Kiss Argos' Belli hello

Our Terry Koshan goes about his business interviewing returning Argos lineman Adriano Belli when...

Our Terry Koshan goes about his business interviewing returning Argos lineman Adriano Belli when Belli, the infamous Kissing Bandit, lives up to his nickname and plants one on the surprised scribe. (QMI Agency/JACK BOLAND)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:21 AM ET

TORONTO - Last we saw Adriano Belli, he was on a tall ship in Toronto’s harbour, dressed in an ill-fitting sailor’s outfit and announcing his retirement from the Canadian Football League in a manner that only the colourful Belli could pull off.

Seventeen months later, there was Belli in his familiar No. 78 at the Argonauts practice in Oakville on Wednesday, battling against offensive linemen as he tried to convince himself and the Argos coaching staff that he remains capable, as he would put it, of killing quarterbacks.

“I came to watch the game last Sunday and saw the boys struggling a bit,” the 35-year-old Belli told a group of reporters afterward, his own blood from a cut finger splashed on the front of his jersey.

“I was down on the sideline and I thought, ‘Ooh, I think I might want to hit somebody again.’ (General manager) Jim (Barker) gave me a call asked me if I was interested. I have not hit somebody in two years and I feel like picking a fight.”

The official line is Belli has been lured out of retirement because the Argos needed a Canadian defensive lineman with Zander Robinson suffering from a pectoral injury. And that’s true — had Robinson been healthy, Belli’s lone focus still would be his family food business — but with the Argos in the rut of a slump that has seen them lose four of their past five games, and with the Grey Cup being contested at the Rogers Centre in 51/2 weeks, it’s not just a coincidence the popular Belli has been re-hired.

Where some players are game-changers, Belli, in his 10-year CFL career, had the ability to change the attitude of an organization. He is a leader, all 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds of him.

The Argos play host to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday night and a victory would all but secure a home playoff game. Provided the Hamilton Tiger-Cats then lose on Saturday in Calgary versus the Stampeders, the Argos will be at home for a post-season tilt.

Whether Belli is around that long isn’t written in stone. He has been signed to the practice roster, but the Argos would love to rotate him in at nose tackle for approximately 15-20 plays a game.

If Belli is ready, that could happen against the Bombers, who are supplanting the Ticats as the Argos’ nastiest rival.

“If you have ever coached him or been around him, it is worth a call and see where he is at,” Barker said. “You look at every possible thing that is out there. We are getting ready to make a run for the Grey Cup. We are on a little two-game losing streak and we need to snap out. We need to put the best team on the field. It’s not any gimmick.”

Belli reminded observers at practice about how he came to be known as the Kissing Bandit. A couple of reporters were the wary recipients of pecks on the cheek.

But it’s opposing quarterbacks that Belli truly has in his sights, and why not begin with Winnipeg’s oft-injured Buck Pierce, who will start on Friday?

“Buck Pierce is known for having a soft melon,” Belli said. “He is a great quarterback, but if you can’t take hits, get out of the game. It’s contact sport for a reason.”

Belli never was one for over-the-top training rituals, but he appeared to be in fine shape on Wednesday. A foot injury that kept him out of most of the 2010 season has healed, though Belli acknowledged he might be closer to 80% than 100%.

That didn’t matter as the skies broke and the sun peeked out just after the noon hour.

“I am here to make a few memories,” Belli said. “I still consider myself a retired guy. I am here to help these young guys any way I can.

“Football is a game of enthusiasm, and the little men follow the big men. If you have a big guy causing trouble and stirring the pot, the little men will follow suit. I’m here to pick a fight.”

 

KEEPING UP WITH JONES EASY

There’s potential for Adriano Belli to make a smooth transition out of retirement because he has played for Argonauts defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones in Montreal with the Alouettes.

“That helps in terminology,” said Argos head coach Scott Milanovich, who was with Montreal when Belli had moved on to the Argos. “He already has it.

“We’re excited to have him. We have been talking to him, even before this season, trying to get him to come back and be a part of this.

“Belli is the kind of guy that you don’t love when you are coaching against him, but you always wish was on your team. He always played well against Montreal too. He had some of his best games against us. I was more than aware of what Adriano was capable of doing. I am glad to finally be on the same side with him.”

Belli figured that having played for Jones will help.

“Chris Jones is a complete a------,” Belli said, deadpan. “But he is a great defensive mind and it is a great mixture.”

Along with Belli, the Argos added two imports — linebacker Jerome Boyd and wide receiver Chansi Stuckey — to the practice roster. Released were offensive lineman Jake Anderson, kicker Josh Jasper and defensive lineman Ayanga Okpokowuruk.

 


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