Careers ending with whimper, not a bang

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

There was a time they were front-page news, at least in the sports section -- starting members of pro football teams, playing the game before thousands of fans each week.

Today, they're a line in the transactions, at the back of the paper, no less, their careers quite likely over.

Khari Jones and Justin Coleman, two players with vastly different pasts, both dealing with a miserable present and looking at the same uncertain future.

This is the business end of pro sports. The day someone decides they don't want you.

That's not uncommon. You'd be hard-pressed to find a player that hasn't been cut at one time or another.

For Jones and Coleman, though, the chances of bouncing back don't look good.

I mean, when you're released by the worst team in the league, as Jones was by the 2-10 Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where do you go?

Similarly, when you're a defensive back who can't play for a Winnipeg secondary that gives up yards at a record-breaking clip, as Coleman was, who'll take you?

Coleman, at least, has age on his side. He's 26.

But how many players like him vanish from the scene and don't come back, a footnote to a forgettable team's forgettable season? The import who stopped by for the proverbial cup of coffee, only to spill it all over himself.

That will be Coleman's claim to Bomber fame, after he showed up at his locker yesterday with a garbage bag in his hands instead of his playbook.

"I'm just lost for words," a visibly upset Coleman told The Sun. "I just don't understand what's going on. I put all this time in and played when I was hurt, and all of a sudden they don't need you. It kind of makes you wonder."

The Bombers didn't actually cut Coleman, they just didn't plan to activate him for this weekend's game in Montreal.

That means another week with a practice roster cheque of $500 instead of a game cheque -- the last straw for a player who hasn't found a permanent spot since he arrived last year.

"I don't want to be on the practice roster -- why should I?" Coleman asked. "Why should I have to sit and wait for somebody to get hurt? I want to win. That's why I've been here since Day 1. It don't mean nothing."

Coleman was one of the players affected by hurricane Katrina, as he had friends in New Orleans and shared an apartment with his brother in Gulfport, Miss.

If you're looking for sympathy, though, you've come to the wrong place.

"When they say, 'If I'm not playing, I don't want to be here,' that's my signal to get them out of here," GM Brendan Taman said. "If they have that mindset, I don't want them in that locker-room. I want guys that want to be here."

Within hours of talking to Coleman, Taman had been on the phone looking for his replacement. See ya later, kid. Turn in your playbook on the way out.

In Hamilton, the Ticats brought in a new quarterback, making Jones expendable. Again. Just three years after he set a Blue Bomber record by tossing 46 touchdown passes.

"That's unfortunate," Taman said. "It's unbelievable. One of the weirdest stories I've ever seen. He was one of the best in the league for awhile."

In case you're losing track, Jones' last 12 months have gone like this: traded by the Bombers, then released by Calgary, Edmonton and, now, Hamilton.

Taman wouldn't be surprised if that's it for the 34-year-old, and neither would we.

Talk about a quiet way to go out.

"He did something that Damon Allen didn't do," Taman pointed out, mustering a final tribute to the man who won the CFL's Most Outstanding Player Award in 2001.

He didn't last nearly as long as Allen, either.

Then again, it's all relative, isn't it?

Just ask Justin Coleman.


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