Stampeders' Messam and Dennis share tragic bond
TORONTO — The bond between Jerome Messam and Derek Dennis began as Miami Dolphins way back in 2012, and continued when they were reunited as Calgary Stampeders late last season.
The relationship between running back and offensive lineman has always been inherently strong.
One pries open the holes, the other runs through them, and success, if everything goes according to plan, follows closely.
In the early morning hours of Sept. 25, a night that started as a celebration of a close win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium, the link between the Stampeders roommates changed in an instant with one muzzle flash and 23-year-old Mylan Hicks lying in a pool of his own blood in the parking lot of a Calgary nightclub as horrified teammates were forced to scatter to save themselves.
Witnessing a comrade, a friend murdered mere feet from them, is a tragic memory Messam and Dennis will always be forced to share, and they’ve leaned on each other for support in the two months since that fateful night.
“I never talk about it too much, but it was extremely rough for me because I was one of the guys who was there, man — I watched it happen, I saw his face,” Dennis recalled quietly. “I got a chance to hug him before it even happened and, for me, it was a lot sleepless nights, nightmares, a lot of bottled up feelings.”
In the days and weeks that followed, Dennis took advantage of counselling services, the support of an entire locker-room, and a new appreciation for life that only tragic circumstances can provide.
“Just cry, man, and not hold it in too much,” Dennis said. “Even to this day, I still think about it.”
One bedroom away, Messam was dealing with the exact same memories.
“I don’t really want to talk about all that stuff right now because it’s just tough to go back to it mentally and visually,” Messam said. “Nobody ever dreams about having to deal with stuff like that. It was a nightmare.”
Football wasn’t the focus for a short time, but that was quickly channeled into making sure their teammate’s memory lived on and became a major part of the narrative of a historic season, one that is 60 minutes of football away from becoming reality in Sunday’s Grey Cup against the Ottawa Redblacks.
“Me and Jerome were close before, but after that incident and us being there together and going through it, it’s brought us closer, man,” Dennis said. “That’s my brother right there. I’d do anything for that dude. For any of these guys, man. These dudes are my family forever and I’ll never forget what we went through and the things we did and I just want to make sure we end it on a high note.
“We think about Mylan every day with everything we do. We’ve got 3-1 with us. We’re going to make sure we go out there Sunday and send a Grey Cup ring home with his mother, man, so she can know there’s other people out there who loved her son just as much as she did and wanted to see him do well.
“I don’t see us not going home with that Cup.”
Standing inside the Delta Hotel in downtown Toronto about 72 hours or so before they get a chance to pen a storybook ending against the underdog Redblacks, Dennis and Messam are looking towards the future more than dwelling on the past.
Messam, coming off his finest season as a pro and a rushing title at the age of 31, has visions of winning his first Grey Cup in his home town, while the 28-year-old Dennis is hoping to do the same, and then parlay a campaign steeped in both team and individual success into another NFL shot.
“That’s my brother, man,” Messam beamed when asked about Dennis. “He’s going to have some really good things to come for him in the future. He’s probably going back to the NFL next year, so I’m going to miss him. With everything that happened with Mylan, it just brought us closer, brought our brotherhood closer and brought our team closer.”
Dennis will let his personal situation play out when free agency beckons next month and the time is right, but there’s no doubting NFL teams will be sniffing around the 6-foot-3, 341-pounder, whose personality matches his larger-than-life stature.
“If I’m blessed enough to get a shot like how E-Rogers did last year and get a chance to go back south, if it’s the right opportunity for me then I’ll look into it, for sure, but right now I’m not really thinking about it too much,” Dennis said.
“I’ll worry about everything else once I finish doing what I came up here to do, and that’s hoist a championship with my boys, man. Whatever opportunities present themselves in the next couple of months, it’s icing on the cake for me.”
Neither player is thinking much about themselves these days.
It’s about the team.
It’s about a championship.
It’s about Mylan.
Most of all, it’s about today.
“Nothing’s promised,” Messam says with a perspective the majority of us could never understand. “Tomorrow’s not promised.”