Every time he strapped on his gear and hit the field as a member of the B.C. Lions, Carl Kidd did so with emotion. But as the 34-year-old linebacker officially announced his retirement from professional football last week on the eve of the Lions' 2007 training camp, emotion hit back–and it smacked Kidd around the way he's lowered the boom on opposing Canadian Football League opponents for the past seven seasons.
It was tough to watch as he fought back the tears to make the announcement. Tough because guys like Kidd aren't supposed to cry. Here was a guy who had not only made a name for himself as one of the greatest trash talkers the league had ever seen but who could back up those words with action. He was loud and brash and, at times, outrageous. But when the whistle sounded to start every game, Kidd was ready to do his job.
The whistle has sounded for the final time on his playing days. Kidd was brought back to town by the Lions from his off-season home in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to be here when the 2006 Grey Cup winners were presented with their championship rings last week.
"Actually, it's really tough. It hit me this morning. I called my dad and told him I was really hurting and he just told me to keep strong and say the right things. But the emotions are really, really overwhelming and I appreciate everything the B.C. Lions have done for me," Kidd said, his voice wavering, as he met the media one last time. "I've been playing for 12 years [seven in the CFL after parts of five seasons in the National Football League], and I'm thankful for playing this long. I would never have imagined I would have played this long. I retire a Lion deep down in my soul. I never got a chance to play for anyone else and I'm glad I didn't, because this was home for me."
Kidd has the good fortune few pro athletes get: he's going out a winner. It's also the way he was introduced to the CFL, arriving on the scene late in the 2000 season, just weeks before the Lions won the Grey Cup in Calgary. That win in Cowtown erased many of the doubts Kidd had about continuing his football dreams north of the border.
"Before the organization turned around and before coach [Wally] Buono got here, the organization was a little bit on the rocky side," he said with a laugh, remembering his ride from the airport to the Lions' training facility in Surrey. "A guy came and picked me up in, like, a 1973 Malibu, and you could see the ground through the floor. I was like, 'Dang, did I fall to this right here to play football?' But it was all right, and I've loved it ever since."
That love was returned by the fans here, and there was certainly an appreciation of Kidd by the media covering the football club. The guy was impossible not to like, because he understood that as much as professional sports is big business, football is a game and people pay good money to be entertained. It's a shame there aren't more Carl Kidds in the world of pro sports. It seems so many athletes today don't want to reveal too much of themselves and give opponents anything to feed on.
Kidd didn't seem to care whether or not he rubbed a few people the wrong way. He was who he was–larger than life and always operating on one of two speeds, fast and faster–and he wasn't about to change. He likely didn't believe everything he said; in fact, sometimes it was clear his mouth was moving far faster than his brain could handle. But that was much of the charm of the man. He'll always be remembered as a motor mouth, but he hopes that won't overshadow all of his on-field contributions through the years.
"Well, hopefully, people will remember that I wore my heart on the field. I did everything it took to win," he said. "I just want them to remember me as a hell of a ball player."
He was that–and a whole lot more. He became the face of the franchise for much of his time here. He was never the best player on the team, but he was clearly a leader and well respected by teammates and the Lions' coaching staff alike.
"The thing about personalities are that you don't want them to be a deterrent to your club," said Lions head coach and general manager Buono, who made the difficult decision not to re-sign Kidd in the off-season. "Carl has never been about that. He's been about having fun and being excited and working hard and winning. I've been here four years, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a football player and as a man. Carl's never been afraid to speak his mind, but he's never been afraid to accept what you've agreed on."
Kidd says he knew when he stepped on the field for last November's Grey Cup game in Winnipeg that he was likely suiting up for the final time. And for much longer than that he's known that eventually this day would come. That's why he's spent the past few off-seasons back home planning for life after football.
"I've got a real-estate company in Little Rock, and I've been refurbishing old houses for the past five years, so I've been waiting for this point and it finally arrived," he said. "I didn't want it to arrive this fast, but it's here and I've got myself prepared for it. So I'll work on houses right now, but eventually I want to get into coaching high-school football."
If Kidd can pass along one thing to his players, hopefully it will be his personality and his ability to be himself in any situation. The Lions should have no problem finding someone who can do so many of the things Kidd did on the football field, but the organization may never find another character like the one who is leaving.
And even as he makes the transition into the next phase of his life, Kidd said, the Lions will never be far from his mind.
"I'm always going to be a part of this organization in some way, shape, form, or fashion," he said.
It's a pretty safe bet that no one in the Lions Den will soon forget the man who wore jersey #26 for the past seven seasons. You get the sense that Kidd won't let them.
Jeff Paterson is a sportscaster and talk-show host on Vancouver's all-sports radio, Team 1040. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .