June 7, 2012
Bertrand last Esks champion standing
By GERRY MODDEJONGE, QMI Agency
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.
“At the same time it’s sad because those were three awesome players and I’ve been privileged enough to play with these guys a long time,” said Bertrand, who has become the longest-serving current player heading into his ninth season. “But it’s how the CFL goes. They try to change it up and I’m pretty confident in what (general manager Eric) Tillman’s doing right now because our team improved a lot last year.”
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 club’s first home playoff game since Bertrand arrived in 2004.
“I just try to do my best every time going in. I think I’m doing pretty good this year, I feel good out there,” said the 34-year-old Chambly, Que., native, who was named the team’s most outstanding rookie in 2004. “Being on the football field, my smile is coming back every time I’m stepping on the field.”
As much as his championship ring represents, Bertrand admits he doesn’t see it very often.
“I should wear it more,” said Bertrand, who participates in the Playbook for Success program through local schools. “The kids, they all want to see it and everything, but it’s in a safe in Montreal because I was moving back and forth at the beginning (of my career).”
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.
“With a big ring like this, it’s a lot of money and it’s like a good souvenir, so you don’t want to get it stolen,” Bertrand said.
Instead, he would like to add to his collection before finally retiring.
“I’m close to retirement,” Bertrand said. “I’m still enjoying myself and last year, my eighth season, was probably the most fun I’ve had.
“If I keep having fun like this, I will keep playing as long as I can.”
But it wasn’t always like that.
“I’ll be honest, after my first year I was so beat up I didn’t know if I wanted to keep playing football,” Bertrand said. “Now, when I’m in I feel like home. It’s my team, I’ve never played for any other team. So I take pride in that and I’m an Eskimo all the way.
“I didn’t expect to be the last one out here, but, hey, it happened like this.”