Another kick at the can

TED WYMAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Sixteen months after he was unceremoniously dumped by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and 433 days after he was banned from the team's press box and locker-room as a member of the media, Troy Westwood is back in Blue and Gold.

First the banished Barrin Simpson returns and now this electrically charged, barbed-wire fence gets mended? Stunning would be too mild a word.

But make no mistake. This is the right move.

Holding true to his words uttered in March, when he indicated the Bombers would only turn to the veteran Westwood in an emergency, Bombers head coach Mike Kelly put out the SOS yesterday and brought the 42-year-old kicker back into the fold.

It's a move the Bombers needed to make after placekicker/punter Alexis Serna struggled Sunday in a costly 24-21 loss to the B.C. Lions. Serna proved, as he did last season, that he is a far better placekicker when he doesn't have the punting chores on his plate as well.

When punter Mike Renaud went down with a season-ending injury last week against Hamilton, Serna took up the punting chores again. Though he got through the Hamilton game OK, he simply didn't look the same against the Lions on Sunday and his two field goal misses were big factors in a three-point loss.

You have to give Bombers coach Mike Kelly credit for recognizing that flaw in Serna's game and acting quickly to bury the hatchet with Westwood and bring in a player who can help the team down the stretch. It's something former Bombers coach Doug Berry wouldn't have done in a million seasons.

In fact, Kelly took a veiled shot at Berry for treating the team's all-time leading scorer shabbily last season.

"We're fortunate that we have someone like Troy Westwood, who was unceremoniously barred from this organization last year," Kelly said.

"Troy is a Hall-of-Fame type player in my humble eyes. For him to be discarded the way he was ... I don't want players who are long-time Bombers to think that that's the kind of fate they will face at some point. We're just fortunate that we have him here and that he's in shape and he's ready to go. We'll give him an opportunity and if it works out, great. If it doesn't, he knows he's always going to be a Blue Bomber in our eyes."

Wow. What an organizational about-face.

Westwood, who bled Blue and Gold as much as any other player during his 17 seasons with the team, was dumped by the Bombers in June 2008, not because he was beaten out for the job by someone better (Serna) but because Berry wanted him gone.

As the season progressed, it became clear the team needed him, with Serna struggling mightily, but Berry steadfastly refused to even consider Westwood and it may have cost him his job.

Meanwhile, Westwood joined the Winnipeg Sun as a columnist and stirred things up the way good columnists do. That didn't sit well with the organization and the Bombers refused to issue media credentials to their former player.

Eventually, Westwood resigned himself to the fact that his career was over.

In fact, in his last column in the Sun, he wistfully told of watching the Grey Cup and coming to grips with the fact he would never win one.

"Interesting when you have to let a dream go," he wrote.

That dream perhaps was revived slightly when Berry was dismissed at the end of the season and Kelly came on board. Kelly didn't invite the veteran to training camp but didn't completely rule out his return either.

Westwood never believed he was too washed up to play. He pointed to the fact that he led the CFL with a 56.7 yard average in limited punting duties during the 2007 season. He also led the entire CFL in punting average (45.8) during the 2007 playoffs, when the Bombers made it to the Grey Cup against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

"The last three games I played when I was punting, I thought I punted pretty well," Westwood said yesterday.

As for the mess he dealt with last season, Westwood, like Kelly, sees it as water under the bridge.

"That feels like a long time ago for me and I've moved on from that. All that matters is performing well in practice tomorrow. I've got to make sure that I perform at a high level and I have no energy or time to concern myself about anything that happened in the past."

This is the chance Westwood has been waiting on for the better part of two seasons, a chance he never thought he'd get after a nasty divorce from his beloved team.

Perhaps this rekindled romance is just what the Bombers need as they battle for their playoff lives.

And for Westwood it's an opportunity to rewrite the final chapter of his career, with a happy ending this time.

ted.wyman@sunmedia.ca


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