Johnson: Federkeil attempting a comeback with Stamps after three years out of NFL
Local CFL team lands Medicine Hat product in a trade with Toronto, now he must prove his concussion issues are in the past
The past three contactless winters haven’t been spent slouched on the sofa channel surfing Sunday afternoons and Monday nights, wallowing in nostalgia, cursing the fickleness of sport and the capricious whims of fate.
“Actually, I didn’t watch that much football,” confesses Dan Federkeil, who was added to the Calgary Stampeders on Monday via a trade with Toronto.
“After that first year, it started to get hard for me. Watching. It might sound a bit presumptuous, but I’d turn on a game, start critiquing the offensive-line play, and think ‘I could do better than that guy.’ Not right in this moment I can’t, maybe, but before the injury . . .
“I missed it. I missed the chance to be out there, at that level, competing against that calibre of player; guys that made me work my hardest to accomplish what I wanted.
“So I haven’t watched a lot, no. Didn’t get the Colts on TV much until last year.
“Hey, I got basic cable over here.”
No navel-gazing NFL Channel? No NFL RedZone? No Total Access? No ongoing Theismann, Warner and Michael Irvin gabfest?
Really? Scout’s honour?
“Well, not quite, but . . .”
After three years away from the game, and symptom-free from the concussion problems that forced his retirement from the NFL, the 2006 Super Bowl champion with the Indianapolis Colts is launching a comeback in red and white.
On Monday, Calgary coach and GM John Hufnagel announced he’d acquired Federkeil in a trade with Toronto and promptly signed him to a three-year contract, shipping the Argos non-import linebacker Akwasi Antwi in exchange.
Federkeil has been cleared to give it a go at training camp but nothing, given the finicky nature of concussions, is certain. Fine one day, fuzzy the next.
Still, this is a 6-foot-6, 290-pound Medicine Hat-born-and-reared offensive lineman, still only 29, with four years of NFL experience and a Super Bowl ring his resume. There’s rust to be scraped away, indisputably, but the former University of Calgary Dino, a finalist for the J.P. Metras Trophy as top lineman in Canadian university football in 2005, could be a positive boon to the O-line.
“We’re very happy to welcome Dan to the Stampeders,” said Hufnagel in a statement. “When we agreed to the trade on Friday, we understood there was an element of risk because Dan had been out of football for three years and we weren’t sure if he would be interested in playing again.
“But when we spoke this weekend, he seemed eager to play and we were able to come to a cap-friendly agreement that rewards Dan if he makes the team and contributes.”
For Federkeil, the chance to resurrect his career, at home, was too good to pass on.
“The Stamps,” Federkeil said bluntly, “were the only option.”
The first year after retiring, 2009, was spent dealing with the concussion symptoms. The issue was health, working through the recovery, the delicate matter of actually feeling better physically. By the second year, stronger and surer, the lure of launching a comeback had waned, as rec sports, hanging out with family and friends, working toward his economics degree, filled Federkeil’s time.
“But last year, I got to thinking ‘Maybe I would like to play football again.’ I felt so healthy. I’d reached a point where I could compare it to when I was playing.
“So I talked to my wife about it in the summer. She looked at me and said: ‘You know what? I’ve been expecting this for a while. I’m not going to tell you I’m happy about it, but I’ve been expecting it and I kind of understand where you’re coming from. And as long as you think you’re healthy enough to do it without thinking you’ll get hurt again, I’ll OK it.’
“She trusts me with knowing my own body and what’s going on there.”
The only sticking point was his rights. The CFL website had him listed as a free agent, but a quick check confirmed that the Argos, who drafted Federkeil fifth overall in 2006, still held them. And would continue to do so, unless something could be arranged.
That made the whole project a non-starter, for the moment anyway, as he wasn’t about to uproot or leave a young family — a wife and four-month old daughter — to chase a dream that had laid dormant for three years.
“I went to see my doctor and he gave me a referral to see a specialist — I wanted to see if I’d even be cleared to play — and I hadn’t heard hide nor hair of anything until Friday when I found out the Stamps had my rights and that they wanted to make a deal.”
And so, in a wonderful bit of symmetry, this summer he’ll return to McMahon Stadium as a player for the first time since his final home date as a Dino, closing in on seven years ago.
“You know, I don’t think I have actually been to the stadium to watch a Stamps’ game since (retiring),” he confessed sheepishly. “It’s usually too . . . cold. When you’re playing, you’re wearing pads and stuff. It’s a little warmer.”
Wait’ll he’s standing along the sideline in a West semi or final, the countless pinpricks of frigid jabbing into him come early November. Now that, brother, is cold. Pads and stuff or not.
But, well, first things first.
“I’d categorize myself as initially cautious, and then optimistic,” reckons Federkeil. “I’m being a little tentative about things right now because I haven’t hit anyone or been hit by anyone in three and a half years.
“I’m going to be excited to put the pads on again and play. But it’s going to take that first practice to really get me going, to feel comfortable, I think.
“Once I get out there, take those first few hits, and I know everything’s OK, it’ll all get easier. Then I can relax a bit and take it from there.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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