It was that same sense of balance that led to Andy Fantuz formally announcing his retirement from football Thursday.
The Tiger-Cats, with the Riders in town as the opposition, honoured the receiver’s exemplary career with a brief ceremony and video scoreboard tribute after the first quarter. The crowd rose to its feet in appreciation of an honest, diligent, talented star.
“When the season started, I was training to come back and play,” the 34-year-old Fantuz says. “A month ago I wasn’t sure I’d be making this decision.”
But, after 12 seasons of road trips, when daughter Abigail was born to Fantuz and his wife Amanada three weeks ago, he had no trouble figuring out what to do. No more ambiguity. He was done.
Fantuz, who arrived in Hamilton as a free agent for the 2012 season after six big years in Saskatchewan was convinced by Ticat CEO Scott Mitchell to sign here. Somehow, he never incurred the longterm wrath of the often-spiteful Rider fans, a testament to his status in the community and his quietly professional demeanour.
“You’re loved and respected in both places,” said Eric Tillman, his general manager here and in Saskatchewan. “You impacted two franchises in a remarkable way.”
Ticat fans, already emotional in the final season of Ivor Wynne Stadium, immediately took to Fantuz and the punishment he was willing to withstand as a possession receiver. From the beginning they chanted “Fan-toooooz”after most of his catches and they did it again when he was standing-ovationed into retirement.
There was a certain validation of the city and the franchise in Fantuz’s free agency choice of Hamilton over strong overtures from his former team and the Argonauts. That resonated in Ticat Nation, which embraced him as he embraced the city.
He spoke highly of the Ticats and the city Thursday, specifically citing working with sick children at Hamilton hospitals with his teammates.
Fantuz will go down as one of the top 10 Canadian receivers of all time. He was the league’s top Canadian in 2010 with the Riders, scored the winning touchdown in the 2007 Grey Cup but didn’t win another Cup, despite four more appearances. Twice he was voted the best Canadian in the league’s championship game.
He has the fourth-most receptions among Canadian receivers and late in 2016 became the first Tiger-Cat to catch more than 100 passes in a single season, with 101.
In the second last game of the 2016 season he tore his ACL and didn’t return until late last season, by which time June Jones had taken over for Kent Austin, who’d coached him here and in Regina. The Cats did not re-sign him this year.
While he was injured helped the team as a coach and said Thursday that experience might lead him to return to the game in that capacity. Meanwhile, he’s working in fitness consulting and training with younger athletes and considering what type of future he’ll have in football. He knows there will be one.
He had some offers to play this year but didn’t want to be away for Abigail’s birth, yet there’s lots of speculation that he could be lured out of retirement later in the season if the Ticats or Argos needed a Canadian receiver for a deep playoff run. He did say, “You never say never” but added that he didn’t want to be one of those players who un-retires right away. Still …
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