Khari's last stand?

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:26 PM ET

They say you never appreciate something until it's gone.

That old adage may never ring more true, in a football sense, than it does tonight, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers welcome the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to town.

Look closely, and you'll see it standing on the east sideline, wearing white, black and gold, and a familiar No. 17.

Before we go any further, Bomber fans, we ask you this: how would you like it if your team was 4-3 at this point of the season, and scoring an average of 24 points per game?

Then imagine it winning its next five games, scoring at least 34 points in each, on its way to an 11-7 finish?

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

Heck, it sounds like nirvana compared to the state of the current Bombers: a 1-6 mark, the worst offence in the CFL and what's shaping up to be a revolving door at quarterback.

Well, folks, those attractive numbers we mentioned above were put up by the 2003 edition of the Bombers, led by none other than Khari Jones.

And that was his bad year, when, by the end of it, you could have fit his cheering section into a living room.

We won't present Mr. Jones's best years here -- no need to embarrass this year's group more than we have to. The highlights will do: CFL Most Outstanding Player Award, 46 touchdown passes, a 14-win season and trip to the Grey Cup.

Oh, and more regular-season victories than any team from 2001-03.

If you miss those days of strutting around in the CFL penthouse, don't worry -- so does Jones.

"You kind of realize it may never be like that again," a nostalgic-sounding Jones, now a backup with the Ticats, was saying yesterday. "And that's something you have to deal with. This was kind of a unique situation. It was really like a family, and we had a great group of guys that will be my friends for life.

"Once you've had it, you definitely miss it."

You think life's been rough for you, Bomber fans, since Jones was traded to Calgary nearly a year ago?

It hasn't been easy for him, either.

Since leaving, he's worn the colours of the Calgary, Edmonton, who cut him after training camp this year, and now Hamilton, who picked him up a couple of weeks ago.

Talk about an identity crisis. During last week's game against Ottawa, a penalty went against the Ticats and Jones celebrated -- until suddenly realizing that was his team.

"I'm like, 'Damn, I'm with Hamilton,'" he said, laughing. "It's a little different."

So was sitting at home early in the season, when no team wanted him. That was enough to get him thinking it might be over, and what he might like to do if, indeed, it was.

Which brings us back to tonight's game.

At 34, Jones doesn't see himself being a hired gun, brought in when a team needs an experienced backup, for much longer. And while he still feels he can help a team by playing, even starting, he knows he might never get that chance again.

That means this could well be No. 17's last appearance at Winnipeg Stadium, where all that magic took place.

Oh, you may find him on a local stage someday -- he's thinking of asking the Manitoba Theatre Centre if he can do Shakespeare's Othello here -- but if you want one last chance to see the quarterback, not the actor, this could be it.

"Yeah, maybe," Jones said. "I'll address it in the off-season, and see where I'm at. You won't see me at 42, that's for sure."

So maybe, Bomber fans, as you watch your 1-6 team try desperately to keep its playoff hopes alive, you'll want to let Jones know how much you appreciate him.

Now that he's gone.

"I don't think people really realized how hard it is to win football games. How hard it is to win consistently," Jones said. "And maybe now they do."


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