Great White North Suits QB Just Fine
CFL star may still get a chance in
NFL, but if not, he is happy where he is
(Photo: ECU Media Relations)
Though he misses the
dusty roads and warm summers of his hometown of Robersonville, NC, life decisions have opened Marcus Crandell up to the
possibility that Calgary, Alberta, Canada might now really be his home.
Since the former star East
Carolina quarterback began his professional football journey began in 1997, he
quite felt at home.
Perhaps it was winning a
starting job with a team or maybe it was the authoritative announcement
of his abilities that comes with being the Most Valuable Player of the Grey Cup
Championship... or maybe, maybe it was settling down, marrying and
buying a home that has convinced the quarterback that home is where you
are, if you’ll let it be.
“Life is a little different up
here,” Crandell said from the training facilities in Calgary. “All my
life, until I started playing the Canadian Football League, I always
pretty much was around my family all the time. It was a major adjustment
for me since my family is so close-knit. It was difficult being away from
Now, as he approaches his
first marriage anniversary, life is little more grounded.
“The last four years, since I
signed with Calgary, have been (more stable),” he said. “When I was in
Edmonton, I went home in the off-season. I guess I’m getting used to not
seeing my family as much.”
To understand the sentiment, it
might be useful to understand Crandell’s life in Robersonville.
Growing up in very small eastern
North Carolina town creates a security blanket of sorts. The community
was very close. When his mother passed away, Crandell was just five
years old. His father moved to Charlotte, but Crandell stayed in
Robersonville with his sisters, Lecretia and Carolyn, who looked after
him as he developed academically, athletically, and spiritually.
“My sisters and I are
still so very close,” Crandell said. “Unfortunately, they don’t like
flying, so I don’t get to see them as much as I would like to. They did
come up to my wedding last year and saw me play. That was great to know
they were here.”
Ahhh, the wedding.
Though Crandell insists that his wife, Mona, was
the first to check him out, he won’t deny that he fell hook, line, and
sinker when he met her by way of a “set up” of sorts back
when he was with the Edmonton Eskimos.
“One of my teammates in Edmonton – at the time –
was dating a girl who was best friends with my wife,” he explained.
“Mona is from Saskatchewan and so was her friend. Well, (his teammate)
introduced us. We both joke about who was looking at who first, but I
say she was checking me out first.”
Whatever the true story, the two clicked and last
September they tied the knot. Then came the house, though Crandell notes
that there are no children yet.
“Family life is suiting me well,” he said. “It’s
one of those things in life where you are no longer thinking about just
yourself. You have two people to think about, and you are always keeping
your other half in mind when it comes to important decisions about life.
“We have a good life. Calgary is a great city and
we’re only about an hour away from the mountains. I did have to adjust
to the weather… it’s hot one minute and cold the next and there is not
much of a summer like in North Carolina… but it really is a great place
To hear him talk, it’s hard to believe that his
journey to being the starter in the pivot for the Calgary Stampeders
actually took him through four professional leagues, three countries,
and a lot of high hopes, dashed dreams, and reclaimed glory.
it was a wild ride.
Touring the professional ranks
Crandell was a winner in the true sense of the word
at East Carolina, where he
piled up 7,198 yards passing with 58 touchdowns to go with 443 yards
rushing and seven touchdowns on the ground. Along the way, he was nominated for
the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award in 1996. In that same season, he was
tabbed by Football News as one of the top-five “Players
Worth the Price of Admission.” Crandell was also named First Team
All-Independent Quarterback and led the Pirates to two bowl games,
including a 19-13 victory over Stanford in the 1995 Liberty Bowl.
His resume was sparkling and in the lead up to the
1997 NFL Draft, it appeared Crandell would have plenty of opportunities
to make his name in The League.
“When I was coming out of college, I talked to
Coach (John) Gruden when he was in Philadelphia,” Crandell recalled. “I
remember they were talking about it being between me and Koy Detmer as
far as the draft went. Unfortunately, I got hurt and it didn’t work out
Crandell headed for Canada, hoping to get on with a
club, prove himself, and use that corridor to the NFL.
Edmonton was the first team to
sign him, in May of ’97. For his first two seasons with the Eskimos, Crandell
got sparse time, usually in mop up.
Then came 1999, Crandell got his first
opportunity and he did not disappoint. He played in 13 games, finishing
with 767 yards passing and 75 yards rushing. He helped
take the Eskimos to the West Semi-Finals.
Playing for the
(Photo: American Football)
Despite limited action in Edmonton, it appeared
Crandell was on path to the NFL. In 2000, he signed with the Scottish
Claymores of NFL Europe league, where he split time with former
Tennessee quarterback Kevin Daft. In Europe, he completed more than 50%
of his passes for 754 yards and five touchdown passes.
“You know, playing in different leagues gave me a
lot of opportunities I might otherwise not have had,” Crandell said. “I
had never been to Europe until the Claymores. I didn’t really like
Scotland too much, but it was the only team that spoke English, which
was what I wanted. I got to see some of Europe and actually spent a
couple of weeks in Germany, which was great. I got to see the Berlin
Wall. In Scotland, I got to see where (the real) Braveheart story
took place an some of the castles around there. It was nice.”
Scotland and NFL Europe opened the door to the NFL
for Crandell, albeit a short stint. He signed with Kansas City but was
released before training camp and then went to Green Bay for training
camp, but was again released.
“Really, it is more of an opportunity issue in the
NFL,” Crandell said of making it in the the league. “Everything has to kind of
lineup right… be the right scenario. The biggest difference between the
guys in the CFL and NFL is that the guys in Canada are those guys you
hear called tweeners in college. You know, linebackers who are not sure
they are going to be linebackers or safeties. Too small or too big, lots
of guys like that. That’s the major difference.”
Out of work, Crandell saw opportunity in the novel
new Extreme Football League (XFL), started by East Carolina alum Vince
McMahon. He was selected as the first pick for the Memphis Maniax and
was the team’s starter. Though the game was fun, Crandell knew right
away it wasn’t for him.
“I never got to speak to Vince
one-on-one,” Crandell laughed. “It was different football, that is for
sure. It was fun to be playing, but I think the whole rules and the way
everyone focused on everything but the football, was unattractive. The
commentators were talking about the cheerleaders all the time. It must
have been difficult to watch on television, but it was kind of fun to
play and the crowds and fans were really great.”
Though the XFL was not enough to bring Crandell
back for another NFL run, it was enough to give him enough clout to go
full circle… back to the CFL. A week prior to the start of training camp
for the Calgary Stampeders, Crandell signed with the club as a free
Crandell had finally found a home and it wouldn’t
take long for him to make an impact. Coming out of camp as the number
two quarterback, Crandell saw his status elevated just one game into
the season when starter Ben Sankey went down with an injury. Crandell
held on to the starting role until he, himself, was sidelined with
a shoulder injury – compliments of his former CFL team, the Eskimos – in
the 10th game of the season. After a five week recovery,
Crandell was back in the starting lineup for a week 15 matchup with
Saskatchewan. He had finally established himself as the number one guy
in a professional football league.
“I had just come from playing in the XFL and I
didn’t know if I wanted to wait around for an NFL team to call me,”
Crandell said of the weeks between the short-lived stint with the Maniax and his move
back to the CFL. “At the time, Dave Dickerson (Calgary’s 2000 starter)
had just left and signed with the San Diego Chargers. I saw an
opportunity to compete for a number one job and that, really, was the
deciding factor for me.
“I knew that Calgary had a great offensive
coordinator in George Cortez – who is now at California Berkley, and I
thought that I could do well (in that environment).”
After returning to the lineup in week 15, Crandell
faced a daunting task if his team was to make the playoffs.
“It is funny in the CFL because you can have a
losing record and still get into the playoffs,” he said. “We were 8-10
and I got hurt. I came back for the last six games and had to win 5-of-6
of them to make the playoffs.”
Behind Crandell’s leadership, the Stampeders
rallied to win their way into the playoffs and more — much more. The unknown quarterback for Calgary turned the CFL upside down
with a blistering run to a CFL Championship and Most Valuable Player
recognition. En route to the 27-19 upset win over heavily favored
Winnipeg in the grand finale, Crandell lit up his opponents to the tune of 867 yards and 9
touchdown passes, connecting on 58-of-92 attempts. Overnight, Crandell
became one of the most recognizable celebrities in the City of Calgary and
perhaps in the whole of Canada.
“After we won our way into the playoffs, I guess
the rest was history,” he said. “It was one of those experiences where
we all came together at the right time and gelled. Everyone made a lot
of plays to win games, and for us to win the Grey Cup and for me to be
named the MVP, just capped it all off. Really, I was just happy to have
been given a chance.”
And he enjoyed the trappings that came along with
the new status of champion.
“It is probably not to the magnitude of the NFL,
but everybody in Calgary is into the football team,” he said. “Calgary
is a great city for football. The fans are not, like, all over you. If
you go to a restaurant or out, you’re not bombarded but people do
recognize you and encourage you. I enjoyed that.”
Still, to Crandell, it was not the NFL. So, with a
Grey Cup title in hand, Crandell hoped to parlay it into another shot in
“After that year, I did one big workout with one of
my receivers,” Crandell recalled. “Mark Boehricter and I went down to
Utah to work out with Kansas City. At this point, I had to make another
decision. I had one season starting in the CFL and had to decide if I
wanted to get into the NFL and be a camp body again or stay up here and
try to come back down later. So, I decided to re-sign with Calgary.”
With sky-high expectations riding on the hot, new
star, 2002 was a disappointment for Crandell as his team dropped
down the standings and he was not able to lead them back to the
playoffs. Though he played very well at times, just as he was the hero
in 2001, he quickly saw the other side of the starting quarterback
“There is always pressure on the quarterback to get
things going,” Crandell said. “When things aren’t going right, it is the
first position people look at. I understand that.”
Where the 2002 season was a disappointment, the
2003 season was more frustrating then anything. Each time Crandell would
get hot, he would get hurt. First, early on, he missed six games nursing
a hamstring injury. Then, when he finally got rolling again, he tore his
MCL in a game and was finished for the season.
His CFL career to date, for sure, has been an
experience that touches on all aspects of the game of football and he
has, indeed, learned a great deal. He is not yet satisfied, but he is
getting there. At the time of this interview, Crandell and his
Stampeders were struggling in the early stages of the CFL's 2004 season, looking to get things
“For us to get back on track, we have to stay
healthy,” he said with the confidence he was known for at ECU. “We’ve
had a lot of injuries this season, particularly in the receiving corps.
But, we have good coaches this year who look at the big picture and
don’t point fingers at guys. We will re-focus and turn it around.”
He has become a student of the Canadian game as
well. And he is finally enjoying a little stability in his career.
“It has been tough moving around, even when I was in
Edmonton,” he said. “I’ve had three different coaches and – the toughest
thing in my career – I’ve had a different offensive coordinator every
year. That has been the hardest adjustment to playing in the CFL. It is
difficult when you are trying to learn a new offense every season.”
Fortunately for Crandell, the CFL game is suited
well for his game, where passing is a premium and the ability for a
quarterback to understand sophisticated passing schemes is a must.
“Canadian football is a totally different game than
the NFL,” Crandell explained. “It’s managed differently and controlling
the game is different. You are working to manage a 20-second clock and
you have three downs so you’re going to pass the ball more. You see a
lot of 2-and-outs. The game is a lot more wide open and we use a base
package of five receivers. It is a much different game.”
Crandell at a crossroads
Today, Crandell finds himself at a sort of
crossroads as he is getting long in the tooth by football standards. He
is a aging 30-year-old. He is comfortable in his Calgary surroundings, with a family on the horizon and the knowledge that he is a more
than competent quarterback. But, he may have to make a decision soon
about his career.
“I’m in my option year this year,” he said. “I will
be a free agent after this season. My dreams are still to play in the
NFL, but I am not getting any younger. If anything is going to happen,
it will be in the next year. With all of the life changes I am going
through, I am going to have to make some (career) decisions.”
Marcus Crandell takes
the time to make celebrity appearances
for charities in Canada.
Crandell has put down roots in Calgary and it might
not be so easy for him to leave should an NFL team call. He spends
his off-season as an ambassador of football, so to speak, coordinating
and coaching a traveling football camp called Next Level Sports. Kids
have come to depend on their hero year-in and year-out to be there for
“A few of us put together a camp for Calgary and
surrounding cities in Alberta,” he said of Next Level Sports. “We put
the kids through drills and we coach them on techniques. There are
different age groups. The kids really love getting close to the players.
When I was growing up, I never had a chance to experience this type of
football camp, so I really enjoy doing this here. We keep expanding the
(reach of) the camp each year.”
Outside of football, Crandell says that he loves to
golf and is trying to “become a golfer.”
And, he still follows his Pirates. He is very
hooked into the program and is still very close with some of his former
teammates and some of his comrades north of the border.
“When I was in Edmonton, it was very exciting for
me to play with a guy I used to watch at East Carolina when I was
growing up,” Crandell said. “I remember Henry (Gizmo Williams) doing
flips. It was a real honor for me when I met him. You know, he still
keeps up with ECU, too, and we would always look to see (what players)
were at East Carolina and we would brag about our team.”
Crandell has also become good friends with Keith
“I was real happy to see Keith come into the
league,” Crandell said. “To see him doing the things he is doing here
He has remained close to teammates Larry Shannon,
E.J. Gunthrope, and Mitchell Galloway. And, as expected, he has remained
close to his former coach and mentor Steve Logan.
“In high school, I really, really wanted to go to
UNC,” Crandell said. “But there were two deciding factors when it came
to East Carolina. After talking to Coach Logan, I felt that he was
really straight and true with me. I was never a defensive back, I was a
quarterback, and Coach Logan gave me that chance. The other reason, which
most people who know me understand, was my family. With those two
factors, there was not much for me to think about when it came to
choosing East Carolina.”
Despite the changes in the program since he left,
Crandell feels good about his Pirates.
“I think that Coach (John) Thompson is going to do
a great job of turning that program around,” Crandell said. “He is one
of those coaches that will do anything he can. It has been sad to see
what we’ve been through over the last few years, but I believe ECU has
the right coach.”
And, Crandell also believes that he has the right
situation now…after too many seasons of uncertainty.
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