One more kick at it

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

Who could blame Jamie Crysdale had he walked away from football for good after last season?

With just four wins in one of the worst CFL campaigns in Stampeders history -- the third straight without a playoff appearance -- the 12-year veteran had every right to throw down his helmet in disgust.

Off-field concerns have also been calling the Mississauga native away from the game he loves, more reason for the two-time Grey Cup champion to move on.

But not only is the durable centre -- the Stamps' longest serving active player -- back for more helmet smacking and sore muscles in 2005, he's found a silver lining to all the mayhem he and his Red and White mates have endured.

"It's funny because, as stupid as it might sound, I feel fortunate to have been here and been a part of the last two years," rationalizes Crysdale, 36, today's recipient of the Presidents' Ring Award at the Telus Convention Centre.

"It's made me appreciate what we had before that much more and it made me appreciate that I'm so lucky. I didn't have to go to another team and experience the different coaching staffs and coaching philosophies that you have no control over.

"In Calgary, people just don't put up with losing and I know that because this city prides itself in having good quality teams in football and hockey."

Today's presentation, the 38th since the award's inception, is voted by the players for "exceptional motivation and leadership on and off the field," something Crysdale exhibits naturally.

"I don't know if you think about it but it's an expectation that's there as a veteran, for sure," says Crysdale, who hasn't missed a snap in 205 straight regular season games.

"From that guys develop themselves into leaders on the team. I don't know if it's anything more than the ability to rally the troops or to be a voice of reason sometimes.

"Can you say someone's a born leader? There are guys who stand up and take the initiative to say stuff but I think it depends on who they are and what they bring to the table. Guys will look at them and go, 'Shut up!' or they'll say, 'I'm going to listen because he's been around and he knows.'

"I've been to four Grey Cups, won two, so I've been there, done that, and understand the pressure. It's not rocket science, it's football.

"It's a tremendous honour. Just like winning a CFLPA all-star is more important to me because it's voted on by my peers, guys you fight with game in and game out."

Drawing him back for a 13th season, too, is the pervading optimism around McMahon Stadium these days. Although training camp is more than two weeks away, hope is already flushing away the memories of the last three gruesome seasons. New ownership, new coaches and a legion of new players including some coveted free agents, has also buoyed everyone's hopes for 2005.

Crysdale said although he was considering retirement after last season, he didn't want to go out a loser after a successful and lengthy career.

He and wife Adrienne have also been consumed by the health concerns of young daughter Grace, who is battling leukemia, while Crysdale is also immersed in his successful business -- Grid Iron Drilling.

While quitting pro football was a consideration, Crysdale's has pronounced himself ready to return and echoes the optimism of new head coach Tom Higgins, who has visions of transforming the Stamps from worst to first.

"I like Higgins' answer, which is first place, nothing less," Crysdale says of heightened expectations.

"If we could somehow pull off a Cinderella season and win the Grey Cup, I could retire. The potential is there. Everything is there, it's just a matter of whether or not we can do it."


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