For Tracey Gravely, it was a case of perfect timing.
Fresh out of little Concord College (W. Va.) in 1990, Gravely, a rangy defensive back, turned up at the New York Giants' training camp as a free agent and won a spot on the practice squad.
"I was with the Giants all year," he recalled. "I never played in an actual game, but they gave me a Super Bowl ring. That's something a lot of players strive for all their lives. No one can take that away from me."
After three uneventful years in the CFL as a sometime-starter for the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1991 and the British Columbia Lions the past two years, Gravely may again be in the right place at the right time.
Having eagerly accepted the switch from defensive back to the CFL's unique SAM position, which corresponds to an outside linebacker, Gravely has made an immediate impact for Baltimore's new CFL team.
In Wednesday's 45-43 overtime exhibition victory over Winnipeg at Memorial Stadium, he was the most conspicuous defender, credited with two sacks and seven solo tackles.
"Tracey was really a major experiment for us," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "He's been an accomplished defensive back in the CFL, but, because of his size [6 feet 3, 213 pounds], we thought he was better suited to play linebacker.
"He's a quiet guy with a blue-collar work ethic. We asked him to come to camp two weeks earlier with the rookies to try his new position, and, from Day One, he's had a great attitude and shown tremendous improvement."
Once considered a potential trouble spot, Matthews now considers linebacker one of his team's stronger positions with converted defensive backs, Gravely and former Washington Redskin Alvin Walton, filling two of the spots.
"Gravely has the most ground to cover," Matthews said. "He's got to provide outside coverage, but also be quick and big enough to stop the run. But he's got the defensive back skills that are vital to play the position."
For Gravely, it's a chance to emerge from the shadows.
"I come from a real small town in the southern corner of West Virginia," said the native of Kimball, W. Va.
But hardly anyone came looking for Gravely after he graduated from high school.
"Stuck in the mountains, we don't get a lot of college scouts in our area," he said. "Only Concord offered me a full scholarship."
But Gravely made enough of an impression at Concord to win a training camp invitation from the Giants.
"I could have tried to make the Giants again in 1991, but my agent at the time felt I'd get more experience playing in Canada," he said. "He's not my agent anymore, and I'm still looking to get back to the NFL."
But Gravely appears more secure in Baltimore, playing his new linebacker's role.
Matthews said: "Right now, Tracey is making all the plays. He's been one of our most pleasant surprises."
NOTES: Back-up quarterback John Congemi, who injured his back in the overtime Wednesday night and was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital for tests, resumed practice yesterday, throwing lightly in warm-up drills. "He's definitely going to be with us for the opener in Toronto [Thursday]," Matthews said.