out of the water and made it so special. I’ll never forget the parade.”
— Rempel on Blue Bombers fans
“I think one word can describe it and it’s ‘Unbelievable.’ I hadn’t seen Winnipeg win a Grey Cup, you know, I was pretty young the last time they had,” Rempel said.
“I didn’t know how they’d react. I had an idea, but they blew it out of the water and made it so special. I’ll never forget the parade. I couldn’t believe how many people came out and showed their support and excitement. At that moment, I was like ‘I want to do this again.’”
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, but at this stage of his career, Rempel’s got nothing left to prove. A two-time CFL all-star, Rempel is the league’s oldest and longest-tenured player. Throw in the fact there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future of the CFL owing to COVID-19 and that Rempel recently landed a job as a business developer with Alair Homes in Winnipeg, and you’d think now would be an ideal time to hang ’em up.
But not so fast.
“We did win the Grey Cup and that’s a pretty good way to leave if you’re going to leave… I haven’t made anything official yet, so I kind of want to wait on that decision,” said Rempel, whose 15-year CFL career begin in Winnipeg in 2005. “But, I’m definitely enjoying what I’m doing now and I think that’s the most important thing. I’m with Alair Homes and I’m very happy and excited about the future there.”
With more than 200 CFL games on his resumé, it’s safe to say Rempel has seen a lot of things in the league. He’s also seen them from a different perspective, as he originally came into the CFL as a wide receiver out of the University of Saskatchewan before he made the switch to long snapper. There are many obstacles for the CFL to overcome to resume play in 2021, and while Rempel isn’t 100 per cent sure he’d be there, he’s confident a season will happen.
“I have faith. There’s too many good people working very hard trying to make something work, regardless of what situation we’re in with the pandemic,” he said.
“We have so many great fans. I think they’re behind us and they want to see the CFL come back and that’s going to be very important for us to recover.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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