Unhealthy appetite for QBs

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

HAMILTON -- Adriano Belli is the pitchman for Mariposa Meats' new line of sausages.

Every time the hulking Hamilton Tiger-Cats nose tackle hits an opposing quarterback, as many as 150 kids in the crowd sample one of the sausages on a bun.

The CFL club also plugs the product on Ivor Wynne Stadium's new state-of-the-art scoreboard. The fact Belli's family owns Mariposa Meats means each hit is good for business, to be sure.

"It's free advertising," he beamed.

But selling the cheddar-, jalapeno- or Italian-flavoured sausages or Mariposa's other products isn't what drives Belli on the gridiron.

GREY CUP CHAMP

"My favourite meat is quarterback meat," offered the six-foot-five, 289-pounder following Hamilton's walk-through in preparation for tonight's clash with the Edmonton Eskimos. "That's the sweetest meat."

Belli's appetite for quarterbacks is voracious.

His passion for beef and attachment to the meat-distribution and packing company his father began building 20 years ago is, in part, what lured Belli to Hamilton after three seasons and a Grey Cup championship with the Montreal Alouettes.

When the CFL's free-agency period began last February, the 27-year-old non-import considered signing with the Esks. On top of furthering his football career, Belli regarded a possible move west as good for business.

"There's a guy in Sherwood Park and I want his roast beef business," Belli explained. "I'm still trying to close that deal.

"Besides that, the coaches in Edmonton are great guys. I was with a few of them (offensive co-ordinator Danny Maciocia and receiver coach Dan McKinnon) in Montreal when I first went there. They have a great program and a lot of history there."

Clearly, Belli has no beef with the Esks off the field or any qualms about his decision to join the Ticats.

Given the geography involved, Belli can devote mornings to marketing the Mississauga-based Mariposa's products and hustle down the QEW to attend practice in the afternoon.

With computer software/dot.com millionaire Bob Young buying the club and Ticat football on the rebound in Steeltown, Belli has no regrets about leaving Montreal or passing up a chance to be reunited with Esks offensive lineman and former Als teammate Kevin Lefsrud.

"It's exciting to play around here this year," Belli gushed. "It's a sellout every game. I can't even get tickets for some of my clients to come to the games.

"We've got a great bunch of guys here. It's a growing process, but all I know is I get a chance to come to work every day and hit quarterbacks. What more could I ask for?"

Former Esks offensive lineman Tim Bakker is another of the CFL free agents to think twice about Hamilton this past off-season.

A native of Oakville, Bakker thought long and hard about returning to Edmonton after playing out his option in B.C. Ultimately, the Ticats made him an offer he couldn't refuse. The combination of money and a starting job were too difficult to turn down.

QUICK START

Hamilton's 3-0 start added to the euphoria for Belli, Bakker and the squad's other non-import free-agent signings. Despite Hamilton's drop-off and current 6-7-1 record, Bakker would do it all over again.

"I thought coming here was going to be my best chance to take my game to another level," he said. "You only get to play this game for a finite period.

"They had good players here last season. But when you're not getting paid for two months at a time, how eager would you want to be to work?

"We're just trying to find ourselves and find what works for us on a consistent basis."

LATE HITS: CFL governors are scheduled to huddle here today. Among the items on the agenda are the league's salary cap, enforcement of the cap, as well as strategic planning for the 2005 season and beyond.

Also up for discussion is a new home for the annual Coach of the Year gala and the league's midwinter congress. All indications are Winnipeg is to be rubber-stamped as the new site for both. Edmonton has been home to the COTY affair since the early 1960s.


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