Hall calls on Battle

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:56 AM ET

Greg Battle's plan was simple: come up to Canada for a few weeks, score some quick cash and head back home to finish up a degree and start life after football.

It didn't quite work out that way.

"I'd just been released from the NFL. I was anti-football," the former Winnipeg Blue Bomber linebacker was saying yesterday. "But one thing led to the next, and the next thing you know I've got a 12-year career and I'm heading to the Hall of Fame."

Battle was one of four players named to the Canadian football shrine in Hamilton yesterday, making official what Winnipeg football fans already knew: that he was one of the best players the three-down game ever saw.

Equal parts run-stuffer and pass defender, No. 34 combined speed with intelligence and a wide mean streak to become the CFL's most respected defender in the late 1980s.

"The heart and soul of our defence in 1990," is how ex-Bomber Less Browne described his former teammate from his home in Hamilton yesterday.

Twice Battle was named the league's top defensive player, in 1990 and '91. Twice he helped carry the Bombers to Grey Cup championships, in '88 and '90.

While he missed the '88 game with a knee injury, Battle more than made up for it the next time, intercepting two passes, including a spectacular one-handed grab, and scoring a touchdown on his way to being named top defensive player in the '90 Cup.

"The 1990 run to the Grey Cup was a standout for Greg, period," Browne said. "And then to show up like he did in the Grey Cup just solidified that (he was) the MVP."

The man who brought Battle to the CFL, former Bomber boss Cal Murphy, still remembers the first time he saw the University of Arizona product.

Murphy was visiting his brother down south, when he worked out Battle and another player at the U of A.

"There are some people that are meant to be middle linebackers and some aren't," Murphy said. "Some play the position, but he was a natural at it."

With uncanny instincts, Battle would seem to know where ball carriers were going before they got there. Heck, he'd often get there before the blockers.

"He read that stuff so fast," Browne said. "Any time anybody ran a trap on us, it was minus yards."

Battle would get to the hole in a bad mood, too, which didn't make sense at all when you watched him off the field. This guy put the soft in soft-spoken.

CHOIR BOY

Compared to fellow linebackers and motor-mouths Tyrone Jones and James West, Battle was a choir boy.

"He was such a nice guy off the field, very polite," Browne said. "You get him on the field, man! A different personality came out of him. He's hitting people in the face."

Battle reached the Hall in a much more subdued manner, sharing his honour with Browne, who was on hand, and all the former teammates who weren't.

"Without them I wouldn't have had the success I had," Battle said. "Especially from my years when I first got to Winnipeg ... those first seven years and everybody that played on those teams. We had great players. You can never do anything by yourself."

If Battle has one regret, it's leaving the Bombers in '94 for the expansion Las Vegas Posse, a team that practised in a casino parking lot. Talk about experiencing both ends of the CFL spectrum.

Eventually he'd close out his career where it started.

But the Battle plan wasn't complete until yesterday.

"Now that I'm here in Hamilton at the Hall of Fame, looking at all the busts and experiencing all the interviews and cameras, it's really sunk in," Battle said.


Videos

Photos