WINNIPEG -- Neil McKinlay's story is just another example of how quirky the CFL can be.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers special teamer is being excused from today's crucial tilt against the B.C. Lions so he can pursue another job.
The 28-year-old is trying to become a firefighter in his home province of B.C. He left for North Vancouver on Friday afternoon and will return to Winnipeg tomorrow.
"If I don't go out there and do this, I'm out," McKinlay said before his flight. "Out of 350 (applicants), I'm down to the last 10."
There's a very good chance that McKinlay's six-year CFL career will come to a close if he gets the job. He'll learn his fate at the end of the month, but eight firefighters in the department are retiring and there are 10 applicants remaining.
"I've got a 90% chance of getting a job, so it's one of those things." said McKinlay, whose father and father-in-law are both firefighters.
"It's tough leaving these idiots (his teammates). I've missed two games in six years. I feel guilty, but it's something I can't pass on, unfortunately."
Bombers head coach Mike Kelly didn't hesitate in letting McKinlay go this weekend.
"This is about a guy's life," Kelly said. "(Playing for the Bombers) is just football. This is about a guy taking care of his wife and two kids."
McKinlay has been travelling to North Vancouver on off days for the last two months as part of the application process, and this weekend he and the other hopefuls are doing mandatory ride-alongs and training sessions. After that, the only thing left is an interview with the chief.
McKinlay, a Langley, B.C., native who married a Winnipeg girl and has made Manitoba his year-round home, appreciates what the Bombers are doing for him.
"They understand I'm not making a ton of dough and it's a family thing, security-wise," he said.
"Firefighting is a 30-year career. I've been lucky enough to be here for six years. so we'll see what happens."
McKinlay has been a key member of Winnipeg's special teams, and has filled in admirably at linebacker when called upon.
"He's been a big factor for us," Kelly said. "He's been a heck of a football player this year and just a great guy to have around.
"If, in fact, this ends up being his last football season, then he oughta be very, very proud of how he's played this year."