Avery out for redemption

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

In a year in which just about everything has gone wrong for him professionally, running back John Avery just wants to end it by winning the Grey Cup.

It would be the first championship he has ever won.

"The main thing I want is to put that (Grey Cup) ring on my finger," Avery said yesterday, looking ahead to Sunday's championship game against the B.C. Lions at Ottawa's Frank Clair Stadium.

"I look at (quarterback) Damon (Allen) and he is a class guy with a lot of talent. I hear people say the same thing about me and that's the only thing I don't have -- the ring. Damon is a class guy, great talent and he has three rings. I'm a class guy, good talent but I've got a pair of ear rings."

That's Avery, the high-priced tailback who has been quicker with a joke than a juke this year because of a surgically-repaired knee that has hampered the moves he used to make so easily.

And the harder he tried to make it right, the more he encountered obstacles he couldn't control, playing three games in 10 days, a schedule that would physically tax a healthy player.

But now he is off to the Grey Cup, his second participation in the championship game in only his second season in the Canadian Football League, albeit with two different teams.

In 2002, he played for the Edmonton Eskimos, who were beaten by the Montreal Alouettes.

Avery had a troublesome groin injury going into that game and had his workload limited, but that was nothing compared to what happened this year when he has become an object of scorn, ridicule and derision.

"I lost my cool a couple times this season, saying (at halftime) 'I need the ball. Give me the ball,' " he said. "It got to me. I was almost thinking maybe this season is it for me. I was really thinking about doing some investments in the off-season.

"The accomplishment of the team winning (the Eastern final) with me being a part of it, it was really, really big. It's just a big relief, man, that I can sleep better at night now knowing everything I went through this season wasn't just for the media; wasn't just for the people on the outside looking in. It was really something I did for me.

"It was like training for the Olympics but I didn't false start. You think about how you've worked so hard to get to this point, this championship game, and just the criticism and everything that went on this year. To me, that was my way of turning the tables back on everybody else."

Such as the people who questioned his heart -- the media, the fans and even some of his teammates.

"I had never heard that before in my entire career," he said. "I'm sitting there saying to myself I don't complain about this hurting or that hurting. When I dress up to go out there and play, I play. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. That's the nature of this business. You have to be able to deal with it because if you don't have a thick skin you can't necessarily go out there in the game and perform."

He was used principally as a blocking back against Montreal, sacrificing his body for the greater good of the game plan, although he broke loose late in the game for a 25-yard touchdown run that ended up serving as the winning points.

It also marked his first win over the Als.

"To me, it was like David beating Goliath, taking a rock and hitting them right in the middle of the head," he said.

"They were like my demon, my nemesis."

FINAL EXAM

Now he has one more savage beast to slay -- the beast within that wants so badly to win this game -- and he'll suck up the pain and do whatever is asked of him.

"It hurts right now, but I've got six months to get healthy," he said. "This is our final exam. I would hate to go through another semester thinking about how I could have studied better or did this better to pass this final exam."


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