Beaton hasn't missed a beat

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

Play it again, Sam.

Bruce Beaton is playing it again for Sam. He's back playing one last season for his one-year-old son.

"This may sound strange in a way, because he's not going to remember it. But this was a chance to involve my son Sam in my career. He wasn't born when I was playing. I have pictures now. It might not mean anything to him, but in my mind, I'd like to win him a ring.

"He's got one shot at it. This is it. If I can pull it off, he's got a ring. If not ... well, daddy's tired of being sore.''

When Beaton called it a career going into last year, it looked like he'd had the full meal deal. He'd had an amazing career complete with the cherry on top, winning the Grey Cup in the last game he played.

Beaton retired after he won his first Grey Cup in 11 seasons in the CFL. He had his knees done. He lost a ton of weight. He dove into business in a big way, buying 53 rental units in his home of Kentville, Nova Scotia (pop. 6,500) - with brilliant timing the way the market turned. Life was good.

But he decided to put all that weight back on and do a massive amount of training to come back for a shot at retiring on top twice.

"I definitely could have stayed retired. It was not an issue of having trouble moving on. It was just that I couldn't stop seeing this as an opportunity, for six months, to come back here and be part of something special. If we won it all and I walked away after that, it would be an awesome six months of my life.

"I have kids who are three and one so mobility isn't a problem. I have a passive type of business from which I can divorce myself a bit and be able to run long distance. I just looked at it as 'Why wouldn't you?' Guys would kill for the opportunity to play in the kind of team we've assembled here.''

It's not that he was bored with his year away from the game.

Beaton had the surgery and felt more pain taking the Grey Cup around the Maritimes after he won it than he did winning it.

"What a great time. I took the Grey Cup all over the Annapolis Valley. The first thing everybody had to find out about was how many Alexander Keiths the Grey Cup could hold. Ten beers is the correct answer. Maritimers are big on trivial facts like that.

"There was no way I would have played last year. First, I had my knees done. Second I found out we were pregnant with the due date being June, the worst possible date for a CFL player because of training camp. And third, I'd played 11 years, I was 35 years old and I was still playing well. I was in a position to walk away from the game as a Grey Cup champion still at the top of my game.''

A lot of players have difficulty moving on to the next phase of their lives without the profile and the rush provided by pro football. Beaton was delighted to discover that wasn't going to be a problem.

"You really wonder about that before you retire. It's been interesting coming back. I've had so many conversations with so many veteran players. It's like you came back from the dead. Older players wonder what it's like on the other side.''

And what was it like?

"For me it was busier than when I played. We added Sam to our family. I did a ton of real estate deals. I picked up a six-plex and a duplex the off-season before I retired and made pretty good money off it. I upped that to 53 rental units and timed the market pretty good.

"The only job I was interested in was as the town planner back home. But they decided not to offer the job, not to have the position. So I went on a spree buying rental units with limited funds, limited resources in general. I did some serious juggling.''

Beaton trimmed down to 255 pounds.

When he made the decision to come back, he began throwing around beer kegs, tossing logs, tractor tires, etc. and packing on the pounds to get up to 310 again.

"Five years ago I started training like the Strongman competitors. Look at those guys. They're offensive linemen. It had an immediate impact then. I found I was a lot stronger on the field. And I enjoyed it more.''

In his year away from football Beaton didn't dial out from football, he dialed in even more.

"I watched a lot. I love watching football, especially CFL football. It's a very, very entertaining league. I was kind of glad I wasn't there in a Grey Cup hangover year. It definitely wasn't a bad year to miss. But I started entertaining the thought about doing this late in the season.

"I decided to wait to see who they hired as head coach. I'm a big believer in Danny Maciocia and I'm a big believer in this offence. I just love his offence. And I love the job Danny does communicating why we're doing what we're doing.

"We're the only team in the league which has meetings with the entire offence in the room, the offensive linemen, the quarterbacks, the receivers and the running backs, meshing things out. To me it makes a lot of sense.''

It's been great being back, he says.

"I've really enjoyed it. It's so dramatic. This is an intense place to play football, even more intense under Danny. He's such an intense guy. I like how determined we are to achieve success. And it's not just the team, it's the town. The standards in the community aren't that different than in the locker room.''

Beaton, who will play his 203rd CFL game against the Alouettes, was a three-time CFL All-Star, all with the Eskimos. Twice, both times with Montreal, he was an Eastern All-Star and five times a Western All-Star. In the final four years of his career he was the Eskimo nominee as offensive lineman of the year for the CFL awards.

Not bad for a guy who had no real interest in being a football player, and probably would never have put on a helmet if it wasn't for Al MacInnis's brother.

MacInnis, the future Hall of Fame hockey player, is the pride of Port Hood, N.S. Thanks to brother Robert, the town would have a CFL player to be proud of as well.

"I went to Acadia with Al's younger brother, Robert, who got me interested in playing football. Well, sort of. I wasn't interested. But he was the reason I started playing.

"I'd never played high school football and had no interest in playing college football, and Robert knew it. He didn't say anything to me. But he talked to an assistant coach who talked to a head coach.

"The head coach came to me and, basically, he just talked me into playing. He convinced me to go to spring camp.''

It wasn't exactly a Star Is Born story.

"I was terrible,'' said Beaton. "I basically didn't have a clue what was going on. I didn't know any drills. Worse, I had to figure out a lot of things on the fly.

"Surprisingly, they invited me back to fall camp and red-shirted me for a year. I was a scout team player and I just really loved it. I had a lot of fun at those practices. I only went three times a week, then I had the whole weekend off. The guys on the team would come back and I'd be fresh as a daisy. The next year I was a starter.''

He didn't become a pro athlete overnight. He was just amazed to be an athlete.

"I didn't come from a real sports background. I was a small town farm guy. To me, school was what it was all about, not sports. Football was something I picked up on the side.

"I had no expectations it would lead anywhere. I was really surprised one day when my coach called me into his office and told me I had the ability to play pro.''

Beaton was a defensive end at the time, and after two years at the position was drafted in the first round (eighth pick) by the B.C. Lions. B.C. saw him as an offensive lineman. So he bulked up to become one.

"I was overweight. I was too slow. And I didn't have a clue about playing the offensive line. I'd never taken a rep. That camp was a disaster.''

Beaton returned to college for two more years, still unconvinced he'd be a pro.

"I was going to be a college professor. I was in political science and went back and completed my honours and masters degrees. I really enjoyed school. I only took courses I was interested in.''

B.C. traded his rights to Ottawa. And he was a pro. Again, sort of.

"We were 4-14 both years. We'd literally lose for two months in a row.''

Beaton escaped to Calgary, where he received a taste of the Battle of Alberta and made it into a Grey Cup game. He was on the Stampeder team which lost to the only American-based team to ever win the Grey Cup, the Baltimore Stallions.

"It was a great year. It was a great experience. It opened my eyes to what a different game this is when you win. Calgary was 15-3 that year.''

Beaton ended up in Montreal after not being protected by Calgary at the end of the U.S. expansion experiment.

It was in Montreal, where he was coached by teammate Mark Dixon to take his career to yet another level, that he was courted by the NFL's Indianapolis Colts.

"I figured 'Why not?' Being such a late bloomer, everything had sort of fallen into place for me and ...''

At the end of it, he was a free agent. He sat down and did the pro/con thing and decided he wanted to be an Edmonton Eskimo.

Going away and coming back is not a new deal for Beaton. He also went away to the ill-fated XFL and returned. This time when he went away, he didn't play, that's all.

Three games ago he quietly played his 200th CFL game.

"It was very quiet. I think the only people who really knew about it were my wife and a couple of my teammates. It meant something to me. That's a lot of miles. That's not an easy thing to do. I kept the ball. I don't keep much stuff. But I kept the ball.''


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