The worst-case scenario game is not one Will Ford wants to play. Oh sure, it's always there lingering in the back of every CFL player's deepest thoughts, hovering overhead like a developing storm cloud.
One day, some day, Ford knows he'll sit across from a coach or general manager and be asked to hand in his playbook. The game will be over and, ultimately, a career is kaput. It's often only then does a fall-back plan -- if one even exists -- finally gets put into action.
"I'd probably try to open up a training facility," said the Winnipeg Blue Bomber running back when asked about his life-after-football plans. "Playing football, you have to sacrifice some things and the training facility gets sacrificed. I've still got things in the works... I'm still trying to work on that, too. But..."
Ford's voice trails off here with an unfinished sentence. Still, his message is clear: given the opportunity to wrap his fingers around the Bombers' starting tailback job both now and in for 2014 -- the injured Chad Simpson has left town, is a free agent this winter and making noise about another shot at the NFL -- Ford has grabbed the shot and squeezed hard.
He's not alone in that regard, as a few players have jumped off the page in this open-audition-for-2014 stage of the Bombers' campaign. And, make no mistake, when the mushroom cloud clears after 2013, some of the work done here in the last weeks of this season will earn players invites to next year's training camp.
"It crosses my mind that I'm playing for this year and next year," said Ford. "But, at the same time, I really don't look at it like that. The way I look at it, if I do what it takes to help the team win then everything else will take care of itself.
"I'm pleased, but it could be better. I always look to be better. There were some mistakes made and I'm trying to work on those. I can't dwell on the good stuff, I need to dwell on the bad stuff and the corrections. I'm taking advantage of the opportunities when my name is called and times when my name is not called, like protecting the quarterback.
"I'm trying to do everything right because I love playing football. This is my passion. I cherish the game so much."
That passion can be tested in a 3-12 season that could best be characterized as nightmarish. It's been about change, firings, demotions, arrivals and exits.
But in all that the players that do stand up in awful times -- guys like Will Ford, receiver Clarence Denmark, linebacker Ian Wild and new right tackle Jarvis Jones are the best examples -- also reveal themselves as potential building blocks.
"It's one of the things you're looking for, especially when you're not having the season you want to have," said head coach Tim Burke. "You're looking to see which guys can handle the adversity and which guys are going to play no matter what the score is or what the record is.
"Those are the guys you're going to want to keep around, because they're going to play no matter what."
Burke gushed about the work of Wild earlier this week and indicated the rookie linebacker could be here for a long time. The club is also pleased with the work of Jones, who arrived in mid-September and was immediately thrust into the starting lineup.
And Denmark, like Ford, has stepped up after being almost an afterthought in the offence during the summer. The third-year receiver has three TDs and two 100-yard receiving efforts in his last three games and dating back to the Banjo Bowl, has pulled in 32 passes for 433 yards in the past six weeks.
What's brought about the push in Denmark's numbers? Burke said offensive co-ordinator Marcel Bellefeuille has tried to feature him more in the offence and, clearly, he's developed a rapport with QB Max Hall.
But there's also this: the fear of the end -- that meeting with football's grim reaper -- can be a powerful motivator for some.
"It's the love of playing the game," said Denmark. "You want to come out every week and be a professional and do your best. Nothing is promised in this game. You come out and play and you never know what can happen. You have to come out and play every day like it could be your last time to suit up and play."
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