Landing on his feet

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:03 AM ET

I don't know if John Murphy will ever find the Winnipeg Blue Bombers a real quarterback.

Time will also tell if Murphy can beat the bushes for a reliable kicker.

But we know this about the team's new, 36-year-old personnel boss: you can knock him off his feet with a broadside few of us ever deal with, and, eventually, he finds a way to bounce back.

An up-and-coming scout for the NFL's Oakland Raiders in the summer of 2005, Murphy thought he'd finally arrived the day he took his seat in the press box at the New Orleans Superdome, ready to scout a Saints preseason game.

FORCED TO EVACUATE

Less than 48 hours later, Hurricane Katrina was barreling down on his home, forcing him and his girlfriend to evacuate.

"To lose all your stuff that you'd built up to the age of 25 or 30 isn't easy," Murphy was saying during a telephone interview from El Paso, Texas, yesterday. "The wood that we'd boarded the place up with splintered off, and was embedded in the walls and in the sofa."

The home sustained major wind and flood damage and was overrun with mold. Whatever he hadn't been able to pack in a hurry was lost, including his 1999 Firebird.

As he'd write in a web-site column for Yahoo! a year later, the word "loss" would never have the same meaning again.

A temporary stay with his girlfriend's family turned into a stint with a friend in Houston -- where Hurricane Rita forced him to evacuate again, less than two weeks later.

That led to a low period in Murphy's life. It seemed all his hard work scouting for the NFL over the years was going down the drain, his dreams slipping away.

"You could have let that damage you," Murphy said. "You could have written yourself off."

Enduring a seemingly endless wait for flood compensation -- which never did come close to covering his losses -- he kept his sanity by scouting for his buddy's high school team, where he also taught kids in special ed.

Four months into his time at Sam Rayburn High in Pasadena, Texas, Murphy woke up one day and found the strength to start again.

"I said, 'I'm tired of dealing with FEMA and being labeled the evacuation guy,' " he recalled.

So he did what he does best: He went to college all-star games to watch young football players.

With financial help from friends and old contacts, he pulled the scouting business that had been all but destroyed back out of the muck. He worked on the selection committee for the East-West Shrine Game, something he continues to this day. He got a gig doing reports for Yahoo! Sports.

GLIMPSE AT FUTURE

And then a turning point: a chance to help the Raiders at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

That week gave him a glimpse at his future, he'd write.

Today, the Long Island native has gone from scouting to being one of three top decision-makers with the Bombers, an opportunity he'd only dreamed of.

But you'd be wrong to think Murphy has left Katrina behind for good.

What the disaster taught him was that he wanted to be more like the people who helped him through it. He says he still goes back to help out those special needs kids, for example.

"Far less selfish," Murphy said, describing himself, post-Katrina. "And far more interested in things I wouldn't have been before."

He could still list the things he lost, but he'd rather focus on the things he's found. And learned.

As he wrote one year after Katrina: If you pay attention long enough, life will teach you some valuable lessons.

"Unfortunately, you don't learn them until something bad happens to you," Murphy said.

So, yeah, he probably appreciates success more than he otherwise would have, like last year's Grey Cup win with the Calgary Stampeders.

And like his new opportunity with the Bombers, a team mired in an 18-year championship drought. A job that burned out his predecessor.

"When people say, 'Are you ready for the grind?' -- I'll trade you for the stress of losing everything you've got, for the stress of not knowing what's next, where the next dollar comes from," Murphy said.

"This is easy."


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