CALGARY — Given his professional career filled with awards and records, controversy and championships, Nik Lewis says his rookie season feels like a distant memory.
“Like a million years ago,” said Lewis, the CFL’s all-time reception leader, before his Montreal Alouettes faced the Stampeders on Friday in Calgary. “Because so many things occur throughout a career, positive and negative, it seems so long ago.”
Some details, however, remain vivid. Lewis can precisely recall the circumstances of his first reception. On June 20, 2004 at Regina’s Taylor Field — as a member of the Stampeders, with quarterback Marcus Crandell at the helm — he got his mitts on a pass.
“I ran a 10-yard out … broke two tackles,” Lewis said of the 19-yard gain against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. “I got up screaming. It was kind of, ‘Nik is here.”’
Who could have predicted that there would be 1,047 more catches, 13,729 more yards? That there would be nine straight 1,000-yard campaigns, 71 touchdowns? That there would be top-rookie honours, two Grey Cups and six all-star nods?
“Those numbers are crazy,” said the 35-year-old Lewis, in his third year with the Alouettes. “When you’re thinking about catching three, five, six balls a game, it’s crazy to think you’re going to catch a thousand and be around for 200-plus games.”
It’s nearly time to let the ink dry on the slotback’s portfolio as he makes perhaps his final visit to McMahon Stadium. After all, he is “98 per cent” sure this is his last season.
Anticlimactically, a lower-body injury will keep him on the sidelines. Nevertheless, the Stamps plan to acknowledge Lewis during the game.
“Obviously, you want to see the guy play, right?” said Calgary receiver Anthony Parker. “That said, to be able to come back to where it started, especially late in the season, and get a chance to toast the fans … I have no doubt the fans are going to show him awesome respect.
“For him to be here is still going to mean a ton.”
Hard-nosed, soft-handed and increasingly wide-bodied — “I’ve made the joke that I’m the first receiver to have a thousand yards in eight different weight classes,” he told reporters in 2012 — Lewis endeared himself to the Stamps faithful for 11 years.
“There’s a lot of love and respect between me and the fans,” said Lewis, who, naturally, has his own fan club. “I’m looking forward to Nik Lewis Nation’s tailgate party and seeing the Nation, hanging out with the fans and the people and my friends. Just enjoying myself. Just immersing myself back in Calgary.”
Between player and city, though, it had hardly been love at first sight.
“I hated it,” said Lewis, a Mineral Wells, Texas, native. “Third day of rookie camp … the sun was out. It was hot, then it started snowing, then it hailed — all in the same day. I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to get out of here.”’
But he stayed put, sharing an apartment with fellow freshman Sulecio Sanford.
Sanford left after one year. Lewis, on the other hand, stood the test of time, becoming a household name in Canada.
“There’s so much turnover,” he said. “Think of all the receivers I played with. For me to still be here? It’s truly amazing.”
Maybe it’s not a surprise when his backstory, a picture of determination, is considered.
After high school in Jacksboro, Texas, Lewis had no college offers, so he walked on with a NCAA Div. 2 school, the Southern Arkansas University Muleriders.
After college, there were no pro offers, so he participated in one of the Stamps’ talent camps. Of more than a hundred hopefuls, Lewis was the only one to merit a contract.
“When I came to Calgary, I was set to do what I could do,” said Lewis. “I’m very proud of what I’ve done. Everything I ever got, I’ve pretty much built myself.
“Creating a name for yourself in college and creating a name for yourself in the CFL is basically my life in a nutshell.”
NOTES: Calgary RB Jerome Messam (knee) is out. Rookie RB Terry Williams takes his place.