Ticats get their man

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

Stevie Baggs didn't find his pot of gold at the end of the National Football League rainbow when he was cut two weeks ago by the Arizona Cardinals.

But the Hamilton Tiger- Cats presented him with a nice consolation prize yesterday signing the flamboyant defensive end.

Baggs said all the usual things about how wonderful his new teammates are and how much he loves the idea of coming to Hamilton. The Mutual Admiration Choir was in fine voice with general manager Bob O'Billovich praising Baggs' athletic ability and he called him a "character guy". Quarterback Kevin Glenn noted that as teammates go, he's gold.

Baggs even hinted that it wasn't about the money, noting the deal brings him east and closer to home. "It's the first time in seven years as a pro that my grandmother (Rosa) can come up from Florida. To be able to have my family come up and watch me play is going to be big." His mother, Lola Robinson, lives in Atlanta, which isn't exactly a direct connection to Regina where he played last season.

Still, when it came down to a final decision Baggs admitted -- and good on him -- that "it was just a business decision." The family angle is the icing on the cake.

And, the cake is substantial -- a reported $400,000 over two years plus an option, although the team didn't release any figures.

"It's been tedious being released by the Cardinals and waiting for phone calls," said Baggs, who arrived in Hamilton yesterday but won't play this weekend in B.C.

While every CFL team talked to his agent and there were offers from Montreal and Saskatchewan, Baggs said they weren't as good as the Hamilton offer.

Coach Marcel Bellefeuille said he'll rotate Baggs with Justin Hickman and Garrett McIntyre, although it does open the possibility of future moves. And, yes-t erday, the club

dumped defensive end Khari Long to make room for Baggs.

So, while Baggs brings enthusiasm, intensity, an improved pass rush--not to mention a really neat nickname-- he also brings some disruption to team chemistry.

"Obviously someone else has to go to make room," said Bellefeuille, addressing the sadder side of player transactions. "That's the difficult part when these things happen this late in the season; especially a player who has been with you most of the season. There's always a give and take, a risk-reward. At the end of the day, our players under-s tand that him being here benefits everyone."

A CFL all-star last year, Baggs' 12 sacks tied for the league lead with Ricky Foley. He also had 55 tackles.

He's outstanding getting to the quarterback and the intensity and energy he brings to a defence is just going to elevate everyone around him," said Bellefeuille. "Not only is he productive but he'll elevate everyone around him."

O'Billovich may have handed out big money but he's also expecting a big return. "The passing game is such a big part of games and he's a quality pass rush guy," O'Billovich said. "Hamilton has always been recognized for having tough defensive teams. He's a high energy guy and if we can get the team playing that way, and get the fans excited like they used to be, it's a deal that makes sense."

Meantime, in Saskatchewan, it makes no sense. Baggs has gone from hero to Benedict Arnold.

"They're really upset right now and if you look at my twitter you can tell," said Baggs, chuckling. "If there was anything that hurts about this business, it's that those fans and I had a really close connection. I let a lot of those fans down but this is a great game and a messed up business as we all know. It's a part of the culture and something we've all had to deal with and I've been on the short end of the stick business-wise plenty of times. It's unfortunate."

But he didn't look too overwrought, grinning broadly as he donned a Ticats' hat and team colours at an impromptu news conference.

"I've got a lot of friends on this team, like Kevin Glenn from our days in Winnipeg and I played under coach Marshall's defence there so I'm comfortable with that. It's closer to home and I'm looking forward to living up to my nickname and endearing myself to the Tiger-Cats' fans."

And that nickname would be?

"It's Shakespeare," he said. "I got it in college because all I do is make plays."

bill.lankhof@sunmedia.ca


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