Heart still beats

New Stampeders quarterback Khari Jones, left, and injured former No. 1 pivot Marcus Crandell react...

New Stampeders quarterback Khari Jones, left, and injured former No. 1 pivot Marcus Crandell react during practice yesterday. Crandell will likely be in tough to keep his job with former CFL MVP Jones in town. (Calgary Sun/Kevin Udahl)

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

The heart was ripped away from the Calgary Stampeders' defence but there's no immediate transplant planned or required.

Defensive lineman Joe Fleming, the unofficial heart and soul of the Stamps defence, headed to Winnipeg yesterday but the squad he left will keep beating.

New leaders on the defensive side of the ball were already in place and ready to take over the direction of one of the best units in the CFL.

One could say Stamps GM-head coach Matt Dunigan prepared for the five-player trade that sent Fleming and safety Wes Lysack to the Bombers from the start of his tenure.

In his first move as the club's GM back in January, Dunigan acquired outstanding linebacker John Grace from Ottawa.

He soon signed veteran defensive back Milo Lewis from Winnipeg. He acquired vocal defensive back Omar Evans from Montreal. And he signed linebacker Brian Clark from the Bombers.

All brought veteran voices to the Stampeder locker-room. They made a good defence great, so when lineman Demetrious Maxie showed up two weeks ago from the NFL, Fleming's days were numbered.

Of that fact, Fleming a soon-to-be free agent was well aware.

Being the professional he is, he tried to prepare his teammates for the day he had would leave.

"It's always hard to lose teammates, especially when you look at what this defence has done this year," said fellow lineman Sheldon Napastuk. "I've been talking to Joe about it for weeks. He knew there was no point having five defensive lineman when we needed help on the other side of the ball.

"We've got to pick up the slack with two leaders on defence gone but we've got the character in this group to do it."

Fleming's legacy will have a positive effect on Stamps players for years to come, especially the youngsters in the lineup.

Lineman Garrett Smith got to work with Fleming -- the CFL's 2003 defensive player of the year -- for a season and a half.

What Smith absorbed from Fleming had less to do with chasing down pivots than behaving with class.

"I learned a lot from Joe more about coming into practice, coming into games," Smith said. "When bad things are happening to you, have a good attitude about it. There was a point there where things weren't going the way I liked but (Joe told me to) keep a positive attitude about it.

"I kept that positive attitude and things have worked out for me."

The best example of Fleming's professionalism was the way in which he departed Calgary.

The veteran may have disagreed with Dunigan and had private arguments with the GM-head coach but, since he was traded, hasn't said a harsh word about the organization.

"You handle it like a pro because this is a business," said Smith. "How he handled it, that's how you are supposed to handle things as a man. That's what he taught us, how to handle things like a man."

To a man, the Stamps aren't better having lost Fleming and Lysack from their defence.

But life will go on.

The heart will keep beating.


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