THIS Blue and Gold season looks so grey and optimism seems so far away, and yet in the muck of Saturday's loss there was a flash of silver lining.
Because Aaron Kelly looked like a keeper. On a miserable night, he was the Bombers' most effective receiver, especially when he bailed out a funky throw by Justin Goltz for a 26-yard snag.
This part bears remembering: Just six weeks ago, Kelly, who is 27 but has a bright face that could pass for much younger, was sitting at home in Atlanta, working out and thinking maybe it was time to let the football dream go. Now, he's turning heads on the field, including that of his coach.
"He's gone out there, and he's probably made more plays than anybody else," bench boss Tim Burke said on Tuesday. "And he was on the street."
Well, so to speak. It's been a strange road for Kelly, from winning a starter's job as a Hamilton Tiger-Cats rookie in 2011, when he made 27 catches for 387 yards and two majors under then-Ticats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille, to being released before training camp earlier this season. By then, CFL rosters were full and Kelly's phone didn't ring. He was stunned. He started to wonder if it was time he'd need that Clemson University business degree.
"At first, you're a little bitter, you're kind of mad about the situation," Kelly said, with the elegant lilt of his gentle Georgia accent. "Then you come to the realization that it could be over. You just gotta take advantage of this, because you don't know how long it's going to last."
So now a second chance. In three games, Kelly has made 10 catches for 163 yards, even in a sputtering offence. What's more, he sounds delighted to be doing it, and grateful to the man he thinks convinced Bomber brass to get him back into the game.
"Coach Bellefeuille had a lot of faith in me," Kelly said. "I'm just trying to really repay him for that trust, and try to have a good time, try to turn it around here. Winning solves a lot of problems."
Because hey, even though this isn't the NFL -- Kelly did have a sniff of that league as an undrafted free agent for the Atlanta Falcons -- it's still the dream, though it's not always one Kelly thought would happen. Growing up in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, he learned the thrill and the sting of competition with his two brothers. His twin, Avery, is a few minutes older and was the better running back when the two tumbled around in peewee games.
"He got all the shine, and I was just kinda the other guy," Kelly said, but at some point all that changed. He was just 5-5 when he started high school, but sprouted like a reed. By the time he was done growing, he stood a pencil-straight 6-5. At that height, a switch to wide receiver made a lot of sense, and there he had immediate success. He was a big target; he could battle defenders to make the catch, and win.
Ten years later, those are the same qualities Burke said he digs in his new star receiver, and the attitude helps, too. When Kelly talks about his career now, he talks about the roar of the crowd, the rush of seeing a ball headed his way; he says he's not wearing the pressure too heavily, and maybe the Bombers could use someone who thinks that way.
"I'm going to have fun with it."