Trash or treasure?

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

Take a stroll through Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp these days, and you're struck by a strange case of deja-Blue. What is this, 1999 all over again?

You recall '99, don't you? That was the year new head coach Dave Ritchie decided to go retro and bring back players we all thought had retired. Or worse.

Still don't remember? Perhaps names like Cory Philpot and Barry Wilburn will ring a bell.

Neither had played a down the year before, in any league. Wilburn hadn't played in two years, and quickly proved he'd not only forgotten how to cover a receiver, but also how to catch a flight -- he missed three of Winnipeg's first five road games.

Ritchie put his faith in other CFL castoffs that season, like arena leaguer Robert Gordon, a move that turned out pretty good, and an aging Henry Newby, one that didn't.

In the end, '99 was an unmitigated disaster: the Bombers went 6-12, often getting blown out like an old Kern-Hill sectional.

This trip down memory lane is brought to you by the 2005 Blue Bombers, a team with more reclamation projects than the local Humane Society.

Linebacker Ron Ockimey, for instance, out of football last year after being cut by the B.C. Lions a week before their training camp.

"It was B.S. -- typical Wally Buono," Ockimey was saying.

We can only assume the Lions head coach didn't get his contract extension in Vancouver yesterday after a reference from Ockimey.

Ockimey, 27, did just fine without football last year, financially, anyway. Acting as a mortgage broker down in San Jose, he says he pulled in 30 grand last month, alone.

He missed the game, though, and says a year off hasn't hurt him at all.

"I've still got the same intensity," he said. "I'm probably the fastest dude on the defence."

At the opposite end of the scale, financially and confidence-wise, sits defensive back Marcus Bradley.

This guy hasn't played a CFL game since the 2000 season, when, while with Calgary, he broke his leg in more places than they should allow.

Bradley, 28, finally got back into football last year, playing in something called Arena Football 2, where "they don't even pay you any money, really."

"It's, like, $200 a week," Bradley said. "I had to humble myself, financially put my family in a bind. I didn't live on lobster and shrimp. I lived on bologna and water. Seriously."

Bradley has basically had to work three part-time jobs the last couple of years in order to support his wife and two kids. Working in a convenience store, as a lifeguard, substitute teaching -- you name it, he did it.

And now he wants to pull on a Bomber uniform and cover receivers like Geroy Simon, Jason Tucker and Jeremaine Copeland?

"All this for the love of football," Bradley explained. "And proving to myself, and myself alone, that I can play at a high level again.

"Just to get this far, right here in camp, is more than anybody even thought."

Look around this camp and you'll see other retreads: receiver Dimitrius Breedlove, cut by Hamilton last season; fullback Jarrett Smith, handed a pink slip by those same Ticats after going to the trouble of rehabbing a 2003 knee injury; and linebackers Sean Woodson and Willie Fells, pickups from the Hamilton and Calgary discard piles, respectively.

Of course, rejects are reborn in new cities every year in the CFL, a league who's motto may as well be, One Man's Junk is Another's Treasure.

There's no guarantee any of them will make Jim Daley's final Bomber roster, either.

If 1999 is any indication, the number who do may provide the first clue as to how good this team will be.


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