Ode to old Lefty

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:50 AM ET

For the first time since I'd been covering sports, I was worried about the well-being of an athlete.

The scene, the Duckworth Centre at the University of Winnipeg.

The athlete, Blue Bomber kicker Troy Westwood, who was making his pro boxing debut.

The guy across the ring from Westwood, an ex-con not far removed from the pen, looked ready to slam dunk Old Lefty's melon through a basketball hoop.

Truth is there were more than a few people around the boxing ring that would have liked to see the pretty-boy kicker put in his place. Westwood was on their turf, now, and he was going to learn a hard lesson between those ropes, delivered on behalf of serious fighters everywhere.

That day, Feb. 15, 2001, I gained new respect for Westwood.

I won't say he was fearless, because I detected a hint of fear in his eyes as the bell sounded to start the fight. Some 1,500 fans had paid to see what kind of damage a real fighter could do to a kicker-turned car racer-turned singer-turned-boxer, and there were no blockers protecting him.

The man was all alone in that ring, save for somebody who really wanted to hurt him.

But Westwood faced it, head-on. Just like he faced every challenger to his job over the years, every blown field goal and the questions that would invariably follow, every question about his age, his ability to punt, his off-field exploits.

The left-footer who wore his hair in a pony tail and had a tattoo of Chief Sitting Bull on his shoulder marched to the beat of his own drummer, right up until he was dumped by the Bombers on Sunday.

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There was another day a few years back, that Westwood's courage caught my attention.

Led by Milt Stegall, most of the Bombers were boycotting the Sun, refusing to do interviews because of something that had been written a few days earlier.

It was petty, to say the least, but for the reporters whose job was to cover the team, it wasn't all that funny.

One man had the conviction to stand up to the boycott, a man who doesn't necessarily go along with the crowd, who won't be told who he can or can't talk to, what he can or can't say.

That day, I also gained new respect for Westwood.

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A CD showed up at my desk a few years ago, and at first I'll admit I didn't take it all that seriously.

A novelty item, I figured. A kicker trying to sing.

Oh, I'd seen Westwood's old band, Eagle and Hawk, perform once, and the guy did nothing to embarrass himself. But this time he was the front man, having written and performed everything under the name Little Hawk, the name given him by an aboriginal elder.

The music was all right, but it was the lyrics that grabbed you.

Westwood was telling stories about the historic injustices faced by the American Indian. It was well-researched stuff, and earned Westwood a pair of Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards in '05.

This year his second album, dealing with the struggles of the Canadian Indian, earned him a Juno Nomination.

Yesterday, Westwood was on CBC radio talking about being cut by the Bombers.

But he was just as passionate when discussing a song he wrote lamenting the high suicide rate among our First Nations.

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It's been quite a 17-year run for Westwood.

Sure, he missed field goals and shanked punts, probably lost a few more games than he won, and nobody's forgotten the '01 Grey Cup, when he left nine points in the smoke-filled air of the Big-O.

But he also won a few games with last-second kicks, scored more points than anyone in Bomber history, called out Montreal's Ed Philion and created the Banjo Bowl, all the while providing some of the most colourful newspaper copy around.

He's no longer a Blue Bomber. But this place is richer because of him.

Thanks for the memories, Old Lefty.


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