V.P. of attitude

JULIE HORBAL -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

Since Brett MacNeil parted ways with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2002, the offensive lineman has been waiting for his induction into the team's Hall of Fame.

It's not that MacNeil is presumptuous. Far from it in fact. He was, however, promised a spot by Bombers' president and CEO Lyle Bauer.

He just wasn't expecting it would be his this soon.

"You don't think as a young man you'll be inducted to a Hall of Fame," said the 38-year-old MacNeil, who is one of three players and two builders in the Blue Bombers Hall of Fame class of 2006.

"I made the joke with my family that when I was inducted into the Bombers' Hall of Fame they would have to go and accept for me because I would be long gone from here."

MacNeil, along with former players Dave VanKoughnett and Michael Gray and builders Dr. Ross Brown and Joe Wilder, was to take his place among the greatest Blue and Gold at the team's Legacy Dinner last night at Canad Inns Polo Park.

For MacNeil, who now makes his home in Winnipeg with his wife -- a St. James born-and-raised Winnipegger -- and two daughters, the prompt induction was far from expected.

But that surprise makes it all that more special.

"It's a tremendous honour to go into a Hall of Fame like this one that includes so many great players. Just to be part of that group is really quite special," said MacNeil. "When I was let go, Lyle said I would one day be a Hall of Famer. He just never alluded to the fact that it would be in such a short time frame."

MacNeil was a member of Winnipeg's club for ten seasons (1992-1997 and 1998-2002), led the squad to three Grey Cup appearances and acquired Canadian Football League all-star accolades.

According to Bauer, who has a committee of past-chairmen, other Bomber executive and local sports media, there was nothing about MacNeil that warranted him anything other than an induction this year.

"Both on-field and off the field, he really just exceeded the definition of what the Blue Bombers are all about," Bauer said. "We used to refer to him as the V.P. of attitude. He was one of the tough guys and he bled blue and gold. He carried that passion with him and certainly still carries that passion with him.

MacNeil carried that Blue and Gold tough-guy mentality with him into his post-football career, which now includes coaching the University of Manitoba Bisons' offensive line and running the MacNeil Wing Chun Do School of martial arts.

It is in fact martial arts in which MacNeil got his sporting background, which also included hockey before football. Come high school, the hockey player took up school football, and then switched to the summer/fall sport full-time.

He continued with Wing Chun Do on the side and credits his involvement with the combat art with developing his famed "tough-guy" style of play.

"When I started to play football I didn't know exactly what I was supposed to be doing, so I was just being a martial artist," laughed MacNeil, who admits he was not always intentionally trying to be a mean player.

"I encorporated a lot of Wing Chun Do into my playing," he laughed. "I wasn't so much a rule breaker but a guy who would play to the whistle and get the job done. Referees can call whatever they want uneccesasry roughness. But I was just doing martial arts."

MacNeil's fearless and forward game was eventually what forced him into retirement four years ago, when he sustained a career-ending injury after playing in only seven games in his final season.

It is perhaps the pains and perils brought on by his style that keep MacNeil from now missing the game he loved so much back then.

"I miss playing, I just don't miss the practising. I don't miss the injuries. I miss the excitement," said MacNeil, who admits the excitement of football is coming back -- if only briefly -- tonight.

"We've got a whole crew of 11 people coming," MacNeil said of the dinner, the anticipation of which has been teasing at his eight and 14-year-old daughters for quite some time. "Everyone in the family is so excited. I guess it's a pretty big deal for something unexpected."


Videos

Photos