January 17, 2024

“I’ve done a lot here in Winnipeg and I want to continue to build on my legacy.”

It’s an inevitability in sports and it’s coming one day — someday — down the line for Stanley Bryant. After all, as the man himself put it so succinctly today:

‘Father Time is undefeated.’

Undefeated, yes, but he’ll still have to wait for a spell on Bryant as the future hall of famer has officially put his name on a one-year contract extension with the Blue Bombers to remain at his post through the 2024 season. That means the most decorated offensive lineman in Canadian Football League history and a man who will turn 38 in training camp this May will continue to man the left flank of the club’s offensive line.

“It’s basically just knowing that I can still play the game,” said Bryant of his decision to return during a media zoom call on Wednesday. “As I was thinking about it and contemplating it, someone said that ‘Football is the only sport that you can’t continue to play once you’re done.’ Basketball, you can go out there to the YMCA and shoot around. Hockey, which I don’t play, I’m pretty sure you can go out there and get to a beer league and move around and things like that.

“But football, you can’t just go out there and play once you’re done. Once I heard that, it made sense to me and made me think longer and harder. You still feel good, you still feel like you can play, so, why not continue to play?”

The Blue Bombers are ecstatic to get Bryant back as the only four-time winner of the CFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award continues to play at an elite level. That’s especially critical in a business where teams can have tackles turn-stiling through their depth charts as they try to find the right fit, let alone a player like Bryant who is as durable as he is dominant.

Bryant has suited up for 203 games in his CFL career, including 170 with the Blue Bombers, and has started every single one. He’s been voted the CFL’s top pile pusher four times (2017, 2018, 2021, 2022) and was runner-up a fifth time. A seven-time CFL All-Star, he was steady again in 2023, earning a spot on the West Division All-Star team while also selected as the left tackle on the CFL Players’ Association All-Star squad, as voted on by his peers.

Bryant said his desire to play still burns, even as he worked through the pain of last November’s Grey Cup loss – a second straight championship decided by less than a touchdown.
“I definitely had to sit back and think about it,” Bryant said. “That loss was tough. I was really hurt after that loss. A lot of emotions and things like that went through my mind when thinking about the future and whatever. But after I came to my senses, I realized it’s just a game.

“We did lose, but we could also prepare for next year and try to do the same thing. I’m pretty sure everyone felt that way that it was one that got away and not knowing exactly what happened and how it happened. For me, it was real tough. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. I didn’t want to have any conversations about the game at all. It was real tough.”

All five of the Blue Bombers starting offensive line ended last season as pending free agents, with Bryant and Pat Neufeld the only two to have re-signed heading into CFL free agency next month. Still unsigned are all-star right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick, centre Chris Kolankowski and left guard Geoff Gray, with regulars Tui Eli and Liam Dobson under contract for this season.

Blue Bombers management also faces the unenviable task of trying to make all this work with a veteran team while being squeezed by the salary cap. Bryant intimated that he bit the bullet a bit on his contract talks as a player near the end of his career hoping for at least one more run at glory with as many teammates returning as possible.

“There’s always a change,” he said. “I know each and every year guys are getting better, and they want to get their money as well. So, I know at some point I may have to sacrifice things at my end to have the team we need to be capable to get to a Grey Cup and win. I have no issue with that. It comes to that point in your career, or anybody’s career and you have to adjust to that and that’s fine with me.

“… I’m trying to win a Grey Cup, which is always the goal, but it’s even more the goal when you’re at the end of your career and I’m at an older age. I want to have the best team we can put out there. I know guys are thinking about free agency and things like that, but if I can get all the guys we had and even more, I’d love to have those guys back.”

Back to the Father Time reference… Chris Walby – the man Bryant is most-often compared to, especially in these parts – played until he was 40 and was a division all-star in his final season. Bryant is still a fixture at tackle and as one CFL executive said during Grey Cup week, ‘A Stanley Bryant at 80 percent is still better than just about every tackle in his league.’

That sentiment surely would have had Bryant’s phone buzzing had he got to free agency, but he insisted the idea of going to market was hardly considered.
I haven’t hit the free-agent market since 2015, leaving Calgary,” he said. “I’m pretty sure it came to my mind, but I knew that Winnipeg is where I wanted to be. I don’t see myself going anywhere else and playing. It didn’t make sense for me where I’m at in my career. I’m a lot older so there’s no reason for me to move around and try to start something new, somewhere else.

“I’ve done a lot here in Winnipeg and I want to continue to build on my legacy.”