All kinds of winners

JULIE HORBAL -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

Not every CFL player gets to feel like a winner during Grey Cup week.

In fact, nearly half the players at the celebration will go home feeling a lot like losers.

But for a handful of athletes attending the week-long festivities for a purpose other than the actual game, one particular night outside the stadium can be just as good as the big night in it.

Just ask Gavin Walls, recipient of the 2005 CFL Rookie of the Year award.

"I've never been a part of an actual Grey Cup game, but through the awards last year I got to experience Grey Cup for the first time," said Walls, who will pass on his title at the 2006 Rogers CFL Player Awards, being held Nov. 16 at Winnipeg's Centennial Concert Hall in conjunction with the Grey Cup Festival.

"Getting an individual standout award, I think that would be great for everyone to experience, just like going to the Grey Cup as a team."

The Mississippi native, who now makes his off-season home in Fayetteville, Ark., was one of seven CFLers handed awards at last year's ceremony in Vancouver.

Seven more will receive the accolades this year in the categories of Outstanding Player, Outstanding Canadian, Outstanding Defensive Player, Outstanding Lineman, Outstanding Rookie, Outstanding Special Teams Player and Coach of the Year.

According to Walls, the awards (tickets of which go on sale tomorrow at Ticketmaster) are an entertaining and educational extravaganza that should not be missed by anyone with the opportunity to attend -- whether they are a player or fan.

"The awards, just being part of Grey Cup is huge. A lot of people partying. The teams, the fans, it's something everybody who can should take the chance to experience," said the 26-year-old Walls.

"From my standpoint it was a chance to see how much the legacy of the CFL means. I didn't know the tradition was like that. There's so much stuff going on and they treat the players so well. They took real good care of us."

According to long-time Bomber play-by-play voice Bob Irving, who, as a member of the Football Reporters of Canada helps decide on the award winners, players are very deserving of being taken care of by the time they reach the awards.

Those eventually selected are athletes who were on the media radar for the majority of their respective seasons; an elite group of seven who made it through cut after cut to stick out above the rest.

"We start with about 40 players from each city, then you cut it down to five nominees," explained Irving of the process, which is participated in by 45 CFL beat reporters.

"You vote within your division and end up with the five best from each of the East and West Divisions. Then you do it all again with those 10."

The winners are not announced until the event itself, which is smack in the middle of a whole load of CFL festivities.

Emotions and intensity is high -- both in the fans and players -- by the time the prestigious awards roll around and in Irving's opinion the night is even more special than Walls lets on.

"The league has turned the awards into a real first-class event," Irving said. "It's sold out every year and it truly is a first-class show. The players are made to feel that it's a very big deal. And it is."


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