Theismann offside

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:51 AM ET

Say it ain't so, Joe.

Say you aren't really embarrassed to have worn the same Toronto Argonauts uniform Ricky Williams is wearing to attract unprecedented attention to the CFL across North America.

Say you aren't naive enough, Mr. Theismann, to forget the only motive any team has to sign a player is to fill seats by winning. Because despite your little hissy-fit on ESPN radio in which you slammed the Argos' "feeble attempt to sell tickets," the bottom line is Reefer Ricky will do just that.

And for you, as an educated man who will step into the Monday Night Football booth this fall, to suggest the Argos lacked class by signing the most exciting addition to the league since Doug Flutie is simply out of touch.

"Doesn't anybody have any class anywhere?" you asked.

"For gosh sakes, let the kid go do what he wants to do. He doesn't want to play football. He's going to a place where his value will be limited."

Wrong on both fronts.

It appears he does want to play, otherwise he wouldn't have lowered himself -- as many NFLers would see it -- to play in a league he probably hadn't heard of before winning his Heisman Trophy in 1998.

As for his value, the massive horde of U.S.- and Canadian-based journalists who stood on the sidelines yesterday to cover an Argos practice generally attended by a half-dozen suggests his signing is attracting interest from coast to coast.

And that will translate into ticket sales in every stadium he plays. Shame on the Argos and the CFL for trying to attract and entertain fans.

You're right about one thing, Mr. Theismann: Williams is indeed a disgrace to the game.

Abandoning a team and a franchise the way he did to the Dolphins a few years back is as unforgivable an act as there is in team sport. The only thing worse might be slapping them in the face with a fourth drug violation after they welcomed him back.

Thing is, he's paying a price by having to sit out the NFL season and choosing to play in a feeder loop with an eye on returning to the Fins in 2007.

For the Argos, it's a one-time chance to field an NFL star who is theoretically still in his prime -- a rarity in the CFL.

As selfish, troubled and clueless as Williams comes across, he's not one of the many convicted criminals who pepper the NFL, CFL or other pro sports leagues.

He's no Lawrence Phillips, who racked up yards like he racked up abuse allegations from women. Funny, I don't recall hearing a peep from you then, Joe, when NFL snubs prompted the Alouettes and Stamps to employ him.

Keep in mind, Joe, things have changed since you began your pro career with the Boatmen in 1971 -- the pot Ricky admittedly smoked to become a four-time NFL drug cheat is no longer considered an evil weed north of the border where the good stuff's grown.

Perhaps that also had something to do with Ricky's migration. Either way, by putting Williams on their negotiation list hours before the Alouettes attempted the same move, the Argos proved to be a savvy organization committed to making it in a tough entertainment scene in Toronto. Good for them.

He'll be worth every penny of the $500,000 he's reportedly making.

"He insults the intelligence of everybody who thinks that doing drugs is OK," you said.

"To me, it's the wrong message to send to kids. It's the wrong thing to be doing and the Argonauts have embarrassed themselves as an organization signing him."

The same thing the Dolphins will do in one year's time.


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