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Explosion hits home for Tafralis

Andrew Bucholtz
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The horrible story of yesterday's explosion in San Bruno, California (damage pictured above) has a CFL connection, as Jeff Blair of The Globe and Mail relates. One of the victims who was hospitalized is the father of Hamilton Tiger-Cats' third-string quarterback Adam Tafralis, and Tafralis' family home was destroyed in the blast.

If Tafralis wasn't involved in the Tiger-Cats' offence, it seems likely the team would immediately let him go home to be with his family. Notwithstanding his third-string status, though, he does have a role to play on the field. Despite losing his place as Hamilton's regular short-yardage quarterback to Quinton Porter earlier this season, Tafralis has been Hamilton's regular holder for both field goals and converts. Tiger-Cats' head coach Marcel Bellefeuille told Blair Tafralis will be in uniform for Saturday's crucial East Division clash against Monteal, and will likely continue that duty then. Bellefeuille said Tafralis will be able to go home after the game, and the team won't put pressure on him to return quickly. "He'll leave after the game and take as long as he needs to take care of things."

According to a Tiger-Cats' spokesman quoted in Blair's article, the condition that caused Tafralis' father Gregg to be hospitalized is not life-threatening. You have to imagine his father's health and the destruction of his family's home is still going to weigh heavily on Tafralis' mind, though, and that makes the apparent decision to keep him as the holder for Saturday's game at least somewhat questionable. Holding involves just as many mental elements as physical ones, and you might think it could be easier to use a backup holder than rely on someone whose mind could understandably be diverted elsewhere. That's particularly the case when the game's as important as this one, which could go a long way towards determining Eastern playoff positions.

On the other side, though, there's quite a long history of football players participating in games after tragedies. Probably the most famous occurrence came when Brett Favre threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns a day after his father's death to lead the Green Bay Packers over the Oakland Raiders. Another case happened when Joe Jurevicius was torn between football and spending time with his critically ill infant son during the 2003 NFL playoffs; his son eventually died in March of that year.

At the NCAA level, Marshall University revived its football program under Jack Lengyel after a 1970 plane crash killed 37 of its players and five of its coaches; that story was later turned intothe 2006 movie We Are Marshall. Three Phillips brothers are playing NCAA football this year in honour of their father, Bill, after his death in a plane crash last summer. The Wyoming team's also struggling through the death of linebacker Ruben Narcisse and the injuries of several other players in a car crash Monday, and will play tomorrow's game with thoughts of Narcisse on their minds.

Closer to home, four Saskatchewan Roughriders players and Calvin Jones of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were killed in the Mt. Slesse plane crash on their way home from the first East-West All-Star game in December of 1956. That was before the official formation of the CFL, but two weeks after the Western Inter-Provincial Football Union champion Edmonton Eskimos beat the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union champion Montreal Alouettes for the Grey Cup; the two leagues got together as the Canadian Football Council that year and eventually combined to form the CFL in 1958. The crash sent shockwaves across Canadian football, but didn't postpone any games, as it came after the last contest of the year.

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More recently, Argonauts' defensive tackle Eric Taylor made the difficult choice to play the same day his father died of heart failure and Saskatchewan defensive tackle Keith Shologan persevered in football after two younger sisters died in 2001 a car crash. On the other end of the scale, B.C. safety J.R. LaRose took compassionate leave from the Edmonton Eskimos after the drowning death of his cousin's five-year-old son in 2008.

Those stories show that there's no universal way to deal with tragedy. For some, their football team becomes a family and a support network, and continuing to play can be helpful. For others, it may be better to take time off from the game and be with their family. It looks like Tafralis (pictured, right) may try to combine elements of both approaches. I'm sure CFL fans across the country will be wishing him and his family all the best as he takes the field Saturday.

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