Amazing Grace

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

John Grace wasn't about to come away empty-handed in his second straight trip to the Grey Cup party.

Although the Calgary Stampeders linebacker won't be earning a Cup ring this weekend, the 28-year-old was named defensive player of the year at the CFL Awards ceremony last night in Vancouver.

Grace, who took 39 first-place votes to edge Toronto linebacker Michael Fletcher, made a joke as soon as he hit the podium.

"I said I wasn't going to cry ... and

I won't," Grace said, before getting choked up thanking the Stamps, his teammates and family members.

"I'm shaking right now because I'm so excited about this thing. This is well welcomed and it's something that in my wildest dreams I'd never imagine I'd win."

The Marshall product broke into the league in 2000 with the Alouettes, who will face the Eskimos in Sunday's Grey Cup. Grace paid his dues going on and off Montreal's practice roster.

In his acceptance speech, Grace thanked his family for supporting him through two seasons in which money was tight and the future cloudy.

"I came a long way from the practice roster in Montreal in 2000," Grace said. "For all those guys on the practice roster, or who have been put on the practice roster, this can happen for you, too."

Grace was nominated for the defensive award last season after coming to Calgary from Ottawa in a multi-player trade orchestrated by then GM-head coach Matt Dunigan.

While he lost the award in 2004 to Montreal's Anwar Stewart, Grace earned a reputation as a big-play specialist for the Stamps' swarming three-four defence built under defensive co-ordinator Denny Creehan.

Grace realizes he is a product of the system, calling Creehan the true MVP of the Stamps' defence.

While the award is nice, next year Grace would like to take home the team prize instead.

"This is a game that you play, not for awards, but for championships," he said.

As expected, Toronto's Damon Allen was named the most outstanding player after a brilliant 21st season in the league. The 42-year-old quarterback also took home the fans' choice award as the CFL's top player.

B.C. defensive end Brent Johnson was named top Canadian for his 16-sack campaign; Saskatchewan's Gene Makowsky won top lineman, and Winnipeg defensive end Gavin Walls was named top rookie.

Veteran Hamilton QB Danny McManus picked up the Tom Pate award for outstanding community service. Saskatchewan's Corey Holmes, who lost out to Allen for most outstanding player, picked up the top special teams player award.


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