It was a game worth celebrating for the Calgary Stampeders. Not only had they beaten the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers on a late and dramatic field goal, the victory had assured the Stampeders a berth in November's Grey Cup run.
So several Calgary players, including practice roster defensive back Mylan Hicks, met at the Marquee Beer Market. Hours later, police would find Mr. Hicks sprawled outside the nightclub, a gunshot victim who was rushed to Foothills hospital, where he died. He was 23.
Among the questions as to what transpired in the Beer Market, are who said what to whom and why it spilled outside at 2:30 a.m. Sunday. For now, the lone certainty is that the Stampeders have lost a talented young player who was being groomed for a starring Canadian Football League career.
Calgary police said Sunday afternoon they are still investigating and have three suspects in custody. The police have also asked the public to step forward if anyone has video of the incident. Inspector Don Coleman said one of the three men being held is known to police.
At McMahon Stadium, management and players alike were stunned by the emotional change in their fortunes.
"Everyone is grief stricken, hurting and we all have to heal," said John Hufnagel, the Stampeders' general manager.
Defensive back Joshua Bell added that Mr. Hicks was family and that the Stampeders have to come together as a family. "We lost family today," Mr. Bell added. "Everybody doesn't react the same, but we lost family, we're hurting. We're shaken a little bit … We're leaning on each other right now."
News of Mr. Hicks's death set off a deluge of condolences. Hundreds of e-mails, tweets and Facebook postings came from CFL teams, including a good number from Michigan State Spartan football fans who recalled Mr. Hicks as a versatile defender. It was upsetting to all that such a young athlete was snuffed too soon, leaving an unfulfilled void where a great career – and life – could have been.
"The loss of this 23-year-old young man at this stage of his life and his career is an unfathomable tragedy," said Ken King, president and CEO of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp.
Mr. Hicks was a big deal in Michigan. He was a highly sought after player coming out of Detroit's Renaissance High School. He chose Michigan State and helped the Spartans to a successful era. His best game came in the team's Cotton Bowl win over Baylor University.
From there, Mr. Hicks signed with the San Francisco 49ers, then was released. He agreed to a contract with the Stampeders in May and showed a glimpse of his raw ability in a preseason game.
Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell noted how quickly things had changed.
"Everybody's talking about when's the next time we're going to lose. Last night we had the most devastating loss we could," he said. "Football doesn't even seem important right now. Don't make this about us and the rest of the season and how we deal with it. We're going to honour him as much as we can and play for him and his family."
With a report from The Canadian Press