August 15, 2016

Denmark Rewriting the Script

It’s long been the belief from this perch that the daily goings-on of the Blue Bombers have for decades made it Winnipeg’s greatest soap opera.

The winning, the losing, the heartache, the joy… all of it has provided for some rather compelling drama since this football club first grabbed grass and growled at an opponent way back in 1930.

It’s with that prologue out of the way that we present this today: one of the juiciest Blue Bombers subplots this season – and maybe over the last two-three years – is this Clarence Denmark storyline that is currently unfolding before our very eyes.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver Clarence Denmark (89) celebrates his touch down with Blue Bombers wide receiver Rory Kohlert (87) while playing against the Toronto Argonauts during second half CFL football action in Toronto on Saturday, July 12, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Just to recap, it was back on March 22nd when the Bombers cut two veterans adrift, severing ties with both Denmark and defensive tackle Bryant Turner Jr. The moves were directly about what the club had done in free agency, but were also financially motivated and partly about change.

The Bombers had signed receivers Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith in free agency and pushed on from Denmark after his receiving totals fell from 65 catches for 1,080 yards to 57-718. And Turner was released after the team inked Canadian vet Keith Shologan as well as Euclid Cummings who posted an eight-sack season with the Toronto Argonauts.

But it’s what has happened since then that is potentially making this the stuff of legend.

First, Denmark was signed by the archrival Saskatchewan Roughriders in May for many of the same reasons the Bombers inked both Dressler and Smith – as a veteran piece for what was going to be a made-over receiving corps. But when the Riders made their final roster decisions at the end of training camp, Denmark was again a casualty.

He was at home in Jacksonville, Fla. less than a month ago, watching the Bombers knock off the Edmonton Eskimos on television while losing three receivers to injury – Darvin Adams, Dressler and Quincy McDuffie (with Smith already on the injured list) – when his phone rang. And before the final gun had sounded in Edmonton, Denmark was on his way back to the Bombers.

His return, just in itself, makes this a good story.

Clarence Denmark

But it’s what Denmark has done in the last two games – pulling in 14 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns – that has taken this tale from just good to remarkable.

Now, to those who know the man, his reaction to what has unfolded in the last few weeks is a perfect representation of his personality and his character. He’s been humble and appreciative about his second chance. But also keenly aware that it’s not just that he is getting another shot that makes the story juicy, it’s that his rebirth is coming with the same team that cut him six months ago.

An example: during Denmark’s media scrum after Friday’s win over Toronto, I asked him if he appreciated how cool a story this was.

His answer was as honest as the man himself.

“I do,” he began. “I haven’t had a lot of time to take it in. I’m glad we have a bye week to let it soak in and just realize what’s actually happening, but it’s a great feeling.”

It’s a heckuva story, too. What happens next could be just as captivating.

The Bombers’ mutilated receiving corps is getting healthier by the day, especially with this week being a bye and Denmark – based on all his contributions – is the least likely candidate to be yanked from the lineup.

Go figure.

Yes, a man kicked to the curb in March is now a critical part of a three-game winning streak.

Given all the drama with the Bombers over the last few years – how this franchise has often pulled fans to the edge of their seats and then sent them crashing back into them – that’s a riveting, and welcomed, change to the script.