T.J. Heath saw it when he looked to his left, Chris Randle when he looked to his right.
An empty locker stall, with the name Leggett above it.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers returned to practice, Tuesday, their first since Moe Leggett tore his Achilles tendon in a playoff-clinching win over the B.C. Lions, Saturday.
“It’s tough even talking about it, man,” Heath said. “Moe plays a big part in how I play, how I attack the game. It’s a tough loss for us.”
Leggett went under the knife to repair the damage on Monday. He won’t be playing again this year.
As for repairing the hole in the Bomber defence, and in the locker-room, there isn’t a surgeon in town cut out for that.
“Oh, man — it still hasn’t even sunk all the way in, yet,” Randle said, glancing at the empty space. “I don’t know, man. It’s hard to adjust to it. He’s a huge, huge part of our scheme and what we do and how we were successful. His relationship with everyone – he’s a leader on this team.
“And most of all, he’s my friend.”
In the next man up world of professional sports, we sometimes forget that behind the facemasks, beneath the numbers covering all those pads, are people.
Yeah, Leggett was the Bombers top defensive player the last two years.
But he was also one of the most well-liked people in that room.
“We came in here in Winnipeg together,” Randle, the Berkeley, Calif., native, continued. “We started this together. I wanted him to be with me when we see this through.
“He’s going to be here with us. I mean, it’s not like he’s dead. But it’s a tough blow.”
Over on the offensive side of the room, players were lamenting the loss of Darvin Adams, the team’s leading receiver, also done for the regular season, and beyond.
But Randle and Leggett are originals, brought in at the start of the Mike O’Shea regime, four years ago.
They went 7-11 together. Then 5-13. They got a taste of the playoffs together, then felt last year’s crushing semifinal loss to B.C..
When you build something from the ground up, together, there’s a bond.
But pro football also demands you move on when a teammate goes down. Next man up.
And while some were championing a win-one-for-the-Gipper approach, Randle wasn’t going there.
“That’s not why we’re doing this,” Randle said. “We’re doing this for a bigger purpose. And we’ve been chipping at it for years. We’ve been chipping at it this whole season. We’ve been chipping at it every single week. And we’re not going to stop chipping at it until we get what we want. Everybody has bought into that. And the next man up has bought into that.
“The ship shouldn’t stop.”
Football and war analogies are way overused.
But Randle used one, comparing Leggett and Adams to fallen soldiers who sacrificed their bodies for the team.
“And we’ve got to honour that,” Randle said. “This is a brotherhood. When your brother’s down, you want to get it back for your brother.”
What happened to Leggett – he was hurt innocently enough after catching a B.C. onside kick attempt and coming down, untouched — also serves as a reminder to everybody in that room: one play can change everything, even take away the game you love.
“That’s the game, man,” Randle said. “You’ve got to cherish it and understand it’s a privilege to be out here.”
Heath calls it “the nature of the beast.”
“But you try not to think about those things,” Heath said. “And continue to play.”
They’ll continue, beginning Saturday in Toronto and on to the playoffs. Chipping away at what they’ve started, a few of them as many as four years ago.
Trying not to focus on the hole in the lineup, or the hole in the room.
And believing, wholeheartedly, in the next man up.
O’Shea not crying over rash of injuries
Mike O’Shea isn’t one to lament injuries, and he wasn’t taking a woe-is-me approach to the loss of a star player on both sides of the ball.
But the Bombers coach says defender Moe Leggett and receiver Darvin Adams will be missed.
“Those two guys have made a lot of plays for us,” O’Shea said. “On the personal level, both well-liked by their teammates, both fun to come to work with. They’re sort of top-notch guys, guys you like to have around and see in the locker-room every day.”
The season-ending injuries come on the heels of the loss of star defensive end Jamaal Westerman, further weakening a team that had designs on making some noise in the CFL post-season.
Until now, the Bombers have enjoyed a remarkably healthy season compared to other teams in the league.
O’Shea doesn’t feel his players will need to be picked up, emotionally, after this latest setback.
“I don’t think so,” the coach said. “It’s pro football. It’s a contact sport. All these guys understand that. They all do a very good job of separating that personal, emotional side from work. They’ll miss the guys out there… but they’ll figure out a way to keep everybody involved.”
The injuries mean opportunities for others, even if they aren’t thrilled with the way they got them.
“The players that end up slotting into those spots are excited for their opportunity,” O’Shea said. “They want to do well for the guy who’s down.”
Published at Tue, 17 Oct 2017 20:15:55 -0400