Quebec native Antony Auclair could taste Super Bowl glory tonight
Tight end Antony Auclair will become the 17th Canadian to appear in a Super Bowl
There are about 1,700 people in Notre-Dame-des-Pins, a small municipality in Quebec's Beauce region, and chances are on Sunday night they will all be watching the Super Bowl.
The community's claim to fame, aside from a picturesque covered bridge crossing the Chaudière River, is Antony Auclair, a six-foot-six, 256-pound tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Auclair's success is a major point of pride for the town of Notre-Dame-des-Pins. Strung up along the side of Highway 173 is a banner that cheers on Auclair's team.
The town's mayor, Lyne Bourque, wears a signed Buccaneers mask as a show of support.
Now in his fourth season with Tampa Bay, Auclair signed with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2017 after playing at Laval University in Quebec City.
If Laurent Duvernay-Tardif hadn't opted out of the NFL season to work on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis in Quebec, two of the province's homegrown football pros would be facing off as the Buccaneers go up against last year's champs, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Following in the footsteps of Duvernay-Tardif, Auclair will become the 17th Canadian to appear in a Super Bowl, though there's a good chance he won't get playing time because he's not on the starting line.
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
Auclair's younger brother Adam, a defensive back for the Ottawa Redblacks, is in Tampa Bay to cheer on his brother's team in person.
"It's kind of crazy to live this with my brother," he told CBC's All in a Weekend. "I'm pretty excited about the game. I'm excited to feel the vibe of the Super Bowl even if there are less fans in the building."
Adam said he wasn't sure about travelling to the U.S. because of the pandemic restrictions, but he ultimately decided that this was a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" he couldn't pass up.
Beyond that, he said everyone who will be in attendance at the game has to present a COVID-19 negative test.
Auclair's parents will be watching from their home in Notre-Dame-des-Pins, and according to Adam, "they are going to be really, really close to the TV."
Hard work pays off
Auclair is one of a handful of people who have graduated from playing football at a Canadian university to securing a spot in the NFL.
Adam attributes his brother's success to his work ethic, saying he is one of the hardest working members of the team.
"When I was playing with him at Laval, he was always, after every practice, going to the gym. Or studying plays before he went to bed. He was always giving more than anyone else on the team. And he's also a great leader, he's a leader who will show by example and I think that's what the coaches over there liked about him."
This sentiment is echoed by Auclair's former coaches.
"He always wanted to know more. He always wanted to work harder than everyone else. He was often the first in the field," said Mathieu Bertrand, special teams co-ordinator for the Laval Rouge et Or. "Going to the NFL is one thing, but staying there for four years is another."
"My biggest dream now is that he can bring the Super Bowl trophy back to PEPS (Pavillon de l'éducation physique et des sports de l'Université Laval) sometime in the spring," said head coach Glen Constantin.
True to form, Adam says Auclair is extremely focused ahead of the game.
"Even if he is probably not going to play this weekend, he is ready to play if his name gets called," said Adam.
"I told him to enjoy every moment and I think that is really what he's going to do. Even if he's not playing, it's a really big accomplishment that he's going to be there."
With files from All in a Weekend, Radio-Canada's Guillaume Piedboeuf