Told it was over

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:41 AM ET

Doctors told Robert Edwards he might not walk ever again and if he did, it would be with the assistance of a cane.

Thoughts of a return to the gridiron to resume his professional football career seemed like only a dream.

Edwards, the Montreal Alouettes running back, fully embodies the long-held belief that your career path can change in a heartbeat.

Back in 1998, Edwards burst onto the scene in the National Football League as a highly-touted first round pick out of the University of Georgia.

Thanks to a strong training camp, he earned the starting tailback job with the New England Patriots and had an immediate impact -- becoming the first player to record at least one touchdown in each of his first six games as a pro.

The rookie campaign would only get better as Edwards rushed for 1,115 yards and finished with 12 touchdowns, which was enough to grant him selection to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.

Little did he know that non-contact event would change the course of his career, not to mention his life.

Edwards got tangled up with a defender on a broken play and blew out his knee.

It was so bad doctors considered amputating it, but ultimately opted for surgery.

"It was very devastating for me, being the young guy I was," said Edwards. "I went through an entire season completely healthy and then got hurt in a game that was supposed to be just for fun.

"What also made it tougher was there was nobody that gave me the benefit of the doubt that I would get back. I was told I'd never play football again and my career was over. I had to work through all of that kind of adversity just to get back on the field. That kept me going. A lot of people gave up on me but I didn't give up on myself. I love everything about the game."

The rehabilitation process was a lengthy one as Edwards was forced to sit out the 1999 and 2000 seasons.

Edwards was healthy enough to start training camp in 2001, but he came up with a groin injury. The Patriots released him and many thought Edwards' career was over.

"(Bill) Belichick decided he couldn't wait," said Edwards. "That was far worse than the injury, because I did all the hard work to get the shot to play again and I didn't even get back on the field to show I could play again. Or even to get a look for some other people. I had to go back to the drawing board."

But his dedication allowed Edwards to keep working and after a series of tryouts with NFL clubs, the Miami Dolphins inked the Tennille, Ga. product to a contract.

Edwards showcased his perseverance in his first game back, rushing for two touchdowns on four carries and adding another four receptions for 38 yards in a 49-21 victory over the Detroit Lions.

"I felt great. I felt I accomplished all that I set out to do," said Edwards.

Edwards, who turns 32 next month, finished the season with 20 carries for 107 yards and 18 receptions for 126 yards in 12 games with the Fish, whose starting tailback that season was none other than Ricky Williams.

Oddly enough, the Dolphins cut Edwards after camp in 2003.

"I was healthy and doing everything right. I had the best camp of the running backs but they cut me," he explained. "When you're hurt people are down on you and they don't take you seriously. It got around that I was hurt, so it was only a matter of time before I got hurt again."

Just when it looked like Edwards' career had hit another roadblock, Alouettes returner Ezra Landry (who had been working out with Edwards in New Orleans) called general manager Jim Popp and put in a good word. Before long Edwards was working out with Montreal and Popp was so impressed he immediately offered Edwards a contract.

Edwards' impact in the CFL almost mirrors his NFL debut.

After going the Alouettes last season, Edwards became the first Als running back to rush for 1,000 yards since Mike Pringle did it in 2002.

Edwards carried the ball 187 times for 1,199 yards and a 6.4 yard per carry average while suiting up in 14 games, including 12 as a starter. The only negative was that Edwards missed the Grey Cup game loss to the Edmonton Eskimos with broken ribs.

"It was a big confidence builder, I was able to come in and do some things, pile up the yards," said Edwards. "They don't talk about me a lot. It's Joffrey Reynolds, Charles Roberts and then Ricky (Williams) came into the league. I get overshadowed, but I don't even bother worrying about it. I'm just happy to be playing again."

There hasn't been any dropoff this season either as Edwards is among the CFL leaders in touchdowns and is fast approaching another 1,000 yard season.

His main motivation these days is getting a chance to sip from the Grey Cup.

"Anywhere you play, you want to win a championship," said Edwards. "I want to go through all the things that pertain to winning a championship. Walking up on stage, holding that trophy, getting a ring. I want to experience it."

Blue Bombers head coach Doug Berry got a first-hand look at Edwards last season and was very impressed.

"He's a competitor," said Berry. "He's obviously had a lot of adversity and he's just worked himself very hard to come back. He loves playing football. He plays very, very hard, he's a great guy in the locker-room. I respect Robert. He's a good football player and a good man. I would say, outside of his physical abilities, his greatest strength is he's a team player. He's not ever going to be a finger pointer or anything like that. He accepts responsibility."


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