WINNNIPEG - Obby Khan insists he is going out on his own terms.
The popular Winnipeg Blue Bombers centre gave an emotional, 30-minute retirement speech on Wednesday afternoon before a large gathering of media members and former teammates.
There was a lengthy list of thank-yous to get to and throughout the speech, Khan made it clear what the Blue Bombers organization and the city of Winnipeg, his adopted home, mean to him.
These were not tears of sadness, but rather tears of joy.
“I don’t think it really caught (the Blue Bombers) by surprise, it might catch a lot of people who don’t know me by surprise,” said Khan, who is planning to remain in Winnipeg and open a restaurant downtown called Shawarma Khan before the end of the summer. “In reality, I’ve been thinking about it and it’s just time for me to move on. The restaurant has been on my mind for two years, it’s been on my mind for a long time.
“I don’t want to be one of those guys who literally can’t walk away from the game because they’re too injured. The opportunities off the field in Winnipeg were starting to become very enticing for me, so it was time for me to walk away on my terms, which all athletes want to do, and start the next chapter of my life.”
After losing his starting job for three games late last season (but reclaiming it for the playoffs), there was a good chance Khan could have seen a reduced role, been asked to take a pay cut or even risk being released, if he hadn’t retired.
Although sources told The Sun Khan was encouraged by the Blue Bombers to step away, head coach Paul LaPolice didn’t want to go deep into that line of questioning.
“Obby and I had conversations, mutually, about the direction of our roster and all those things,” said LaPolice.
“At the end of the day he wanted to retire. He didn’t want to go to another city and do other things.”
Instead, LaPolice tried to focus on the type of individual Khan is, both on and off the field.
“He’s been one of the guys who really bought in to everything we did and I respect him a lot,” said LaPolice, who attended the press conference along with general manager Joe Mack. “I really am happy he’s going to live in Winnipeg and make it his home. I hope that’s a message to other people. Certainly, he’s going to be very successful after football.”
When pressed on the issue, Khan (who said he came to the final decision last week) made it clear he felt there still enough gas left in the tank for him to contribute.
“I really do believe I can still play, it’s not an issue of whether I can play or not,” said Khan, who is widely known for his community involvement since joining the Blue Bombers. “It’s about what I should do with my life.”
If Khan was upset about the departure, he certainly wasn’t showing it.
He didn’t even hint at it, refusing to take even a veiled shot at the organization that selected him in the 2006 dispersal draft.
In fact, Khan went out of his way to praise the Blue Bombers’ organization for standing by him during the health battles that at one point threatened his life.
No matter how you slice it, the Blue Bombers have lost three valuable Canadians during the off-season in Doug Brown, Brendon LaBatte and now Khan.
By our calculations, that’s a huge chunk of the leadership core.
As the Blue Bombers try to build on an appearance in the Grey Cup and end a lengthy championship drought that stretches back to 1990, it’s clear that several people inside the dressing room are going to have to step up and grab the mantle.
Because the shoes left to fill are pretty large.
THE OBBY KHAN FILE
— Age: 31
—Birthplace: Ottawa, Ont.
—Originally drafted 2nd overall in the 2004 CFL draft by the Ottawa Renegades
— Played two seasons with the Renegades before he was selected 2nd overall by Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 2006 CFL dispersal draft
— Suited up for 118 CFL games during his eight seasons and two playoff games, including the 2011 Grey Cup
— Three-time recipient of Cal Murphy Heart of a Legend Award, voted on by teammates and given to a player who best demonstrates outstanding sportsmanship and dedication to the CFL and community
— 2008 winner of Ed Kotowich Award, given to a player who combines football ability, team camraderie and extraordinary effort in the community