Heisman winner stiff-arms CFL


April 29, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

Even as Charlie Ward prepares for a basketball future, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers cling to the belief they can persuade the Florida State quarterback to go Canadian.

When the 1993 Heisman Trophy winner went undrafted by the NFL in this week's seven-round college lottery, it gave hope to the Blue Bombers, who own Canadian Football League rights to Ward. So far, they're rejecting inquiries about Ward's availability.

"We're serious, we're not entertaining any offers for him," Cal Murphy, the team's general manager and coach, told the Winnipeg Free Press. "Nobody has called me with anything we'd talk about."

When the newborn Las Vegas Posse called Murphy recently about obtaining rights to Ward, Murphy threw out, as a starting point, a figure of $500,000. End of discussion -- for now. The Posse has one of Ward's favorite Florida State receivers in Tamarick Vanover. "We would love to have Charlie Ward," said Steve Arnold, Vegas' director of player personnel. "We think he is the ultimate CFL quarterback."

The Toronto Argonauts also made a pitch for Ward, but they never got past the preliminaries. One Canadian scenario would have Ward, a two-sport star in college, playing football and basketball in the same city -- Toronto -- when its NBA franchise debuts in 1995-96.

It appears rather unlikely, though, in the wake of the NFL draft. Ward, who essentially told NFL teams not to waste a draft choice on him if it wasn't a first-round pick, said he's going to concentrate on basketball now. He was impressive in Phoenix in the Desert Classic tournament for NBA prospects, and plans to attend the NBA's pre-draft camp in Chicago in early June.

The 5-foot-11 3/4 point guard is likely to be a first-round draft pick on June 29. That's the night the Blue Bombers play the CFL Colts in Baltimore in their second and final preseason game. That means Ward won't learn his NBA affiliation until the CFL is ready to kick off.

Winnipeg may need a player of Ward's caliber to stay atop the Eastern Division. Incumbent quarterback Matt Dunigan, 33, is coming off an Achilles' tendon injury and is in the final year of his contract. If the Bombers can't get Ward to commit, they may settle upon Los Angeles Raiders castoff Todd Marinovich.

High rollers

The Posse appears to be the CFL team in best position to snag Ward if he chooses to double up his pro sports, thanks to a stock offering by owner Nick Mileti two weeks ago. The team sold 575,000 units of stock, at two shares each. According to Posse spokesman Lee Meade, the sale raised $6.5 million and allowed the team to pay off the remainder of its $3 million expansion fee. "We're debt-free and we have over $3 million in the bank," Meade said.

What's more, although Vanover was introduced as Vegas' vTC marquee player, the team since has backed off that stance. That would leave open marquee billing for Ward. Incidentally, included in Vanover's four-year deal worth an estimated $850,000 are a BMW and a Mercedes.

Back to the future

Minus the fanfare that accompanied Michael Jordan's entry into professional baseball, Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Damon Allen last week called off his brief experiment as a minor-league pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system. "It's safe to say it will not resurface," said Allen's attorney, Dan Lawson.

Allen, who will be 31 in July, had a very successful spring training with the Pirates. But once he was sent to Single-A Salem, he pitched only twice in two weeks, both times in long relief. "He wishes the opportunity had been more realistic," Lawson said. "He realized in order to make the major leagues, it would take some time."

So Allen, who inspired the Eskimos' Grey Cup title run last season, will return to Edmonton for the final year of his contract, and await the windfall of free agency. Allen, brother of Marcus Allen and the CFL's all-time rushing quarterback, likely will have a number of U.S. expansion teams to choose from.

Two-minute drill

Winnipeg is one of the hardest-hit teams in this year's free agency, so far losing three of its best players -- linebackers Elrid Payton (to the Shreveport Pirates) and Greg Battle (Las Vegas) and running back Michael Richardson (to the Ottawa Roughriders), who led the league in rushing the past two seasons. The Bombers are expected to lose place-kicker Troy Westwood as well . . . Former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Andre Ware is negotiating with Ottawa and ex-Syracuse QB Marvin Graves is talking to Toronto.

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