Going up in smoke

Stamps receiver Jeremaine Copeland has given up stogies for good. (Sun File/Darren Makowichuk)

Stamps receiver Jeremaine Copeland has given up stogies for good. (Sun File/Darren Makowichuk)

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

Giving up half of his salary was nothing compared to the social sacrifice Jeremaine Copeland made in the off-season:

He quit smoking.

"I'm sure people would be surprised I smoked," said the Stampeders receiver, making a rare admission for a modern-day athlete.

"I just loved cigars back in the day. Whenever I was on the golf course and just sitting around, I needed to have one. My momma was always saying, 'why are you always smoking those big cigars -- you need to leave those things alone or it'll slow your wind down.' I tell you what -- my wind feels fine now. It was probably one of the best moves I could make."

Copeland made the sacrifice in an effort to improve his physical fitness and save his job with the CFL club.

It had apparently been brought to his attention that smoking has a reputation for shortening breath, not to mention careers and lives.

While Copeland insists cigarettes weren't part of his daily diet, athletes lighting up their Lucky's has been a hot topic of late. Last weekend, millions were amused to see Angel Cabrera chain-smoke his way around Oakmont en route to his U.S. Open win. It sparked mock debate over whether smoking should be allowed inside the ropes -- not just because it's forbidden in the gallery but because some laughingly suggested ciggies were performance-enhancing drugs given the way they appeared to calm his nerves.

They have the same effect on John Daly, a Marlboro Man rarely seen without a butt.

It surprised many several months back when every Calgarian with an e-mail address saw a photo of two Flames stars smoking in the back room of a bar. While it's certainly a player's right to do whatever he chooses in his spare time, it's hard to comprehend how athletes can be daft enough to openly taint the very body with which they earn their millions.

Back in the '70s, when smoking was socially acceptable, no one in the hockey fraternity batted an eye when players such as Guy Lafleur lit up between periods. However, that was the same era in which few players ever lifted weights or exercised until the fall.

"They were still allowing smoking in the dressing room when I broke in in 84/85," laughed former Flames forward Perry Berezan, similarly amused by the rampant chewing of tobacco in college.

"Paul Baxter was my first experience. I was shocked when I got into the dressing room and he lit up a dart in between periods. After a little while they made him go smoke in the bathroom. In the '70s, I'm sure there were at least two guys on every team that smoked. In the '80s, there was at least one. By the '90s they were almost all gone."

The most notable exception being Al Iafrate, who once bummed a smoke off of an Ottawa reporter between periods before lighting it with the trainer's blowtorch.

"We used to have players smoking at halftime all the time," said Stampeders equipment manager George Hopkins, with the club since 1972.

"One of (Tom) Higgins' best memories is the little piece that supported the seats in front of the lockers -- they used to have empty tuna cans nailed to it they used as ashtrays. When Jack Gotta was coach (late 70's/early 80's), I used to light smokes for Mike Roach when the offence was on the field because he had to use his hands to signal in calls. During the odd exhibition game in the 70s it wasn't uncommon to see one of the veterans light up a smoke on the sideline once they were finished for the night."

Now smoking isn't even allowed in the stadium.

And that's just fine with Copeland.


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