Who would have ever guessed that one day, on the enormous national stage that is Monday Night Football, the state of Peyton Manning’s health would be partially contingent on a couple of Canadian kids who cut their football teeth in Ontario?
Come Monday night, whenever Manning calmly and cooly takes a snap at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, the No. 1 goal of San Diego Chargers left end Vaughn Martin, 26, will be to crush the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
At the same time, the No. 1
goal of Denver Broncos right tackle Orlando Franklin, 23, will be to protect Manning from the violent ambitions of Martin and his Chargers teammates.
While the cameras understandably will zoom in on Manning’s legendary right arm, a Canadian gridiron civil war will be taking place in the trenches. Amidst all the sweat, grunting and smashing going on at the line of scrimmage, Vaughn and Martin are expected to line up directly opposite each other and likely will spend much of the evening cracking helmets.
This is the same Vaughn Martin who, during his first ever high school game at London South Collegiate Institute, didn’t even have a set of cleats to his name and spent the afternoon playing linebacker while slipping and sliding all over the field in tennis shoes.
This is the same Orlando Franklin who, as a 14-year-old learning the sport, often did not have enough money for bus fare to get to practices for his Scarborough Thunder football team.
Now, a decade later, these two kids have overcome both adversity and the odds to go head-to-head in prime time in front of millions of viewers, a testimony to just how far Canadians have come in their efforts to leave their footprints on the National Football League landscape.
There was a time when being a Canuck in the NFL meant you likely were a kicker, much like the Lions’ Eddie Murray and the Steelers’ Roy Gerela. No more. Now, here in 2012, there are 14 Canadian players listed on active NFL rosters, ranging from wideouts (Nate Burleson, Lions; Austin Collie, Colts) to offensive linemen (Franklin; Danny Watkins, Eagles) to defensive ends (Martin: Israel Idonije, Bears).
Martin, like Franklin, was born in Jamaica and moved to Canada as a young child with his family. Having travelled the long road from London high school football to the world’s top league, he gets irked when he hears Canadian kids lament about having little to no chance to one day make the NFL.
“I don’t know where they get that stuff but it’s wrong,” Martin told QMI Agency from San Diego. “I hope they do whatever it takes to get there.
“I always tell young Canadian players that there is no exchange rate at the border for size or speed. There is no border keeping good players from playing down here. It’s up to every kid to work hard and maximize his potential. Do that, and if you’re good enough, you’ll get the chance to play in this league.”
Martin and Franklin did not know each other growing up in Ontario but become acquainted while training at the same facility in Florida.
“He’s a great guy,” Marin said.
Of course, friends will become foes on Monday when Martin’s 3-2 Chargers take on Franklin’s 2-3 Broncos in an AFC West grudge match.
All eyes, of course, understandably will be on Manning, including those belonging to Martin.
“I played against him two years ago when he was still in Indianapolis,” Martin said. “It was so cool, There he was, a Super Bowl winner and a guy I had watched on TV.
“But once you are out there, you just have to do your job.”
A job that, on the surface, would seem to become more difficult whenever Manning starts doing his trademark shtick, barking out audibles, waving his arms and pointing at opposing defenders.
Over the years, there have been defenders who claimed 70% of Manning’s gestures are just to throw defences off and have nothing to do with the actual play. When asked if that assumption was accurate, Martin was coy.
“That may or may not be true,” Martin said. “The bottom line is, during a game, nothing changes with your own (defensive) calls.”
Defensive calls that often will rely on Martin to get past fellow Canuck Franklin and create chaos for Manning on Monday night.
WESTERN ALL THE WAY
Once a Western Mustang, always a Western Mustang.
Between all those study sessions aimed at figuring out how to thwart future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning on Monday night, you can bet San Diego Chargers defensive end Vaughn Martin will be sneaking a peek to see how his alma mater Mustangs, 3-3, fare against Laurier on Saturday.
“The alumni society sends me weekly e-mails keeping me up to date on what’s going on,” Martin told QMI Agency in a phone interview from San Diego. “They even send the box scores of the Mustang games. I look at them pretty closely.”
Martin, nicknamed “Vicious” by his Mustang teammates, played two seasons for Western before being picked in the fourth round (113 overall) by the Chargers in the 2009 NFL draft. He still stays in touch with his buddies north of the border, including Western coach Greg Marshall.
“My friends now are the same people who were my friends then,” Martin said. “That hasn’t changed just because I’m down here.”