Bruce is Ticats' model citizen

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:45 PM ET

HAMILTON — Arland Bruce always has had the flamboyance of Terrell Owens and a hint of Randy Moss’ volatility.

Through nine seasons, Bruce has been the ultimate showman in the Canadian Football League. Owens celebrated a touchdown by pulling a pen from his sock and signing an autograph; Bruce donned a Spiderman outfit after scoring against the Ticats.

Moss got booted out of Minnesota by coach Brad Childress and in June of last year rookie Argonauts’ coach Bart Andrus called Bruce a “bad teammate” and sent Toronto’s premier pass-catcher to the arch-rival Hamilton Ticats.

Andrus would later be fired and, in a sense, he loaded the bullets to his own firing squad when he unloaded Bruce. While Moss and Owens seem still to live in the land of the fairies, Bruce appears to have become more than flash and dash.

He remains the consummate showman and, says Hamilton GM Bob O’Billovich: “He’s the kind of guy fans will pay to watch play. He’ll catch balls that it doesn’t look like he’s got a chance on.”

This year he set a CFL single-game record with 16 catches against Saskatchewan and finished the season with 1,303 yards. If he hadn’t missed the last two games with a hamstring pull, he’d have led the league.

Don’t think the Argonauts couldn’t have used some of that magic. Bruce had more yards than Toronto’s top two receivers, Jeremaine Copeland and Andre Durie, combined.

“This is my baby. I love it,” said Bruce, cradling a red goal-line marker in his arms yesterday as the team began preparation for this Sunday’s Eastern semifinal. “We got a good relationship.”

That couldn’t be said for him and Andrus who considered antics such as Bruce lying in the end zone in tribute to a dead Michael Jackson unprofessional. There was talk that he missed meetings and even that he left a playbook on a flight.

But when he was traded it came as a shock to Bruce, not to mention teammates and Toronto, where fans adored him.

Bruce admits there was resentment. But not anymore. “I did have that feeling when I was first traded here and had the opportunity to play them in the (2009) Labour Day game. I had a feeling that was so emotional but I’ve bought into being a Ticat. It’s just a memory like a high school graduation now.”

Since arriving in Hamilton he’s been the model football player and citizen.

“He’s a pretty exceptional athlete; he’s been first class for us ... a pro in every sense,” said O’Billovich. “(He) comes to work every day, stays in great shape. A positive guy with teammates. Nobody competes harder.”

That hardly sounds like the talented yet supposedly flaky receiver who donned a Spiderman costume to celebrate a touchdown in 2008. Uncontrollable. Unpredictable. Unreliable.

In Hamilton, he has become everything Andrus believed he wasn’t.

“I’ve moved on,” Bruce said. “Looking back, I went through a lot and wouldn’t wish that on any player in any professional sport. It helped me become more mentally stronger.”

So, was Andrus wrong?

“It does help when you have a coach who’s been in the CFL and knows about the game,” said Bruce. Ouch!

It is probably no coincidence that Hamilton played two of its worst games, with Bruce sidelined. He chaffed having to sit out with a hamstring injury. He loves the game, he loves delivering with panache, as much as ever.

“I feel great. I’m eager ... my mother always said I stick out like a sore thumb and I think that’s a good thing ... I love my job.”

Perhaps, though, at age 32 he has matured and learned to temper the natural playfulness.

Defensive end Stevie Baggs, who has sparked his own share of controversies, notes: “We all have reputations and they’re brought up by whomever. Arland is not only a great teammate and player but he’s a great ambassador off the field ... that’s what I respect most about Arland Bruce.”

These days the only thing Bruce is disrupting are opposing defences.

He has been a four-time all-star, set receiving records, helped Winnipeg reach the Grey Cup final in 2001 and won it three years later with Toronto. Whatever went wrong in Toronto, he has made it right in Hamilton. He has found vindication in the Andrus affair but one task is left undone.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to go to a Grey Cup with the last two teams that I’ve played for. It would be fantastic to do that here,” he said. “I have something to prove to myself; that I still have it and also that I can help a team win a championship.”


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