Nik Lewis has to think about it. The last time he had one catch in a game. Against Edmonton, once, he remembers a one-catch game. But he quickly adds he has never been held to single-digit yardage.
So as the Calgary Stampeders outplayed the B.C. Lions last Sunday to win the West Division final, the most unusual statistic was the line beside Lewis’s name: one catch, four yards.
The seemingly poor showing came after the West semi-final, when Lewis had four catches for just 28 yards against Saskatchewan.
But for Lewis – one of the CFL’s great receivers – the lack of yardage or touchdowns is no cause for concern. The 30-year-old slotback knows the Lions and the Roughriders focused defensive efforts on him, which freed up other receivers to make big plays, especially against B.C., when major passing plays to the likes of Maurice Price, Marquay McDaniel, and Romby Bryant propelled Calgary to victory.
Lewis, too, was a force, though it’s not tallied in the stats. The 5-foot-10, 240-pound slotback was part of Calgary’s effort to neuter the pass rush of the Lions, who led the CFL in sacks in 2012 but couldn’t get to quarterback Kevin Glenn last Sunday.
“I was one of the happiest people in the locker room,” Lewis said of the victory against B.C., after the Stamps practice on Friday. “I understand what it means to be here, and how hard it is to get here.”
This is Lewis’s second Grey Cup. In his first time in the big game, in 2008, he played a key role, making 11 catches for 122 yards as Calgary defeated Montreal.
Against the Argos, Lewis knows Toronto will put resources into shutting him down.
“I know they’ll throw a lot of different looks and double me,” Lewis said. “They can’t double me every play and if they do then I feel confident in our other playmakers on this team. I feel they can get it done just as well as I can.”
The Calgary receiver squad has stepped up as Lewis has been contained. Maurice Price, a 27-year-old wide receiver who was injured much of the year, has delivered back-to-back 117-yard games in the playoffs. Price came back to the Stampeders this year after bouncing around the NFL, Tampa Bay, Washington and Baltimore. Price was on the Calgary practice roster for a couple of months in 2009, and again was in the NFL previous to that.
“I like my receiving core over anybody – and that’s anybody in the CFL, the NFL, I like my group,” Price said. “We’re together, we’re all for one, and we play for each other. Nik gets a lot of attention. As a result it’s freeing up other guys.”
Glenn joked that he has a running bet with Lewis and if the slotback doesn’t have at least five catches in a game, Lewis has to cough up cash to the quarterback.
“People get worried about Nik so much that other guys get a chance to shine,” Glenn said. “He’s still Nik Lewis if he has eight catches or has one.”
Glenn also saluted Lewis’s blocking.
“He does it all. He’s the guy that’s in the trenches with the offensive lineman blocking – but he’s also the guy on second and long, the big clutch catch across the middle.”
Lewis this year delivered his ninth consecutive season of 1,000-plus receiving yards, which is the second-most in CFL history, tied with Geroy Simon, and behind Terry Vaughn’s 11 seasons. Lewis this season also cracked 10,000 yards, and his 10,473 rank No. 13 career, and his 736 receptions put him at No. 10. His 100 catches in 2012 is a career best, and his 10 touchdowns matched his career best from 2008 – the last time the Stamps won the Grey Cup.
But he says he doesn’t think much about records, such as the career yardage mark Simon set at the start of the season. But Vaughn’s mark is one Lewis would like to crack, which demands three more years of good health and 1,000 yards receiving.
“If I can do the 12-straight 1,000s, I am pretty sure I would call it a career after the next three years. Body feels great right now. But if I stay healthy and things are going well, it’s going to be real hard to walk away, because I love the competition.”