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Monday, October 31, 2005

Gravely named to Alouettes 'Team of the Decade'

Memories of Montreal...Tracy Gravely takes a brief break from his coaching duties on Sunday at Concord's Callaghan Stadium. (Staff photo by Tom Bone)
ATHENS - Out of hundreds of men to play for the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes since the team was revived in 1996, a select 27 were named earlier this month as the franchise's “Team of the Decade.”

One of them was Kimball native Tracy Gravely, now a Concord University assistant coach. Gravely played linebacker and defensive back in the CFL, moving to Montreal when the team relocated from Baltimore after the 1995 season. He retired in 2000.

Gravely said, “I was getting ready to go out to practice, and I hadn't checked my answering machine all day.” The Alouettes' general manager had left the message. “At first, I thought it was a joke.” When the reality hit, he said, “I just sat there for a little while.

“It put a good feeling inside of me, knowing that someone thought that much of you to select you. You know, a lot of players have gone through there in 10 years.”

Gravely, who also played in Ottawa and British Columbia, said he tries to return to the French Canadian capital city once a year. This year was special.

Gravely said the franchise paid for the honorees' trip, putting them up in “one of the finer hotels” in the city and arranging a “team” dinner. “It was first class. They took excellent care of us,” he said.

The honorees were introduced to a crowd of 51,279 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal before a home game on Oct. 16.

Gravely said of the decade-best team, “All those guys, they had really taken care of themselves. They looked good.

“They gave us our old jerseys back that we played in. When they introduced the starting lineup, when my position was called ... I ran out of the tunnel, and got to high-five everybody. And while we were running through, on the big screen they were showing old clips of us playing. ...

“It doesn't seem important to run out of a tunnel, but when you haven't done it in four or five years ... and to hear all those people cheer for you again. You know, you don't get rich playing in Canada, (but the introduction) was priceless. The whole weekend, really, was priceless.”

Asked what went through his mind, he said, “I wished I was still playing. ... I guess I'm kind of a ‘football junkie' when it comes to playing. I still miss it, but I don't miss it as much as I did my first year (after retiring).”

He said that his older brothers Maurice and Leon Gravely were football stars and had pro potential. “Growing up, I put a lot of time into it, and watching my brothers put time into it, wanting to be good at it, that made me put the time into trying to be the best at it.”

Now, as a football coach, Gravely said he tells his players, “It's the things you do when you're not seen that makes you a better player. ...

“When I went over to Vivian Bottom, at Kimball, and ran by myself, and no one could see me over there running ... . No one made me get up in the morning and do it, but I went and did it. All the glory came in the end, because it all paid off - in the end.

“To me, when you're 8 years old, and you win the championship in the Little League, you might as well have won the Super Bowl. You don't get a ring and all this stuff, but at the time, there's nobody happier than an 8-year-old or 9-year-old who's just won the championship.”

He tapped into that feeling even as a professional, he said. “I would sit at my locker, and I would think about the Little League, (and) junior high - because that's when it was fun.

“During the week, it gets kind of ‘business,' you know. And on Sundays, to me, I couldn't take it as ‘business.' On Sundays, it was still a game. ... That's always how I tried to look at it.”

His brothers reminded him, as well, “Once it's over, it's over,” Gravely said.

When the Baltimore Stallions became the newest incarnation of the Alouettes in 1996, they brought the league championship trophy, the Grey Cup, with them. They played in two other title games before Gravely retired.

Gravely said that Montreal was and is “a big hockey city,” which meant the American-style football team had to re-introduce the sport. “It was a tough transition for us,” he said.

He said, “As time went on, the fan base grew, and grew and grew. ... I think we finally grew on the city.

“The thing, I guess, that made it special, all the years I got there to the Grey Cup, it was the same corps of people. I think that's why we're all pretty close now. Any time you win a championship with somebody, you've always got a bond with those guys.”

Out of that group, all-time leading rusher Mike Pringle, sacker Elfrid Payton and cornerback Irv Smith and receiver Chris Armstrong joined Gravely on the “team of the decade.”

Gravely now encourages others to work to reach their potential.

“It's not that everybody is going to make it to the NFL or CFL. I think there are some good athletes out here, in southern West Virginia,” the McDowell countian said.

“I think it comes down to work ethic. You have to be focused on what you want to do. And it goes back to what I said - it's the things you do when you're not being looked at.”

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