Regrets? I had one ...

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI --

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

CALGARY -- How do you love a place that stuck goat horns on your head and ran you out of town?

How can your fondest football memories be of the team and the town that refused to give you credit when things went right - like winning their first Grey Cup in a decade - made you the whipping boy when things went wrong, made fun of your personality at every turn and couldn't get you out of there fast enough?

Who knows how Tom Higgins can have such nice things to say about Edmonton, but he does.

On the eve of his first game against his old team, the Stampeders head coach finally opened up on his stormy reign with the Eskimos, touching on everything from the fear he felt after getting fired to the ill-fated fake field goal that would ultimately seal his fate (he says it was the right call, the play was open and he'd do it again in a heartbeat).

But the underlying theme yesterday was that no matter how Edmonton feels about him, he'll always have a special place in his heart for Edmonton.

"It was fabulous, some of the best years that I've ever had in football,'' he said, adding he developed bonds with the staff and players there that were strong as blood. "We had deaths in families, we had births, and we had the opportunity to share all of those ups and downs together. It's something that I will always cherish.

"My only regret is that I never got the chance to say thank you to all the people who were great to myself and my family and gave me an opportunity to develop.''

He got the axe the day of the club's end-of-year party, but had to keep quiet until a media conference the next day.

"My wife said, 'I can't go' (to the party). I said you're going, and you're going to pretend like nothing is happening.''

There were a dozen people in the room he wanted to pull aside and tell how much they meant to him, but a good soldier to the end, Higgins smiled and pretended like nothing was happening. "I didn't get a chance to say goodbye,'' he said. "You never get that chance again.''

He would land on his feet in Calgary, but only after some very uneasy weeks.

"It's pretty scary to be out of a job for two months. I started looking into possibilities in the United States and it scared me to think that if I took my family there, we'd never come back to Canada. We'd made a tremendous amount of friends here.''

So, even though a lot of fans might let him have it when the Stamps play in Commonwealth Stadium Friday, he can't wait to come back. "Absolutely, I'm a sick person,'' he laughed, adding he doesn't really worry about how he'll be received. "It's really irrelevant. The people that do boo, that's OK. There were times when I wanted to boo, when I wanted to choke somebody, but that's not what you do as the leader.''

As the leader, he called a fake punt deep in Edmonton territory in the final minute of the first half in the West semi against Saskatchewan last year. It didn't work, the Riders scored, Edmonton lost and Higgins never lived it down.

But if you're waiting for an apology, pack a lunch.

"That did not determine the outcome of that football game,'' he said, his voice rising.

"That's a bunch of hogwash. It might have had an impact, but one play does not determine the outcome of a football game. At that point in time we needed something. And we needed character by our defence going out and shutting them down.

"When you make a decision, you make it based on the information you have, you make it, you believe it, you go with it. Some will call you a genius and some call you the village idiot. It's a calculated gamble. But third and 19... I'll do the damn thing again.''


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