Kicker's no idiot

JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:17 AM ET

Sure, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers sent feelers out for the most successful NFL placekicker of all time last season.

But there was really little chance that they could land Mike Vanderjagt, who will be wearing a Toronto uniform when Winnipeg takes on the Argos at Canad Inns Stadium tonight.

"I believe they did (call)," Vanderjagt said yesterday. "My agent had mentioned them at some point but I'm not sure how formal the conversation was.

"Last year, I was waiting for another NFL opportunity. I had a few workouts and they just never materialized. But this off-season, Toronto was my main goal. I have a house in Toronto and it just made it easier."

The Oakville, Ont., native, who sat out the entire 2007 season, won two Grey Cups with the Argos in the late 1990s, which also helped.

But back in 2003, some suggested that Vanderjagt sold his soul as he made every single field goal and every convert he attempted while toiling for Indianapolis. And he still boasts the best field goal success rate (86.4%) in NFL history.

"I guess making 42 straight (field goals) was pretty cool," said the 6-foot-5, 211-pound West Virginia product. "I had a couple of 50-yarders -- the 54-yarder to tie in Denver and a 51-yarder in overtime in the same game. It had never happened before. It was snowing and it was actually Grey Cup Sunday in 2003 maybe so that was pretty cool.

"Just the overall experience was an eye-opening deal for a kid from Oakville, Ontario -- to be down there with the big boys was a pretty cool deal."

But the deal with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was overblown, he said. After Vanderjagt suggested Manning lacked emotion during a 41-0 playoff loss, Manning responded by calling him "an idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off."

"Peyton and I are friends," Vanderjagt said. "We were friends at the time the whole thing happened. People love to make things out of nothing and six years later, they're still talking about it. I could call Peyton tomorrow and we'd talk quite normal so, there's absolutely no story there."

Vanderjagt, who also kicked for Dallas, is now enjoying a much more relaxed atmosphere back in the CFL.

"The biggest difference is being on the field a lot more," he said. "Down there, it was once a quarter. Here, it's seven-eight times a quarter so, you've got to be on your toes and you've got to be ready to go.

"You're walking on eggshells down there. Up here, it's a lot more laid back, a lot more fun. Teammates are a lot more enjoyable. You're all in the same sort of financial bracket and you're all having a good time."

The Argos traded long-time stalwart Noel Prefontaine to Edmonton when they convinced Vanderjagt to return.

"I had my eye on it," said Vanderjagt, who will also handle the punting duties. "Even in the middle of all my success, you had to look down the road.

"I realized that, at some point in time, the NFL would probably come to an end and I could still come up here and get a few more years in and obviously, here we stand."

And rookie Bombers kicker Alexis Serna will be watching him closely.

"He's a great kicker and you gotta respect him," Serna said. "He's coming out here and doing the same exact thing as I am ... It'll be exciting to see him. He played in The League, and that's my goal hopefully one day, to play there."


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