Seldom has a player of Andre Rison's profile arrived on the local sports scene and caused such a stir.
From the day he arrived, Rison has been a lightning rod for controversy. Some of it has been preceded by alleged missed child-support payments -- a matter since taken care of by his longtime business manager Bill Thies -- others related to his exile from the National Football League or his onetime stormy relationship with the late TLC singer Lisa (Left Eye) Lopes.
As a testament to his stature as one of the greatest receivers in the history of the NFL and certainly one of its most colourful, Rison drew an unusually large media throng following his first practice. He created a buzz when a reporter asked him why he deserved a chance to play again after a layoff of three years.
Rison shot back that the statistics on the back of his bubble-gum cards provided the answer. Moreover, he said with all due respect to the likes of Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, he is the greatest receiver of all time.
BELIEVES IN HIMSELF
Seldom is there an athlete who does not believe he can play, but few are willing to boldly proclaim themselves as the greatest. But, Andre Rison truly believes that, even if naysayers in the personnel offices of the NFL believe that at age 37 his best days are behind him.
Which is not to say he is too old to play the game. He is the same age as onetime teammate Deion Sanders, who is making a comeback this year after roughly the same time as Rison, but who is being used principally in a backup role. Additionally, Rison is four years younger than Argo quarterback Damon Allen, who is a physiological freak of nature.
Andre Rison can still make plays, which he has demonstrated at various moments in the five games in which he has played for the Argos. But he is not the go-to guy he once was, and when he drops an easy catch, as was the case against B.C. on Monday, he leaves himself open for criticism because of his so-called egotistical remarks.
People have told me they've run into Rison at various places throughout town and are amazed by his grace and politeness. He comes across as a good guy, a diametrical opposite of the Bad Moon Rison persona he has cultivated in his career and his brief time in Toronto. Shortly after his arrival, Rison saw a group of young football players practising and took the time to give them pointers without any fanfare.
This is the same person who offered up a diatribe sprinkled with some profanity about what he perceived to be questionable officiating after his second game, knowing full well the remarks could cost him a fine. In his mind, he was right and in the opinion of many critics who have wondered about some of the calls this year, Rison had a point. It's just the way in which he said it.
And when he cut loose with an opinion of why he is in the CFL during an interview with Toronto Sun colleague Steve Simmons last week, Rison again caused a furor. When the column appeared, Rison took offence with it, claiming he made the remarks in jest. Unless Rison clearly expressed that or deliberately asked Simmons to specifically not write any or all of what he said, he has to take responsibility for his actions.
Among his teammates, specifically the receiving corps, Rison is revered. In the absence of a full-time receivers coach, Rison has become a tutor, guiding them on the finer points of getting off the line and running routes. They like him and respect him because similar to some of them he came from a hard-scrabble beginning. And when he talks of his accomplishments, they are more inclined to pay attention to that than any issues off the football field.
It is people on the outside looking in who are probably having a hard time understanding Rison's personality. Ultimately, his performance and production will do the most talking about him and his stay here.