If you want to know a little bit about Calvin McCarty, just talk with him. If you want to know a little more, talk with his teammates.
But if you want to know all about Calvin McCarty, the relentless football player, you don’t really need to do either of those things.
All you really need to do is go back and watch the highlights of the first half of last week’s Eastern Semi-Final. And really zero in on number 31 when the Edmonton Eskimos have the ball.
The 35-year-old veteran fullback enjoyed a sensational opening thirty minutes of football, instrumental in setting the tone in what turned out to be a 37-29 victory in Montreal.
“Whatever way you can make an impact in games like this and have teammates take momentum from it, I’m trying to do it,” said McCarty, a few moments after the Eskies had wrapped up their Wednesday practice, in preparation for Sunday’s Eastern Final against the Hamilton Ticats.
“So whether it’s a block, taking somebody to the ground or, you know, scoring a touchdown, I just love the game and whatever aspect or angle they want me to do, I’m passionate about it.”
McCarty, in his 13th season with Edmonton, has done a lot of the things he’s passionate about, over the years, and he did plenty of each and every one of them last Sunday against the Alouettes.
Early in the first quarter, McCarty leaked out of the backfield and took in a Trevor Harris pass, getting blasted by defenders Greg Reid and Najee Murray, helicoptering through the air before landing with a thud inside the five, with a completion.
When Gable was stopped at the two-yard line during a second-quarter carry, McCarty circled in behind him to push and push and push, along with teammate James Tuck, until the dam burst and Gable had once more scored a touchdown.
Then, McCarty scored a major, himself, pulling in a lofty Harris touch-pass in the back corner of the end zone. But so much more happened prior to that reception.
On the play before the catch, Harris had shuttled a short forward pass to receiver DaVaris Daniels in the backfield, as McCarty sprinted down field (again, Tuck was nearby to provide another key block on the play), knocking safety Bo Lokombo off his feet, allowing Daniels to take it down to the four-yard-line.
On the touchdown reception, McCarty blocked up a blitzing Reid before he released, racing to an open area before Montreal linebacker Henoc Muamba could get to the scene.
Quite a half of football, and examples aplenty of what McCarty has meant to the Eskimos. And what he will continue to mean to them as this Sunday’s Eastern Final unfolds in Hamilton.
On the field, he’s a brute force when needed, whether it’s carrying the ball himself or more often, somebody else doing it, and sure-handed when called upon to run a route. “You wouldn’t believe some of the ways I’ve seen him catch a football,” said teammate Natey Adjei, of McCarty’s displays during practice.
Calvin McCarty has beat the drum consistently, incessantly, throughout his tenure with the Eskimos and while his role with the team has changed, his attitude, apparently, has not.
For a stretch of four seasons, from 2008 to 2011 McCarty was called upon often to run the ball, or to catch it after he’d vacated the backfield. He was a bit of a centrepiece of the Eskimos’ attack, rushing 88, 67, 62 and 52 times during those seasons. He made 78 catches for 583 yards in 2008.
Since then, he’s been used more sparingly as a ball-handler; the carrying and catching opportunities diminishing, but not his successes when afforded those opportunities. Just like last Sunday, when the Eskies have called on him, he’s done the job. All the while, McCarty’s protection and blocking tasks have been executed in an essential, professional manner, his special teams wedge-busting and tackling chores completed without a whiff of a discouraged word.
“One of the most selfless teammates of all time,” said Adjei, the speedy slot who joined the Eskimos four seasons ago. “The guy loves football and appreciates it so much. And his desire to win and compete on a daily basis is unrivalled.”
Offensive lineman Jacob Ruby, in his third season with the Eskimos, is impressed by McCarty’s appetite to take on whatever is assigned to him.
“He’s willing to do whatever it takes for the team,” said Ruby, who then went beyond the game of football to describe his teammate’s value.
“He’s a guy that comes in every day with a smile on his face and wants to make everyone around him better,” said Ruby. “You can’t walk by Cal and he doesn’t say ‘hi’ or ask how you are. That’s the kind of guy he is. The definition of an awesome teammate.”
For McCarty, the equation for how he plays football – and why – is pretty simple. It is one that includes enjoyment and gratitude.
“I know I’m lucky to still have an opportunity to play this game,” he said. “And so every time I get a chance to go out there, you know, I’m basically selfless. Do it for the good of the family, the good of the team and just have fun.”
“You know, there’s not too many of these opportunities left so, just trying to make the most of it,” he said.
Adjei has a nickname for McCarty, calling him “Cal-Vino,” because, Adjei says, “he seems to age like fine wine.”
And McCarty is feeling good, even after this long season and a career that has seen him rush 337 times for 1,615 yards, and catch 338 passes for 2,005 yards. You can add countless sorties on special teams plays (83 career special teams tackles) and an equally countless number of times that he picked up blitzes or took on blocks, dutifully doing the grunt work that is so important on every offensive play.
At the age of 35, McCarty is not at all thinking about the end of the road, saying that he feels like he could play until he’s fifty, though he has no plans to play even until he’s forty. Another two or three years? Sure, he said.
That, however, is not something he’s thinking about right now. McCarty has this Sunday on his mind, and the Ticats.
“I mean, they’ve been doing a great job of, shutting people down all year,” he said of Hamilton’s defence, “but I feel confident in our guys and what we do, so I’m looking forward to it.”
“We can do a lot of things on offence with Trevor being healthy and, I think, hitting his stride at the right time. I’m excited for this game and excited to see what we can do as a team and get out there and play this game.”
Whatever the Eskimos’ offence has in store for Hamilton, McCarty will be an important gear in the works, whether you notice him or not.
He says he’s holding up well, physically, during these late stages of the 2019 season. He jokes that he’s more than ready to play the Eastern Final; “I woulda played yesterday,” he exclaimed, laughing. “Let’s go.”
After thirteen seasons of all-out football, McCarty is ready to lay it on the line again and you won’t hear him complaining about the bruises, the bumps, the aches and pains that might be present. In those thirteen seasons, he’s scaled the heights with his team, winning the Grey Cup in 2015. It’s the only appearance McCarty has made in a Grey Cup Game, so he knows how rare the opportunity can be. And why getting this close to another shot can get a guy fired up.
“That’s why you come to training camp,” he said. “That’s why you show up. That’s why you practice. That’s why you work hard in the off-season, when nobody’s watching. That’s why when you get up, you’re sore.”
That’s why Calvin McCarty keeps on doing whatever the Edmonton Eskimos ask of him, the way he has throughout his career despite its shifting tides. They way he did last Sunday and the way he will this Sunday.
“For an opportunity to play for that Grey,” he said.