Beveridge a nice tonic for Tabbies

JOSH WEBSTER -- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 6:01 PM ET


 You couldn't blame the people of Hamilton if they held a parade in Sandy Beveridge's honour.

 Nor could you blame Beveridge and his Tiger-Cat teammates had they uncorked a case of champagne in celebration of the team's season opening 38-36 win against the B.C. Lions last Friday night.

 Beveridge, born in Port Coquitlam, B.C., was instrumental in the Tabbies' victory. He returned a fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter and pounced on another to end what had the makings of a game-winning drive by the Lions' offence with 44 seconds remaining in the game.

 By securing the loose pigskin, not only did the second-year safety and the rest of the Tiger-Cats secure their first regular season win at B.C. Place Stadium since 1996, they also assured themselves no worse of a fate than 2003, when the club won just one game in 18 tries.

 "It felt really good to have an impact on the game and that," Beveridge reflected a few days after the victory. "But more than anything it was good to get that first win under our belts."

 That is an understatement, given what the Hamilton Tiger-Cats endured last season. Had a B.C. Lion and not Beveridge pick up the loose football, perhaps the Leos find a way to steal a win.

 And had that happened, there is no telling what this would have done to the psyche of the Ticats, which has to be fragile at best after last season, no matter what they may say about putting the past behind them.

 But Beveridge's fumble recovery alone may be the play that propels the Tiger-Cats towards a winning season, which is all anyone wants in Steeltown these days.

 Beveridge's two big plays matches his seven defensive and one special teams tackle he made at B.C. Place last season in a 47-25 loss. The former UBC Thunderbird is starting to have a knack for performing well in his home province.

 "I guess it is just coincidental," pondered Beveridge. "I got two chances to start both times I've been to B.C. now. I probably get a little more hyped up there just knowing that I've got so many friends and family that are watching. I want to go out and put my best foot forward and have a good game."

 His touchdown couldn't have come at a better time, given that it was a career first in the CFL. With the Ticats leading 7-1 in the second quarter, Lions wide receiver Frank Cutolo was gang-tackled at midfield. As he was forced to the turf, the ball squirted out of the pile. Beveridge promptly picked up the loose football and ran unimpeded to the end zone.

 Lions' fans may argue that Cutolo's knee was down before the ball was jarred loose. Either way, it saved Beveridge a trip to the mall.

 "It felt real good to do it at home especially Father's Day weekend, so I kept the ball for my dad," said Beveridge. "A pretty good Father's Day present he thought, so it worked out well."

 That and a number of other plays may have been the difference in the game, but only one secured the victory. With B.C. quarterback Casey Printers playing shotgun at the Hamilton 40-yard line and the game clock ticking down in the fourth quarter, Tiger-Cats linebacker Marcus Spencer ran straight up the middle and knocked the ball out of Printers' hands. In one leap Beveridge, who was also rushing the quarterback, pounced on the ball to seal the win.

 "As soon as I saw it my eyes got about as big as saucers and I was like, 'I better get on that!' I really dove for it. I think I was fighting with Casey Printers to get to it. Once I got on it I was happy as hell," laughed Beveridge.

 And so were the rest of his teammates, who made sure head coach Greg Marshall got a Gatorade shower in honour of his first CFL coaching victory.

 Beveridge admitted that there was a combination of excitement and relief following the game.

 "Everyone was having a good time in the locker room. We were celebrating a little bit. I mean, we didn't go over the top, but everyone was having a good time. It was a good atmosphere in the locker room."

 * * *

 On the eve of the 2003 season, in what turned out to be a harbinger of things to come, the Tiger-Cats suffered two significant setbacks in one pre-season game as both quarterback Danny McManus and safety Rob Hitchcock succumbed to injuries. Danny Mac's bad knee kept him out of the lineup four games, while Hitchcock remained on the sidelines until Labour Day with a broken arm.

 Then Tiger-Cats head coach Ron Lancaster said at the time that one man's injury becomes another's opportunity. Beveridge must have been paying attention.

 Beveridge received significant playing time at Hitchcock's expense, playing in all 18 games as a rookie. He finished the season second on the team with three interceptions, and was tied for the team lead with 19 special teams tackles. Beveridge also added 20 defensive tackles and one knock down to his résumé.

 "I definitely improved throughout the year," acknowledged Beveridge. "When you come in your first game, and you're so wide-eyed, you're so excited just to be here. To me, it's like a dream come true."

 "Then that novelty kind of wears off after a couple of weeks, then it's like, it's your job, you're here to get better, you're here to help the team win. There is definitely improvement over the course of a season, and even knowing what to improve on over the off-season for this season. It's a steady improvement for sure."

 Hitchcock, a three-time all-Canadian, was back in his familiar position to begin the 2004 season when a hamstring injury in the first quarter against B.C. forced him back to the sidelines. As what often happens in sports, the replacement turns out to be a star in the game.

 "Without Hitchcock getting injured both these times I probably wouldn't have had nearly the amount of playing time that I've had," admitted Beveridge. "So I just try to go out there and make the most of it. I mean, I'm not sitting on the sideline hoping for him to get injured so I can play. You got to think of the team first. But when I go out there and get a chance to play I try to make an impact."

 Despite his sudden rash of injuries, Hitchcock has been very helpful to the younger Beveridge.

 "Rob's been tremendous," said Beveridge. "We've kind have been like sidekicks. He's been tutoring me all along, giving me helpful hints and everything. Even on the sidelines during the game he's coming over and talking to me consistently. Rob's been a tremendous help."

 * * *

 For nearly two decades Beveridge has been playing on the gridiron. When he was five or six years old Sandy's parents entered him in flag football. By the time he was eight he was playing tackle football, and has been playing the game ever since.

 In 1998 he was a provincial high school all-star, and in 1999 was named the best defensive player at the Canada Cup with the winning B.C. squad. Beveridge then joined the UBC Thunderbirds where he played for four years.

 "I had a great time at UBC," said a smiling Beveridge. "I loved UBC. I went there for four years and I have a lot of great friends. Julien (Radlein) came with me out here from UBC, and played against Javy (Javier Glatt) in B.C. this past week. We were all good friends back at UBC for four years. I had a great time."

 During his university career Beveridge had 84 tackles and 11 interceptions. He also played a significant role on special teams where he returned 95 punts for 957 yards and 34 kickoffs for 647 yards.

 This wasn't enough, however, to get Beveridge selected in the CFL Canadian college entry draft. He signed with the Tiger-Cats as a free agent prior to the 2003 season.

 Not being drafted gives Beveridge some added incentive to play well on the gridiron.

 "That's definitely motivating. Not only did eight other teams pass you over, but they passed you over, like, six times during the course of the draft," chuckled Beveridge. "It's definitely some motivation. You definitely want to go out there and prove yourself that you do belong whether they thought you did or not."

 Chances are Beveridge has now made believers out of at least one other CFL club.

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