This Sunday’s 107th Grey Cup between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats will mark a historic first.
Two Europeans will face each other in Canada’s biggest game.
Who would have dreamed of that nine months ago when a group of 18 players from five nations in Europe arrived for their very first CFL Combine?
One became the top pick in the European CFL Draft held in April following the Combine and the other the number two.
Both are linebackers/defensive linemen and both have excelled on special teams for their respective clubs.
And both have grown into their roles.
Now LB/DE Thiadric Hansen from Germany, who was the number two overall pick and the number one European Draft selection, France’s Valentin Gnahoua , also a DE, face each other in the biggest game of their football careers as Hansen’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers take on Gnahoua and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 107th Grey Cup.
When the 24 year old Gnahoua was selected as the number one pick of the European Draft last April by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, it did not come as a surprise to many. The 6’2″, 235 lb native of Le Mans, France performed well in the Combine running a 4.8 40 yard dash with a 31.5″ vertical.
Hansen, a 6’2″, 243 lb 26-year-old from Flensburg, Germany, posted almost identical numbers but had a 38″ vertical.
Obviously, both were picked for their potential on special teams.
Ghanhoua suffered through an injury early in the season which kept him on the sideline while Hansen saw action in every game. In fact, Ghanhoua did not get into a game until Week 9 but made up for it after that and during the rest of the regular season was in on 174 snaps for the Ticats.
Hansen had 298 snaps in 2019 prior to the playoffs and was inserted into the defensive line rotation. In a late August game against the BC Lions he recorded his first-ever sack, hauling down Lions quarterback Mike Reilly, forcing a key fumble.
Hansen is pumped about playing:
“Personally I would just like to be good and the best at my position and work to get my game up. I also want to put that on my back also and wave the flag a little bit and show everyone and the CFL that we’ve got good talent in Europe and make it easier for other guys who will come into the league.
“This is so surreal, so much going on, so many distractions. You just have to stay focused. But what a great experience.”
Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer on Gnahoua:
“You talk about a smile on (Gnahoua’s) face, working hard, notebook always open, pen upright, sitting next to Ted Laurent, gathering information, making sure the language barrier wasn’t too strong. Passionate player. He battled some injuries early in our situation.
“It’s tough for the global players; not only are you in a new environment, different country and things are happening fast, people are talking about things that are second nature to them, but it’s not to (the global players). They had to do extra, but it didn’t faze them one bit. I’ve been very pleased with how it has worked for our organization.”
The 107th Grey Cup will be livestreamed and shown on AFI, Sunday, November 24, 6 pm ET, 12 am Nov. 25 CET.