Another soft landing

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

So there was Darnell McDonald, in just his third attempt at skydiving, free-falling from 13,000 feet -- and suddenly realizing his parachute wasn't working properly.

In a moment that most of us will probably never experience, McDonald did what came naturally.

"I just panicked," he said. "And I ejected out of that one, and pulled the second one."

Now you know where the term "pulling the 'chute" comes from.

Only McDonald didn't, really. After making it safely to the ground that day, he didn't hang up his 'chute, like most of us would, content in the knowledge he'd accomplished one of life's more daring feats.

No, he's jumped about two dozen times since.

"It's an adrenaline thing," he explained. "Anything you shouldn't be doing, in my case, is good."

McDonald chuckles at that, perhaps realizing how appropriately it applies to his football career.

You see, the recently-signed receiver, making his Blue Bomber debut tomorrow in Hamilton, came to town with a bit of a reputation.

Undisciplined, some say. A coach's headache.

McDonald, who's made previous stops in B.C., Calgary and Montreal, calls it over-blown.

"I was young," he said. "I just liked to hang out, have a good time, and I might have missed a meeting here and there. My whole thing was, 'If I'm playing well, what's the problem?' Literally, I probably missed three meetings my whole career. It's overrated."

It wasn't enough to scare off the Bombers, not with their receivers suffering a case of the dropsies a few weeks ago.

After all, McDonald is a big (6-foot-3), sure-handed target who, as a CFL rookie with B.C. in 2001, latched onto 31 passes in 10 games, earning a look from the NFL in '02.

A year later, in Calgary, McDonald became a West all-star, with 67 grabs for 1,002 yards in 14 games.

But the Kansas State product's stock has fallen like a rock since.

He suffered a knee injury in Calgary's '04 training camp, was cut, flunked a physical in Montreal, then had surgery, wiping out last season.

Talk about reality slapping you in the face.

FREE-FALLING

Here was one of Kansas State's all-time greats, laying carpet for a living. Or selling insurance. Or doing customer service for a cable company.

McDonald was free-falling again.

When CFL training camps rolled around in the spring and nobody called, it was as if he'd reached for the cord to his parachute, only to have it fail one more time.

"I thought my career was over," McDonald said. "I was scared ... I thought about all this: that I missed a meeting here and there, that I might not be playing again, and things like that."

A desperate Bomber team turned out to be his safety net. And McDonald sounds like someone who's going to appreciate the view on the way down, this time.

"A whole lot more," he agreed. "It's a blessing I got another opportunity. I know right now I'm not going to mess it up. Not one bit."

If he does, he likely won't get another chance.

"He will miss no meetings here," head coach Jim Daley said. "As I told him Day 1: if I have a problem, it'll be a short-lived experiment."

Daley predicts a firm hand will bring out the best in McDonald.

McDonald, now 29, says he's learned his lesson about "hanging out and having a good time."

"Now, it's keep your stuff to yourself when you do it," he said, laughing that mischievous laugh again.

As for life's potential hard landings, McDonald has an interesting theory.

"I just feel what's meant to happen is meant to happen," he said. "If neither one of my 'chutes opened that day, and I hit the ground, I probably would have got into a car accident that day."

So here he goes, jumping again.

And landing, he hopes, in a new place for the last time.


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