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Looking back, looking forward Canadian-born and trained long snapper Jean-Philippe Darche beat long odds to make it to the Super Bowl, ALLAN MAKI writes

Canadian-born and trained long snapper Jean-Philippe Darche beat long odds to make it to the Super Bowl, ALLAN MAKI writes

He figured he was in over his head and his friends agreed. Their advice was: when he got to Seattle and tried out for the Seahawks, he should take as many Seahawks T-shirts and sweat pants as he could stuff into his gym bag. For souvenirs. Just to say he'd actually been there.

No one wanted to be a pessimist, but there was no denying the obvious. Jean-Philippe Darche was Canadian-born and trained in three-down football. He was hardly big (six foot, 246 pounds) and hardly distinguishable from the half-dozen other prospects brought to Seattle's National Football League training facility that day.

Worse yet, Darche was coming off a broken leg, which meant he had to inform his evaluators he couldn't run. That was okay, they assured him. Just bend over that football and snap it.

So he did, and he got a contract. Six years later, Darche is hoping to collect another souvenir, one he can proudly show to his friends back home in Montreal -- a Super Bowl ring.

Mind you, just being in Sunday's Super Bowl XL against the Pittsburgh Steelers is an eyebrow-raising accomplishment for a guy who played one year in the Canadian Football League, broke his leg, never really thought of a career in the NFL and who now thinks of himself as something of a novelty.

"I might be the first medical student to get to the Super Bowl," he said cheerfully. "I don't know, [but] the odds are pretty good."

This is the beautiful thing about J.P. Darche, long-snapper/special-teams player for the National Football Conference champion Seahawks: he never dreamed he'd be in the NFL. The Super Bowl? That was something he and his buddies got together to watch over nachos and beer.

Being a doctor was Darche's goal. He'd already earned a bachelor of science at McGill University and was two years into his medical degree when his agent called and said: "I have a tryout for you in Seattle. Couldn't hurt to go."

Darche went with no expectations, other than to stuff his gym bag with T-shirts that read Property of the Seattle Seahawks. But he got a contract offer, then two years turned into three and three turned into six and, all of a sudden, Darche was a 30-year-old NFL veteran and his team was bound for glory. And it all happened because a teammate on the Toronto Argonauts fell on his leg.

"It was on a punt or a kickoff, I can't remember," Darche said. "I was coming down the field and some guy on our team landed on my leg and snapped my fibula. It was the first game. . . .

"The irony of the whole thing is there are tons of guys who want to be in the NFL. That's the dream, and you could find thousands of guys who didn't make it. Here I am. I didn't think about it. I didn't consider it. Now, I'm going to the Super Bowl."

Darche became a good university player despite the fact he knew little about football until he was 14. While at McGill, he was awarded the Russ Jackson Trophy for his on-field abilities, scholastic achievements and off-field charity work. The Argos drafted him with the 21st pick overall in 1998, and he took a year's leave of absence from medical school to play in the CFL.

So far, that one-year absence has stretched to seven, meaning Darche has enjoyed the longest NFL career of any Canadian university player aside from Queen's offensive lineman Mike Schad, who spent 10 years with three teams as an NFL first-round draft pick. And for the record, Darche joins a growing list of Canadians to have played in a Super Bowl, a lineup that includes kickers Roy Gerela, Steve Christie, Ken Clark, Eddie Murray, quarterback Mark Rypien, tight end O.J. Santiago and linebacker Mike Labinjo. Of that group, Gerela, Murray and Rypien have all won Super Bowls.

While Darche would love to be known as part of that select crowd, he insisted his primary goal is to help Seattle win its first Super Bowl. To do that, he said, would "make a lot of people happy." That would include his brother, Mathieu, a former National Hockey League draft pick now playing for the Duisburg Foxes of the German elite league. And don't forget Darche's beer-and-nachos buddies back in Montreal, especially the ones who thought his trip to Seattle six years ago would be short and sour.

"It's almost surreal," Darche said of his story. "Seattle was looking for a snapper. I came in . . . it happened. The dream becomes bigger and bigger."

Going on XL.

amaki@globeandmail.com

J.P. Darche

Born: Feb. 28, 1975.

Hometown: Montreal.

Residence: Seattle.

Seasons in the NFL: Six.

Highlights: Signed as a free agent by the Seattle Seahawks in 2000; has never missed a game with the Seahawks; drafted by the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts in 1998; played Canadian Interuniversity Sport football at McGill where he was named the team's most valuable player in 1998; was a five-time academic all-Canadian for maintaining a grade-point average above 3.5 (out of a possible 4).

Personal: Wife, Joanne, played volleyball at Université de Montréal; has three children; brother, Mathieu, has played for the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators of the NHL.

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