NFL's loss is Argos' gain

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

The bidding began on the day Arland Bruce was mysteriously released by the San Francisco 49ers and no one else in the National Football League had the foresight to claim the wide receiver.

One Canadian Football League team called, then another and another.

Eight different teams seriously explored the possibility of signing Bruce -- every team except the B.C. Lions -- and after yesterday's Thanksgiving Day 22-16 victory over the Lions at the SkyDome, you are left to wonder.

Why didn't they?

"It came down to three teams in the end," said Greg Mohns, the Argos director of player personnel. "It was Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and us. We're just glad he chose us."

All Arland Bruce did yesterday -- on what his coach called "another day at the office for him" -- was catch a pass for 24 yards, another for 39, another for 34, and return punts of 26 and 22 yards, run a kickoff back 53 yards and have another punt return called back because of penalty after a 42-yard return.

In all, 248 yards of total offence. A day for Bruce, a career for some. Thirteen more yards than the 'not interested in pursuing him' Lions managed yesterday.

Almost all of Bruce's yards were spectacular.

You want a reason to go watch the Argos?

Never mind that this is a second-place team and beat the best team in the West yesterday.

Never mind that Andre Rison makes more noise than MuchMusic.

Never mind that the world's most popular man, Pinball Clemons, is coaching.

Never mind that the roof was open and the sun was shining on a cool October day.

Never mind that there were 25,217 people and some atmosphere at the SkyDome.

All that is stunning on its own.

Arland Bruce is a reason to buy tickets, a genuine reason. He is Vince Carter on a football field back when Vince Carter was worth paying for. He is the most fun the Argos have been since their coach was returning kicks.

He is, with hockey gone, with the Blue Jays in decline, with the Raptors not through camp, the best dollar-for-dollar athlete to watch in this city. Today.

"He believes he can take every ball for a touchdown," said Adrion Smith, who hasn't been around for all 131 seasons of Argo football, it only seems that way.

"I've known about him since he was in the seventh grade. He's from Kansas City and I'm from Kansas City. My father and his grandfather were ministers in the same neighbourhood. I knew about him and have been following him since he started playing. I'm just glad he is with us rather than against us."

Afterward, Arland Bruce said nothing about his fifth game as an Argo.

An attempt to interview him post-game was rudely interrupted by his joyful and mature teammates who were too busy playing tough guy about a column that appeared in The Toronto Sun last week on Rison to allow their teammates a quiet moment.

Rather than speak in a disturbing climate of tension, Bruce politely declined.

There was no need for him to explain anything other than how in hell any one of 31 NFL teams didn't want him.

SKILLED

He is that quick, that nifty, that skilled, a player you can't take your eyes off.

And he's not one of those one-dimensional made-for-the-CFL-only special teams guys. He can get open and leap and suddenly stretch his 5-foot-10 frame another five inches.

"It's what he does," said coach Clemons. "If we don't have him, we don't tie the Hamilton game (on Labour Day). The next two weeks he returns kicks for touchdowns. In Winnipeg, he climbs the ladder, gets hit, makes the catch."

And then yesterday.

Just another day at the office.


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