Only one of the 42 players on Tennessee’s 1998 national championship team who played professionally is a candidate for a football hall of fame.
Jeremaine Copeland, eh?
Yes, the loquacious wide receiver is still talking, still catching passes like he did at Tennessee. Only Copeland does his work north of the border for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League, where he’s become a hero to Canadians and possibly a future member of the CFL Hall of Fame.
During a recent Stampeders home game, one fan wore a red shirt with “Copeland is God” plastered across the front.
“No, I never thought it would turn out this great,” Copeland said by phone from Edmonton, where Calgary plays tonight. “I thought I would play a couple of years and come back to the States for the NFL or Arena Football. But I got here and started playing, and man, I was loved by a lot of people. It’s a little different when everyone respects you and is talking about you as one of the best to ever play the game.”
Copeland, 31, lives in Calgary full time and got married last Saturday. He was a CFL all-star in 2003 and 2004 and led Calgary in receiving yards last season.
To understand Copeland’s excitement about Canada, you first must understand how he got there. After hauling in 103 passes for 1,301 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Vols, he spent time on the Tennessee Titans practice roster, played in NFL Europe, helped win an XFL championship with Los Angeles and got cut by the Dallas Cowboys twice.
Citing too many politics in the NFL, Copeland went to Canada and promptly won a Grey Cup with Montreal in 2002. Copeland said he still keeps in touch with his old roommate at Tennessee, Billy Ratliff, and watches the Vols on occasion.
“I’ve seen kind of a difference now with that team,” Copeland said. “I played with guys that were serious business. Everybody around when I was there was hard-nosed, like Leonard Little and Al Wilson and Peerless Price — you can go on down the line forever. I don’t think they can match our talent level back in the day.
“One of my best memories was finally beating Florida, to tell you the truth. When they carried the goal posts down the Strip after we beat Florida in ’98, that was one of the best things ever.”
Just as exciting, however, would be an induction into the CFL Hall of Fame. The only difference would be more coats and Canadian accents.
“Canadians are awesome. They’re the nicest people around when it comes down to it,” said Copeland, who’s from Harriman, Tenn. “It’s been nothing but peaches ’n’ cream, baby. I’m loving it. Hopefully, I can get in the Hall of Fame when it’s all said and done.”