Answering the Bell

Monday will mark one year to the day since Graeme Bell was attacked outside a Saskatoon restaurant...

Monday will mark one year to the day since Graeme Bell was attacked outside a Saskatoon restaurant and bar. SUN MEDIA/Marcel Cretain

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

They don't often have happy endings, these stories about thugs and baseball bats in parking lots.

But the story of Winnipeg Blue Bomber Graeme Bell may be the exception.

Monday will mark one year to the day since Bell was attacked outside a Saskatoon restaurant and bar, his head absorbing the blow from a bat.

The injury not only wiped out Bell's entire 2007 season, it threatened the running back's career, not to mention his ability to live a normal life.

The 27-year-old has no trouble remembering the horrific effects.

"From Day 1, I couldn't speak," Bell said from his Saskatoon home, yesterday. "I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn't speak."

What he wanted to say was, "Just get me back on that football field."

"That was my goal from Day 1, when I woke up in the hospital: when am I going to play football again?

"The doctors, right off the bat, were like, 'I don't think so, Graeme.' But my goal was always to get back."

In three weeks, Bell will realize that goal. Fully recovered, he'll strap on his helmet and renew acquaintances with some old friends at Blue Bomber training camp.

His head is clear, his speech fluid -- and his hunger for the game stronger than ever.

"I'm just counting the days," Bell said. "It's been an 18-month off-season, so I'm pretty excited to get back and start doing things again."

He wasn't always this excited.

For the first eight or nine months after the attack, Bell couldn't concentrate. If he wasn't one-on-one with someone in a quiet place, he couldn't communicate.

Even something as simple as a car full of people was too much for him.

"Now I can go to a busy restaurant at lunch and talk to people around me," he said. "I'm multi-tasking now. It's been amazing just to see how the brain really recovers. It's a slow process. But you notice different stages when things start returning.

"It's been an uphill climb, but I've had no steps back."

There was always a light at the end of the tunnel, too.

The Bombers told Bell not to worry, that he'd still have a job, even if he missed an entire season.

COULDN'T WAIT

But Bell couldn't wait.

When he felt well enough, he began playing touch football, unbeknownst to his doctors. He just had to get back on the field.

"Oh, you miss it," he said. "You grow up playing it, and then one day it's stripped from you. I missed it extremely."

In constant contact with doctors here, Bell finally got the green light.

Yesterday, he received one final vote of confidence from the Bombers, when his dad called with the news the team had released fullback Gilles Lezi.

He won't be handed it, but a spot on the roster is Bell's to win.

"There's always going to be competition," he argued. "Not a day goes by that you're not competing."

Truth is, he wouldn't have it any other way.

So as his attacker continues to make his way through the court system, Bell will be picking his way through defenders, trying to resume the unsung role he played as a backup runner and special teams ace his first two seasons.

And if he wakes up one day having made the team, he won't have any trouble expressing how he feels.

"That'll be the end of my goal," Bell said. "And a Grey Cup, hopefully."


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