Bertrand last Esks champion standing

GERRY MODDEJONGE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

EDMONTON - What is four minus 2011?

The answer, for the Edmonton Eskimos anyway, is Mathieu Bertrand.

The veteran fullback is the last remaining 2005 Grey Cup champion after three of his longtime teammates went their separate ways in the 2011 off-season.

Ricky Ray was, of course, traded to the Toronto Argonauts, while offensive guard Patrick Kabongo and wide receiver Andrew Nowacki received their walking papers following eight years apiece with the Eskimos.

ďAt the same time itís sad because those were three awesome players and Iíve been privileged enough to play with these guys a long time,Ē said Bertrand, who has become the longest-serving current player heading into his ninth season. ďBut itís how the CFL goes. They try to change it up and Iím pretty confident in what (general manager Eric) Tillmanís doing right now because our team improved a lot last year.Ē

The Eskimos went from a West Division-worst 7-11 and missing playoffs in 2010 to tying for the league lead at 11-7 and advancing to the divisional final, earning along the way the clubís first home playoff game since Bertrand arrived in 2004.

ďI just try to do my best every time going in. I think Iím doing pretty good this year, I feel good out there,Ē said the 34-year-old Chambly, Que., native, who was named the teamís most outstanding rookie in 2004. ďBeing on the football field, my smile is coming back every time Iím stepping on the field.Ē

As much as his championship ring represents, Bertrand admits he doesnít see it very often.

ďI should wear it more,Ē said Bertrand, who participates in the Playbook for Success program through local schools. ďThe kids, they all want to see it and everything, but itís in a safe in Montreal because I was moving back and forth at the beginning (of my career).Ē

But that all ended five years ago, when Bertrand and his wife, Sarah, moved to Edmonton where they have a daughter, Naomi, and son, Donovan. But the ring remains behind for safe-keeping.

ďWith a big ring like this, itís a lot of money and itís like a good souvenir, so you donít want to get it stolen,Ē Bertrand said.

Instead, he would like to add to his collection before finally retiring.

ďIím close to retirement,Ē Bertrand said. ďIím still enjoying myself and last year, my eighth season, was probably the most fun Iíve had.

ďIf I keep having fun like this, I will keep playing as long as I can.Ē

But it wasnít always like that.

ďIíll be honest, after my first year I was so beat up I didnít know if I wanted to keep playing football,Ē Bertrand said. ďNow, when Iím in I feel like home. Itís my team, Iíve never played for any other team. So I take pride in that and Iím an Eskimo all the way.

ďI didnít expect to be the last one out here, but, hey, it happened like this.Ē

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