After six seasons in blue and gold, Bombers linebacker Pierre-Luc Labbe is going to Regina -- not to wear Riders green, but to earn the red jacket of the RCMP.
That's the plan anyway, although he has six months of intensive training in Saskatchewan ahead. There are no guarantees he'll make it through, but on a bitterly cold Monday afternoon, Labbe said he was ready for the challenge. And with that, the 29-year-old formally announced his retirement from the CFL.
"As a grown man, eventually you gotta be aware that you won't be able to play football forever," he said at a press conference at Investors Group Field.
Better now, perhaps, than ever. The Bombers plucked Labbe 47th overall in the 2008 non-import draft, and he wore the number 47 ever since. He cracked the squad that summer, fresh off his university career with the Sherbrooke Vert et Or. The Bombers, at the time, were fresh off their 2007 Grey Cup loss to the Roughriders, and the Québécois linebacker dreamed of championship rings. He never got one, and in the grand accounting, that part still stings.
"That's probably the only thing I'm missing," Labbe said. I played over 100 games. I've been captain for three years, playing on special teams. I'm really satisfied with what I've done, but if I would've been able to bring a Grey Cup to Winnipeg, that would be the only thing that if I could, I would change."
What Labbe did take away was a robust career. He figured into 104 tilts in his six CFL seasons, rarely turning up injured. The last time he missed a regular-season game was in August of 2009. Who knows, maybe stretching it longer than that would be tempting fate.
"You never know when you're going to get that phone call," he said, and so he quietly started the RCMP application process last year. "I've been lucky to be able to play for six years. You gotta be smart... I decided this was the right time to do it, while I'm still healthy. You're always one injury away from retirement in football, but from closing doors for other things too. I just wanted to be smart about it."
Most importantly, this police thing too is a dream. It runs in his blood, so to speak: Labbe's father, Gaetan, is police chief in the family hometown of Sherbrooke, Que. So when Labbe learned last Wednesday that he'd been accepted into the RCMP's Depot training academy, he immediately called up his dad. "It was really special for him," Labbe said. "He didn't talk for a minute, so I was wondering if he was having a heart attack."
Gaetan Labbe was fine, of course. Just overcome, for a moment, at the thought of a son following in his footsteps. "He said he was as proud for me to become a cop, than he was when I got drafted by Winnipeg," Labbe said. "It was pretty big for me and the rest of the family."
His departure will leave a mark on the Bombers too. Labbe was a key cog on special teams and started on defence at times too, and finished his career with 85 special teams tackles and 76 defensive tackles. He was also well-liked around Bomberland and often described as a leader in the locker room, a focused and hard-working sort of guy. He wasn't "more talented than anybody else," he said with a shrug on Monday, but he came early and stayed late, putting in the extra time to keep hold of his place on the roster.
Now, he lets go of that spot at a pivotal point in Bombers history, as the team's new regime looks to shake off recent miseries. Labbe sees "good things" in the Bombers' future, he said, and he'll keep wearing blue and gold. As a fan this time, though -- and yes, he chuckled, even in Regina. "I know there's lots of good things coming up for the Bombers," he said. "Unfortunately, I won't be able to be a part of it, but I'm really happy for the team and direction they're going."