When the 101st Grey Cup begins this Sunday in Regina, it’ll feature one man with very special extra experience.
Not long ago Hamilton Ticats wide receiver Sam Giguère was at a tough place in his football career. It was the end of 2011 and the New York Giants had just sent him home, officially ending his fourth attempt to make the NFL. Giguère was also injured, he tore his groin while with the Giants.
Back at home Giguère found inspiration from former CFL’er Jesse Lumsden. But when Giguère called Lumsden two years ago it wasn’t to talk about football. Instead, Sam wanted to know more about a sport they didn’t yet have in common, bobsleigh.
Wearing another type of helmet
Sam wasn’t done with football. It is after all his lifelong sport. He was a standout in the CIS with the Sherbrooke Vert & Or, selected 8th overall in the 2008 CFL Canadian draft. He would eventually sign with the Tiger-Cats, but says playing in Canada opened the door to other sports, “I knew I was going to go in the CFL. And then I thought because the NFL was more of a full year thing where the CFL is more of a six month commitment. I thought it’d be possible to do the two sports at the same time so I knew I was going to still play football and I thought I could do both.”
And Bobsleigh Canada agreed to give him a shot. Giguère was invited to Calgary in March of 2012 to hang around the ice house and even pushed the sled a few times with Lyndon Rush and Helen Upperton. But Giguère was clear about his commitments to football and returned to Hamilton to play all 18 games for the Tiger-Cats in 2012, recording 41 catches for 549 yards.
“I was scared but I was hooked, it was love at first sight. It was real fun at the same time. When I went back home after that week I knew I wanted to go back and do the sport.”
After Hamilton missed the playoffs last year, Giguère went back to Calgary for another shot in the sled, “I still was in contact with Bobsleigh Canada and at the end of the season they said why don’t you come to Calgary and we’ll see how your body feels at the end of an 18 game season and if you can still push.”
Learning to push
Bobsleigh requires the same speed and power as football, but unlike the CFL where a receiver is required to move quickly in every direction, pushing a sled is much simpler. Straight and fast.
Ever seen a 4-man bobsleigh start?
Nathan Cicoria leads high performance for Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton and identified Giguère’s talent. He keeps in touch with him throughout the CFL season with e-mail and occasional Skype calls. Since Olympic bobsledders train year-round, Cicoria has to find a balance, “Sam is a very interesting case, he’s very unique in that not only is he at the top of his game in the CFL, he’s an active player. I’m not going to say we’ve relaxed the requirements on Sam but we’ve definitely made some modifications to the training program. There’s that delicate balance with athletes of Sam’s caliber.”
And Giguère has made an impact right away. In December of last year as a member of the Europa Cup team he pushed for Canada-3 with Justin Kripps as pilot. At World Championships, he moved to Canada-2 with Chris Spring. In under a year, Giguère went from interested football player to dual-sport athlete.
Not just a body
At 6’0” and 215 lbs, with pro football and even varsity track experience, Giguère is an incredible athlete. But he also professes to have the competitive spirit that may carry his physical gifts to the Olympic Games, “Once I got on the World Cup circuit I had great expectations. Even my first World Cup that I took part in I wanted to provide the fastest push. The pilot depends on us to push well and so I had great expectations that I want to do as best as possible to give my pilot the chance.”
And maybe those world-class expectations have made the 28-year-old a better football player, “ When you’re at home working out by yourself you don’t push yourself as hard as when you’re on a national team competing on the World Cup stage. I think it had me train harder than I would have back home so I think I got to Hamilton for the football season in better shape.”
And despite the potential challenges of going back and forth between sports, Giguère has demonstrated he can handle it. In the 2013 playoffs he has eight receptions for 131 yards, and he led the Ticats offence in the East Semi-Final against Montreal.
Bobsleigh probably isn’t the first thing on Giguère’s mind this week. He’ll start for Hamilton in the 101st Grey Cup, at snowy Mosaic Stadium in front of a lot of passionate Saskatchewan Roughriders fans. The goal: becoming a Grey Cup Champion.
But if he gets the opportunity to go to Sochi, and he very well might, Giguère will be given a chance to chase Olympic glory. “Growing up watching the Winter Games I always had an interest in bobsleigh. It was always something that interested me but I had no connection to or way to get introduced to the sport.”
Well, the introduction has been made, and depending on results in Regina and Sochi, it could be a historic one.