Brian Bratton watched Super Bowl XLIII on television and felt like he'd just been there himself.
"I saw the guys crying and the crowd and the energy and I understood what those guys were going through," said the former Lakeside High football star. "I don't think it was that big a difference."
Just more than two months before the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals met in the biggest sports spectacle in North America, Bratton played a part in the continent's other pro football championship. The Grey Cup is the Super Bowl of the Canadian Football League, and Bratton's Montreal Alouettes faced the Calgary Stampeders.
"To come out of the tunnel and be introduced as a starter in front of 78,000 people was an awesome experience," said Bratton of a moment that can be seen on his web site BrianBratton85.com. "I was truly blessed to be part of the Grey Cup. No matter what sport or league you play, everyone wants to be in the championship game. So I understand what those guys were going through at the Super Bowl -- to work so hard, to go through a whole season, to get beat up, I understand all the emotions."
Bratton was the fourth receiver and kick returner for the Alouettes, a role that grew throughout the course of his second CFL season. Montreal was playing host to the Grey Cup and fell 22-14 to Calgary.
The experience was the fulfillment of a dream for the Furman grad -- even if it wasn't in the championship game he aspired to as a child.
"When I was a kid I told my mom that I'd play pro football and play in the big game," said Bratton, whose parents Stephen and Helen attended the Grey Cup. "She reminded me of that and that's what I did. God's got a plan for your life and my route happens to be in the CFL."
That plan will continue for Bratton, who on Sunday signed a two-year contract extension with the Alouettes with the option of a third season. After brief stints with the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens, he considers Canada his football base now.
"I'm pleased with the deal," he said Tuesday from his off-season home in Greenville, S.C. "I've had a good time in Montreal. My teammates, my coaches and the community have embraced me. My agent and I contemplated a few things (in the NFL), but when it came down to it God's plan for me now is in Montreal."
Bratton studied Spanish in high school at Lakeside and again at Furman. It didn't do him much good when the Ravens assigned him to NFL Europe in 2006 to play for the Cologne Centurions in Germany. Now he's playing in a town where French is the predominant language among the locals.
"I'm picking up enough French to get by," he said after two seasons in Montreal. "Out of respect I try to learn other people's cultures and languages just as if someone came here I'd hope they'd learn ours. By the time I'm done I'll be multilingual."
While his pro sports experiences have largely been outside the country, Bratton never feels too disconnected from Augusta, where his parents still live. Along with pro stars and coaches in major sports from golf to basketball to boxing to baseball to football, he feels like he's an extension of the Augusta label.
"I try to tell people that Augusta is a hot spot for sports," he said. "I hope the community takes pride that we're all out there trying to keep Augusta front and center."
Bratton hopes to be more front and center in 2009. Two seasons after escaping the Arena Football league in Nashville, Tenn., to make the squad in Montreal, he caught 54 passes for 636 yards and seven touchdowns last year on a team that had three 1,000-yard receivers. Bratton believes his role evolved into something larger as the season wore on.
"I did really well in the second half of the season," he said. "We could have had four 1,000-yard receivers."
With the vast majority of players returning in 2009, Bratton believes another opportunity to participate in the big game will be in the team's future.
"We came up a little short this time, but God's got something else right around the corner," he said.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.