Joe's a mountain of youth

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

When Joe Montford takes the field tomorrow night against his former teammates, he'll be celebrating his 35th birthday.

That's officially the day football players are supposed to turn old.

But Montford wants his former Hamilton Tiger-Cats teammates to know the Edmonton Eskimos are turning him young.

That and the birth of daughter Logan McKenzie Montford (four pounds, 5.5 ounces) Monday morning to mother Temikia. The new baby sister for three-year-old Mayson can do that to a man.

"That definitely keeps you young. Having a three-year-old has been keeping me young.

"My wife laughs about having to keep playing so they'll have a memory of me as a football player. I don't know about that.

"All I know is that as long as I can still produce, continue to help young players and enjoy playing the game, I'll feel good about playing for a while longer."

Montford came to the Edmonton Eskimos in a trade for Dan Comiskey that wasn't your average CFL trade.

A future Hall of Fame three-time CFL Award winner as Most Outstanding Defensive Player for an offensive lineman isn't the kind of deal you do every day in the CFL.

The whole deal began with Comiskey requesting a trade to Hamilton following the premature birth of twin daughters, one of which was born seriously ill. Comiskey went to coach Danny Maciocia and asked if he could be moved closer to home in London, Ont.

That meant dealing with either the Toronto Argos or the Tiger-Cats. And Hamilton would be ideal.

"We wanted value in return and I think that's what we got," Maciocia said when he did the deal. "We felt we had certain needs we had to address and that's what we did. When October and November roll around, defence wins championships. You have a guy in Montford who is experienced and proven. I did a lot of research on Joe."

You don't have to do much research to know that he was voted the CFL's Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 1998, 2000 and 2001.

The CFL isn't a league in which many deals are done anymore anyway. And the CFL is a league where a first-rate Canadian offensive lineman is often viewed as being more valuable than an import defensive lineman, no matter how good he might be.

So there was shock value involved in several different directions, not the least of which was in the direction of one J. Montford, formerly the face of the franchise in Hamilton and the one Tiger-Cat to trumpet in a lot of lean years.

"I was a little surprised," said Montford, who came to Edmonton in the option year of his contract.

"Maybe I shouldn't have been because the G.M. and I weren't seeing eye-to-eye on contract negotiations for a while. I wasn't at all surprised I was traded out west. I knew if they traded me it wouldn't be anywhere they'd face me four times.

"But when you've been with a team for nine years, the idea that they traded me to accommodate somebody like Comiskey with his circumstances isn't going to be the whole story. After nine years that ain't why you trade a player, just so it's more beneficial to some other player. That's not why you trade a player who has been around for years and years and been the backbone of your defence.

"Now I look back on it, it might have been time for me to move on."

He says it's nice to be 4-1 instead of 0-4 but that's not it, at least not the 0-4 rub.

"I'm thrilled where I'm at right now. I didn't want to see Hamilton have a tough start just because I'm there any more. I have a lot of friends on that team. I still want Hamilton to win games. Not the one this week, but every game when they're not playing the Eskimos.

"I have no bitter feelings. I feel so blessed being with the organization I'm with. It's so unlike Toronto," he said of the team he left the Tiger-Cats to play with for a single season a couple of years back.

"I went to Toronto because I thought they'd use my talents. I thought I'd have some input and that they'd use some of my knowledge of the game and put me in a position to go out there and make plays.

"Instead they took a Cat and put me in a box. They put me in a situation where they boxed me in.

"Here is totally different. Nobody is boxing me in. I'm creating space out there on the edge and making plays."

Montford will play his 169th CFL game tomorrow night against the Tiger-Cats team, one he'd been with for eight of his 10 seasons, one for whom he'd registered all but nine of the 124 sacks he brought into this season.

Montford and crew go into the game completing the first third of the schedule with a league-leading 20 sacks.

Montford had his first two of the season in the Eskimos game last week in Ottawa.

He says if you check his past, it's always been like that.

"At the beginning of the year, everybody knows that's what I do. I make sacks. The first thing they defence is to block that. So for the first few weeks of the season, I'm looking at two or three guys on me. As the season goes on, they start to open up the offence and can't put two or three guys on one guy anymore. They leave me one-on-one with the tackle. Then the sacks start to come."

From Buford, North Carolina, Montford played his college football at South Carolina State and came into the league in the final year of the U.S. expansion experiment with Shreveport in 1995.

"I had a really bad injury in my junior year. My right arm was paralysed. I hit a fullback in a game against Jackson State.

"The fullback was one of the biggest guys at that position I'd ever faced to that point. He was 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds. He was a real big dude. It was a draw play and I hit him and laid him down. But I came off him and my head hit the ground and went one way and my right shoulder hit the ground and went the other. I stretched a nerve. If it had been any worse it would have been torn and my right arm would have been paralysed for good.

"I sat out for a year. For the longest time, I couldn't move my fingers. Nobody thought I'd come back. I did come back and had a great year but everybody knew that I had that injury and nobody wanted to take a chance on it."

Undrafted by the NFL, Montford was given a training camp shot by Cleveland but was cut.

He played Arena ball for a year with the Charlotte Rage. When the season was over, his coach suggested he take a look at Canadian Football League expansion and a team in Shreveport.

"He thought it might be the perfect place for me to play.

"It was sure interesting in the beginning. I was coming from playing on a field 25 yards wide by 50 yards long. All of a sudden I was on this incredibly big Canadian-sized field.

"I mean, the game was still set up like Arena ball. Guys in motion. Kinda weird-type football I thought at the time.

"I remember I showed up at practice and they put me on the punt-return team. We punted it in the end zone and the guy in the end zone punted it back."

Montford goes into the game against the Tiger-Cats having moved ahead of ex-Eskimo Stew Hill into sixth place on the all-time CFL sack charts.

And he welcomes his old team to town saying that, in one way, he misses coming here going up against the Eskimos.

"I always wondered what it would be like to be an Eskimo. In Hamilton, we always came in here fighting for respect. It was like we always came in here as the underdog. The Eskimos were always on the other side of the field saying 'We're the team to beat.' and they played you like that.

"As a veteran I always worked on changing rookies' minds that we could win here. Now I don't have to do that anymore.

"Maybe I could finish my career here."


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