Once in a lifetime

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The day began early, at 3 a.m., an emotional hasta luego leave-taking of his family before the ride to Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México, located five kilometres from the epi-centre of the world’s fourth largest metropolis.

“My grandmother, she’s 82, she was the worst hit … got the most emotional,’’ confesses Andres Salgado, having finally reached McMahon Stadium, his luggage still trying to find its way north from a connection in San Francisco. “She hugged me, was like: ‘But you’re … leaving.’ “They are all excited for me, though. “A hard time saying goodbye to my loved ones but at the same time you cannot lose this opportunity, to have a shot to play in the CFL, at a great, great level of competition.

“It’s once-in-a-lifetime.”

Outfitted in his requisite black Calgary Stampeders tee and toting the rookie-camp playbook – the heft of a Spanish translation of Les Miserables – Salgado

Only days removed from latching onto a 44-yard game-winning TD pass in Tazon Mexico IV (Mexico Bowl IV), propelling his Mexico City Condors to a 20-16 title triumph over the Naucalpan Raptors, he arrived for the Stampeders’ rookie camp, which runs Thursday through Saturday.

Salgado hopes to someday replicate the same sort of collaborative mojo with Bo Levi Mitchell that he pulled off with Condors’ QB Diego Perez Arvizu at the 33,000-seat Estadio Azul on Sunday.

“This,’’ Salgado says of these early days of the Liga De Football Americano Profesional-CFL union, “is a great way for Mexico to be noticed. It puts the spotlight on us. We have to perform at the highest level possible. You cannot back down from any challenge. You have to overcome whatever’s in front of you. Hopefully this will open up a closer connection between Canada and Mexico.”

The Stamps’ first of three selections among the Mexican talent pool, Salgado latched onto 31 passes for 586 yards and 11 TDs last season for the surprise-package Condors.

The sport, fuelled by the global NFL profile, continues to escalate in his homeland. He, however, caught the bug late on and purely by chance.

“One of my best friends since six years old, Mauricio, he played football his entire life, from youth to peewee and so on. I never did. I was a soccer player, basketball, volleyball. I stayed at his home one night and the next day he had a football practice. He said: ‘Hey, you should come over, you should try it. It’s fun.’ I said: ‘OK, let’s go.’ An off-season practice – we ran sprints, caught footballs. And I fell in love with the game right away.”

Salgado was 17 then.

That was in 2009, a decade of working his way up the ladder ago.

Until now and this new working relationship between the countries and leagues, the CFL has been a hazy alternative, off in the background.

“I knew it existed,’’ says Salgado. “I knew it was the second highest level of football in the world and the oldest, I think. Yes, it is? 106, 107 years plus, right? We don’t see a lot of CFL games back home. Only from time to time. The last game I saw was the championship game, the Stamps versus RedBlacks, the Grey Cup. “From an offensive viewpoint, it seemed maybe it’s a little bit easier because (the field) is a LOT bigger and defenders have to cover a lot of ground. But the game looked pretty awesome. I saw the broadcast on ESPN. Big crowd. Great football party. Football brings the best out of people in any country. Canada. Mexico. The U.S. Europe. Wherever. The emotions flow.”

While understanding the interest he and the rest of the Mexican imports in the early days of this experiment are bound to generate, Salgado doesn’t feel like a pioneer of sorts, or any sort of curiosity.

“There’s going to be people who try to criticize, doesn’t matter where you are, what you’re doing,’’ he reckons. “People can be like: ‘Hey, these guys are top in Mexico, they’re getting their shot.’ Then maybe we have a bad practice, something happens and they say: ‘Why did they bring them to Canada?’ There’s nothing you can do about that. “We’re here to play, to learn.”

What matters is that he – and the rest of the Mexican recruits – have landed, the connection has been made and, fingers crossed, can continue to be cultivated.

“We have our shot,’’ says Salgado proudly. “Twenty-seven players across the CFL have their shot. It’s a job. They pay you here for playing football. We haven’t had that shot in Mexico. We have it now.”

A decade after falling in love at first sight after saying over at a pal’s house, Salgado has no idea what Mauricio, the person responsible in a way for his being here at all, thinks of this chance.

“You’re really just blessed with the opportunity,” he says. “I hope I don’t let any people down. I’ll just give it my best. That’s it. That’s all. That’s what I’m looking for: To take advantage of the opportunity. The nerves, the fear, the emotion … that’s what makes you human. That’s what makes you go. That’s what makes you flow. You can feel them. But if you’re dream’s bigger, none of that matters.”

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Today's CFL is more than just our great game of football. It's fans sharing their excitement for what they see on the field, and what they experience off it. Stay up to date on all the non-stop action at CFL.ca. And join all of Canada as we celebrate the 105th Grey Cup, presented by Shaw, this November in Ottawa.
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