|Argos defensive tackle Adriano Belli takes part in practice at Olympic Stadium in Montreal on Nov. 20, 2010. (ERIC BOLTE/QMI Agency)
For every hard battle that Adriano Belli has fought on the football field, for every inch he has earned between the lines, none really have prepared him for the increasingly difficult decision he must make in the next couple of months.
If Belli, a free agent, returns in 2011 for what would be his 11th season in the Canadian Football League, he will do so for the Argonauts.
That much the burly defensive tackle made clear in a telephone interview with the Toronto Sun on Wednesday morning.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and several other teams have offered Belli plenty of money to lure him out of Toronto, but they will be left to wonder what could have been. Belli planned to call Ticats general manager Bob O’Billovich on Wednesday to tell him he would not be signing in Steeltown.
Yet with the start of training camp less than two months in the distance, Belli remains unsure whether he get to stuff another quarterback into the ground.
Much of Belli’s non-football time is eaten up by his food business, and though he has been training during the off-season with an eye to re-signing with the Argos, he can’t make that decision yet.
“I’m still trying to figure out how I would juggle work and football,” Belli said. “I’m tremendously busy with work and I don’t want to let the team down. The CFL has changed a lot in the past 10 years. It’s a lot more competitive and it’s harder for guys to hold jobs during the season.”
There’s no doubt where Belli’s heart lies. There’s more than just the demands of running a business that would require he stays in Toronto.
“I’m proud to play for my home-town team and I love being an Argonaut,” Belli said as he drove to a meeting with a client. “I really think we have a chance to win a Grey Cup this year.
“But I’ve let (Argos GM/coach) Jim (Barker) know — please don’t wait on me. If he has to bring in a couple of defensive tackles, I understand. ”
Belli, 33, missed the majority of the Argos’ games in 2010 with a foot injury. But he has recovered, and jokingly said he is down to a “slim 302” pounds.
Few doubt that Belli would be effective on the gridiron. And about recent reports that football players should not count on a long life expectancy once they retire, well, that has no bearing on Belli’s back-and-forth.
“Regardless of what happens in the future, I have benefitted so much from football,” Belli said. “I could die at 50 or live to be 101. It’s in God’s hands. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
But that’s not to say Belli does not take the concussion discussion seriously.
“I believe every player should have a CT scan at the beginning of the year,” Belli said.
“That would give each guy a map to go off. To the league, I would say to do everything you can to make it safer, but I am not a fan of lightening up the sport.
“People pay to watch me kill quarterbacks. (Players) know what they are getting into.”
Belli was not sure when he would let Barker know about his plans for 2011.
But the Toronto native, whose off-the-field charity work stands out in a league where so many players do it, clearly has contemplated the idea that his career could be over.
“The combat is the thing I will miss the most,” Belli said. “You get so exhausted during a game but I can still look into a guy like Mike O’Shea’s eyes and say ‘I’ll die with you out there.’
“That’s football to me. So many people see it as scoring touchdowns, but that’s the way I see it.”