For Aaron Crawford Tuesday will be no ordinary preseason football game.
It will be his one last chance to impress management and make the Argonauts’ roster.
But, even that won’t entirely be foremost on his mind. There will be play calls to remember, game situations to keep in mind, he’s playing a new position after moving to fullback from linebacker, and he knows that to make this team he has to impress on special teams.
But, somewhere, in the corner of his mind there will be a thought for a brother loved ... and lost.
When he puts on the Argonauts’ jersey it will be with the No. 6 on his back; the number worn by his brother.
“The last time I saw him play was hockey. He was a natural at anything he tried. He played piano by ear. Baseball. Soccer. Hockey. It made me jealous,” said Crawford Sunday, smiling at the memory.
But then, at age 16, his older brother, Brendan, was diagnosed with plastic anemia, a condition that depletes hemoglobin in the blood. Patients often can’t fight off infections or are prone to bleeding.
“We kind of switched roles. He was frail. I kind of protected him,” says Aaron, then 11. “Nobody expected him to live past a year but he battled it for eight years and recovered, which was a bit of a miracle. He was cleared and told he was healthy and about two months after that we found out he had leukemia.”
There would be more trips to doctors and more hospital stays. Aaron, living in Medicine Hat, was invited to attend a junior football development camp in Chilliwack, B.C.
“I had just graduated high school and when you deal with a disease that long you start to figure that he’d just beat it again.”
Except that he didn’t. His brother died.
“We rushed back but I got the phone call driving back. I missed it by two hours,” says Aaron. “I was all excited about coming back and telling him about (the camp). Then I wasn’t even able to say goodbye. You don’t know if there would have been that closure but it would’ve been nice. It’s tough because you find out afterwards that he was asking about me. How I was doing? When I was coming back? The hardest part ws wrestling with the what ifs.”
Aaron always wanted to wear his brother’s old number.
“But it was always for quarterbacks or veterans had it, and then I was always playing defence and that’s an offence number.”
But, then the Argos selected him out of St. Mary’s and are looking at him as a potential replacement when Jeff Johnson retires.
“I asked the coaches if I could switch numbers. Nobody had it. Hopefully I get to represent him well. I’d like to think I watched him with it in the last game I ever saw him in; maybe he’ll be watching me in this one.”