Charles Dickens coined the phrase "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." For one brief period last November, Jason Clermont got that experience first hand.
Three nights before his biggest game as a pro, the B.C. Lions slotback was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Canadian. He had a career year, accumulating 1,220 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches as part of a high-octane Lions offence that finished atop the Western Division.
His most important catch came seven days earlier in the Western Final. Clermont make a key reception late in the fourth quarter against his hometown Saskatchewan Roughriders that set up a game-tying field goal. The Lions would ultimately win the game in overtime.
Now playing in his first Grey Cup, Clermont was a key contributor in the Lions' opening drive against the Toronto Argonauts. He made the game's first reception, then caught the opening touchdown a few plays later. The way the Lions controlled the first quarter, they seemed destined to win in a cakewalk.
But something happened on the way to the title. The Argonauts got stronger as the game wore on, and the Lions couldn't respond. Final score: Argos 27, Lions 19.
Coming so close to having your name inscribed on Canadian football's Holy Grail is a tough pill to swallow. But if that wasn't humiliating enough, Clermont then had to endure the CFL's version of the Spanish Inquisition.
As the game's top Canadian, he was brought back onto the field. With the celebratory Argos in clear sight, Clermont was forced to stand on a podium and provide answers for his and the Lions' misfortunes in front of a live television audience.
"Is this a bittersweet moment for you right now?"
"What was the difference in the game?"
"Is this a dream come true for you to play in a Grey Cup?"
"What did head coach Wally Buono say to the team after the game?"
The interview seemed to last an eternity. To Clermont's credit, he stood there and answered every question. But he clearly wanted to be elsewhere, describing it as a sickening experience.
In retrospect, Clermont admits the award was a nice honour, but it wasn't the highlight of his career.
"It was just tough to get out back on the field, walk through all the confetti, through their celebration, and just get up on stage," says Clermont. "It was just a difficult moment."
Looking back on 2004, Clermont is certainly happy with his personal accomplishments. He is only the fifth person to win the top Canadian award in both the regular season and the Grey Cup game, joining the likes of Tony Gabriel, Dave Sapunjis, Sean Millington and Ben Cahoon. But deep down, in his heart of hearts, he would rather have a ring.
"It's bittersweet, just in the fact that I'd would have been a little bit happier with my season if we would have won our last game," admits Clermont. "That being said, there's only one team that really gets to win their last game. Personally, I want to be on that team."
As fate would have it, Clermont may have to stomach another Argos celebration today. The Lions are in Toronto to kick off their regular season, and the Boatmen plan to raise their championship banner prior to the game.
"I guess somebody thought it was fitting when they scheduled it that way," says Clermont. "We're just happy to be playing again."
Although B.C. fans may have a score to settle with the Boatmen, count on Clermont and his teammates viewing this as just another game.
"We've got a different team," admits Clermont. "This is a different season. We know the dynamics of the season are going to be different. Would we like to have that Grey Cup game back? Yeah, but this isn't the Grey Cup game again."
The Lions will be in the hunt for the CFL championship again this season. And they will have an added incentive, given that the final is in their own backyard.
Clermont will no doubt be an important part of quarterback Dave Dickenson's arsenal once again, especially now that receivers Chris Brazzell and Frank Cutolo play elsewhere. The Lions still have Geroy Simon, Ryan Thelwell and Antonio Warren, who along with Clermont can reach pay dirt on any given play.
Naturally, there is only one football to go around. Luckily for the Lions, Clermont doesn't mind sharing.
"We've got the receivers, our running backs want the ball, everybody wants the ball. I wouldn't have it any other way," says Clermont. "If we had a skill position guy who didn't want the ball we wouldn't want him on our team, because that's the kind of competition we like."
It sounds like Keyshawn Johnson would feel right at home in B.C.