Silver linings playbook: A Centennial grad’s lost season on the field finds new purpose in his heart

The COVID-19 pandemic stole Michael Couture’s football season.

But it gave the 26-year-old Centennial secondary grad something much more important — time.

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Time to let his body rest and heal up from five seasons playing the offensive line for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Time to enjoy the team’s Canadian Football League championship in last December’s Grey Cup.

Time to spend with the man who got him started in football and cheered him from the stands or from his living room watching TV every step of his journey in the sport, his dad, Dan.

And time to grieve Dan’s passing from cancer just a week after Father’s Day.

Had the public health emergency not delayed — and ultimately cancelled — the CFL’s 2020 season, Couture would have just finished playing the Bombers’ season opener against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats the day before.

Couture said he can’t imagine what it would have been like getting that news over the phone from halfway across the country.

“It would have been a difficult time,” he said.

Instead, Couture was able to spend the time he would have used getting ready for the season, then traveling from his apartment in Coquitlam to Winnipeg for training camp, hanging out with his dad and his dog in North Vancouver, ordering take-out, watching and talking football.

The sport cemented the special bond between father and son. Dan had season’s tickets for the BC Lions and they often attended games together, including the Grey Cup at BC Place when Michael was 11.

After the family split apart, Dan wanted to find a healthy activity that would strengthen their relationship.

Naturally, Michael chose football.

Though Couture lived with his mom, his dad was on the sidelines for every one of his minor football games in North Vancouver and then when he transferred to Centennial to hitch his wagon to a Centaurs squad that was perennially ranked among the best high school teams in the province in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s.

It was when Couture played for the Simon Fraser University Clan, where he was named the team’s top lineman and an Eastern Conference all-star in 2012, the dream of a pro football career became a real possibility.

Draft day

The day of the 2016 CFL draft, Couture’s dad gathered friends and family at his home to watch the proceedings on TV. When Michael’s name was called by the Blue Bombers early in the second round — 10th overall — “I completely jumped out of my seat,” he said.

His dad was originally from Winnipeg. In fact, his first job was sweeping the stands at the Bombers’ old stadium.

“It was a dream come true for all of us,” Michael said.

Dan Couture’s cancer was diagnosed earlier in 2019, but he didn’t let his son know of its severity — and finality — until a phone call on the day of the Bombers’ regular season finale, a game in which Michael suffered a season-ending injury to his ankle.

“He was going to wait until l got home,” he said. “But he had to get it off his chest to me.”

Michael’s physical pain paled to the ache he felt in his heart.

Greatest day

As the Bombers rolled through the playoffs to earn a berth in the Grey Cup final in Calgary, Couture made arrangements with an uncle to get his father to the big game. Even if he couldn’t play, he wanted to give Dan the gift of sharing his championship moment.

When the Bombers prevailed 33-12 over the Tiger-Cats to win its first title in 28 years, Couture looked high into the grandstands for his dad. He said the crowd parted, “like the Red Sea,” and they locked eyes.

“He really had a front row seat to the greatest day in my life.”

Couture brought his dad down to the locker room to share in the revelry and pose for a photo with the historic trophy that’s been contested for 100 years.

“It seemed like everything fit in the way it should,” Couture said.

Back in Coquitlam for the off-season, Michael spent as much time as he could with his dad, even helping out as Dan continued running his landscaping business as long as his health allowed.

“I saw him more in the last four months than in the past four years,” Couture said.

When the pandemic extended their time together even more, it was like a little blessing.

“This whole pandemic has been so negative, but I try to look at in the most positive way I can,” Couture said. “Everything happens for a reason.”

In August, Michael got another gift. Actually, he had to pick it up from a postal depot in a drug store near his Town Centre apartment.

It was his Grey Cup ring, sent by Canada Post instead of distributed at a raucous team dinner before training camp. On the side are engraved the initials of the people who’ve most shaped his life, his mom, his stepmom and, of course, his dad.

“It’s a huge void,” Couture said of Dan’s death. “Whenever I get to see the ring, I get to see their names.”

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