His new teammates kid him about his advancing age, and at 31 slotback Gerald Alphin is getting up there in football years. But since joining the Baltimore Stallions a month ago, Alphin feels younger by the day.
Alphin sits in the Stallions' locker room, noting the team's youthful talent. He talks excitedly about the chance to provide veteran help to its Grey Cup championship push, which shifts into overdrive in the Canadian Football League playoffs next weekend. Based on the way he has performed in his first three games in a Baltimore uniform, Alphin has plenty left to give.
"This is what you train for. I still get excited about this time of the season," Alphin said. "The thought of winning a championship drives me in the off-season. The nature of the sport keeps me motivated. There's always somebody after your job."
For now, Alphin need not worry about losing his position. He has filled a void created when slotback Reggie Perry went down five weeks ago with a freakish knee injury. At that point, Alphin was waiting by the phone. Winnipeg, where he had played for four productive seasons, had released him three weeks earlier, primarily for financial reasons.
Alphin listened to several offers, looked at the Stallions' postseason chances and decided to head to Baltimore. His contract includes an option year in 1996.
The move has worked out well. In his first game against Saskatchewan, Alphin found the seams in the Roughriders' pass defense, setting up an important touchdown with two of his three receptions. The next week, he caught his first touchdown pass of the season in another victory over Saskatchewan. In three games, he has seven receptions for 93 yards.
"Impact, right off the bat," said Stallions quarterback Tracy Ham. "He has improved us from a maturity standpoint. It doesn't take long to get comfortable with a guy like Gerald, because he's got so much experience."
Not to mention the size and smarts to help him amass 50 touchdown receptions and more than 7,200 yards in eight CFL seasons in Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg. Alphin brings the complete package to the field: sure-handed, solid blocker, effective at improvising routes and dependable catching the ball over the middle, where his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame has absorbed countless hits.
"Even though a lot of these guys know who I am and what I've done and how long I've played, you still have to prove yourself," Alphin said. "The quickest way to be accepted by your peers is to make some plays. Just to get here and ride on the coattails of the team wouldn't be as gratifying as playing, contributing, being a piece of the puzzle."
Veteran slotback Chris Armstrong said of Alphin: "He has seen it all and done it all. It's been fun playing in the slot with a guy as big and as smart as he is."
Said Stallions receivers coach Don Hill: "He's so big, a lot of defenders back off of him, because you can't jam him at the line of scrimmage. He took a lot of pressure off of [top Winnipeg receiver] Gerald Wilcox up there, and he's done the same thing here with Armstrong. Gerald is always in the right place."
The place Alphin wants to be most is back in Regina, Saskatchewan, where the Grey Cup winner will be crowned in three weeks. That would erase a series of close calls that have dogged Alphin in his pursuit of a championship ring.
After producing three straight 1,000-yard seasons in Ottawa from 1987 to 1989, he spent the next two seasons in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints before getting a tryout with Dallas in 1992. He lasted until the final cut. The Cowboys went on to win their first Super Bowl in the Jimmy Johnson era.
Alphin then landed in Winnipeg, where he helped the Blue Bombers advance to the Grey Cup game with 507 receiving yards in nine games -- but Calgary took the title.
The next year, Alphin caught 55 passes for 1,052 yards to help Winnipeg make it back to the Grey Cup, but the Blue Bombers lost to an Edmonton team they had handled twice during the regular season. Then, last year, he caught a career-high 18 touchdown passes for Winnipeg, which lost to Baltimore in the Eastern Division final.
"The season isn't over until we get that hardware [trophy]," Alphin said. "Time is running out."
NOTE: To alleviate parking problems, the northeast and northwest gates at Memorial Stadium will open at 11:30 a.m. for today's game.
Opponent: Hamilton Tigar-Cats
Site: Memorial Stadium
When: 2 p.m.
Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7FM)