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Grudge matches against 'the Buono' unwise

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The one thing that became apparent last week, watching the shrapnel from the Khalif Mitchell trade fracture relationships across the country, is that lessons learned the hard way are not being handed down from one player to another in the CFL. If 11 years in this league taught me anything, it's that you don't often get in a grudge match with "the Buono," and come up on the plus side of the ledger. Ever.

Wally Buono and I have an interesting and connected history, as he was the one who drafted me straight out of college. Even though NFL scouts were still poking and prodding at me and there was speculation as to when I would be available to play in the CFL right away, he rolled the dice and selected me with Calgary's first pick, No. 5 overall in the 1997 draft. I never ended up reporting to Stampeder training camp that year though, as I took a flyer with the Buffalo Bills and didn't wash out of the NFL until 2001.

Because of a disagreement over what kind of financials I deserved as I returned north of the border, Wally and Bob O'Billovich traded my rights away to Winnipeg, where I was to play out my entire career and discover first-hand that going up against "the Buono" and getting the last laugh was easier said than done.

It started off well enough. The first game I played in the CFL was in Calgary against his Stampeders and we routed them handily while I collected a sack, four tackles, a touchdown and lineman-of-the-week honours, but my personal victory was short-lived. As most Bomber fans are well aware, the last game of that season ended with Wally's 8-and-10 squad defeating our heavily favored club in the championship game in Montreal. 1-0, Wally.

Fast-forward eight years to 2009, and I was sitting proud and smug yet again after writing a column that resulted in both his new team, the B.C. Lions, and every player on his active roster fined for essentially reverse-mooning our bench before the game. When the rematch came to Winnipeg later that season, Wally ran the ball at me unsuccessfully all game long, to the tune of eight tackles on my stat sheet, but we still lost the much-ballyhooed grudge rematch. 2-0, Buono.

Jump ahead another two years, and fittingly, the last game I would ever play as a pro was against the man who brought me into the league in the first place. Though we had a better defence that year and even beat Wally two out of three times if you count the regular season, when it mattered most -- in the Grey Cup game -- he came out on top yet again. Game, set, match. Lifetime rivalry: 3-0, Buono.

While I was much better off as a pro spending over a decade playing for a city and a fan base that revered the game like no other, when it came to hardware, grudge matches and regrets, I lost by almost every conceivable measurable to the CFL's most successful head coach and GM. Now we are witness to Khalif Mitchell starting down a similar path, making his relationship with this legend both public and personal, simply because he is taking offence at being traded.

Thus far, he has threatened to almost single-handedly dismantle the entire B.C. offensive line the next time they meet, and he has questioned Buono's wisdom and authority in trading him. He has suggested a possible insider-trading scenario, as David Braley owns both the teams he was dealt to and from, and he has publicly deliberated whether he will ask the Argonauts to release him so he can play where he wants and face the Leos more than twice a year. Careful what you wish for, Khalif.

Any time a coach trades a player, regardless whether he has played for that coach, it is hard for the player to not take it personally and not keep score to see who wins in the long run. Most athletes are proud to a fault, wanting you to publicly admit you were wrong to even consider swapping out their services. When it comes to showing up one of the most successful men to ever work in the CFL, though, time is often better spent on any number of more productive activities.


Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 9, 2013 0

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