Hotdoggin' lineman

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

Sheldon Napastuk has never met the man who helped resurrect his football career. Nor is he sure the fellow even exists.

But rest assured when the Stampeders defensive lineman is asked to look back at those who had the biggest impact on his life, he credits one man for turning everything around:

Mr. Tube Steak.

Oh sure, people like Mr. Don Hodgins, Mr. Leonard McCoshan and Mr. Garth Link were instrumental in developing his talents in North Battleford, Sask., where he earned a ride to Iowa State.

However, it was the man responsible for serving up a good portion of Canada's tastiest street meat who landed Napastuk in the CFL -- Mr. Tube Steak.

Cut as a rookie in camp by Edmonton in 1997 and released by Hamilton in similar fashion a year later, a devastated Napastuk returned to Saskatoon to figure out how he'd start living his life without football.

Enter his curbside saviour.

"I was 23 and just trying to figure out my life when a guy with two Mr. Tube Steak carts wanted to get them out there," said Napastuk of an enticing business venture few could turn down.

"For three or four months, I spent my nights outside nightclubs serving up hotdogs."

That's when a hungry horde of party-going Saskatchewan Roughriders, in town for training camp, changed everything.

"June rolls around and suddenly every night I see them leaving the bar -- they're all cocky and it's killing me," said the 6-ft. 5-in., 285-lb. Napastuk.

"I kept my head down and kept serving them but I was burning up inside. I'm thinking, 'I'm better than most of you guys.' I had played at Iowa State in front of sold out crowds of 95,000 people and here I was serving hotdogs to the 'Riders."

Camp ended and the 'Riders returned to Regina, leaving a frustrated Napastuk behind. Calls home to his parents elicited strong encouragement to call the 'Riders, something he finally summoned the courage to do early in the season when Saskatchewan incurred several injuries on the d-line. A message left for head coach Cal Murphy went unreturned.

"I drove down to Regina a few days later and waited after practice for him," said Napastuk.

"I got 10 minutes with him and gave him my college tapes. He gave me the old, 'don't call us, we'll call you.' That night I got a call from Cal asking me, 'you think you can still move like that?' "

He returned to Regina to work out for several coaches, leading to a contract offer.

"I was selling hotdogs one Friday and a few weeks later I was playing against Hamilton the day after my birthday," said Napastuk, who turns 31 Aug. 5. "So, you just never know where you're going to end up."

Now an important part of the Stampeders defence, Napastuk laughs off the fact it was current Stamps head coach Tom Higgins who cut him from the Eskies eight years ago. Even now he often wonders what might've been had Mr. Tube Steak not entered his life.

"Had I been locked into something more serious I wouldn't have given football another chance," said Napastuk, who played three more years in Saskatchewan before signing with Calgary in 2003.

"Sometimes all you need to do is knock on that door. That door doesn't open by itself."

Would he ever consider returning to the dog days as a proprietor or investor?

"No, I just support the cause," he laughed.

"I'm not afraid to get one off the street."

That's exactly what Mr. Tube Steak and the 'Riders did for him when all hope seemed lost.


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