Sean Millington emerged first out of the Argos locker room on Saturday after Toronto's big win over the Montreal Alouettes, a crutch under each arm, his season over and his future in doubt.
Millington suffered a ruptured Achilles heel in his right foot in the second quarter. A brave warrior who ended a retirement after more than two years because he still was hungry to play the game, Millington has now paid the price with an injury that will test his mental, physical, emotional and spiritual resolve.
"I'm going to come in, get this thing repaired and just do the work necessary to get it back," Millington said.
It was after last year's Grey Cup, which the Argos won, that Millington began thinking about a comeback after retiring following the 2002 season with the B.C. Lions. The Argos had a need for his services because in his 12-year career he proved he could run and block with power. With John Avery's slashing style and Millington's power game, the Argos had a solid duo in the backfield. And when Avery suffered a slight hamstring tear in the Argos' 35-32 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Oct. 16, the signing of Millington paid immediate dividends. He stepped in and stepped up.
Avery may be ready for Thursday's game at the Rogers Centre against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, although a wonky hamstring usually requires at least a little more than the prescribed healing time because if aggravated the injury could be more substantial.
York University graduate Jeff Johnson, who filled in admirably for Millington on Saturday, could move up to the No. 1 slot if the Argos medical staff feels Avery needs additional healing time. If the Argos win one of their final two games, they wrap up first place in the East and would then prepare for the East Division finale Nov. 20. Rushing Avery into action could be a short-term solution with potential long-term ramifications.
While the Argos have a plethora of Canadian running backs, including John Williams and rookie Bryan Crawford, they may elect at some point to sign an American as insurance.
In the meantime, Millington faces surgery. A ruptured Achilles heel is one of the most difficult injuries to overcome. He faces a personal physical hell, and even though he is a slave to conditioning, this is tough.
He'll likely go through emotional pain now. In a team sport, an athlete who suffers an injury could feel left out because he cannot participate. Millington will still try to feel a part of the team, albeit in a different role, as it moves forward in its quest to win back-to-back Grey Cups.
"This is what we expected and this is what I expected and it's great to see the guys having success," he said. "I wouldn't want it any other way. I'd like to see everyone else playing well and winning games and obviously I'd like to be a part of that, but at least I'd like to see the rest of the guys get there."
Next February Millington will turn 38, an age in which most athletes have retired.
Millington became an analyst in the CBC's coverage of Canadian Football League games the past two years and also has acting and personal training on his resume. He has a wife and a young child whom he has been separated from during his return to playing and that has been hard.
He easily could go back to his previous life, particularly after taking the time to heal his injured heel. There is no guarantee the Argos will bring him back because there are no guarantees in sport. But Millington is a spiritual person and will let his faith guide his future.
There are some things that are stronger than a bum ankle and a broken heart.