When Iggy sings, CFLs listen and laugh

September 01, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

It happens every game. In those tense final moments before the Baltimore CFLs leave the locker room, Donald Igwebuike loosens his vocal cords and belts out . . . "Achy Breaky Heart"?

Billy Ray Cyrus, he isn't.

In fact, as a country western singer, the Nigerian-born Igwebuike makes a pretty good place-kicker.

But each week, Igwebuike sends the CFLs onto the field on a giddy, if not hilarious, note.

At the behest of coach Don Matthews, Igwebuike delivers a soulful rendition of a song of his choice.

"I do pop, rap, country," said Igwebuike.

He has done Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, the Pointer Sisters and Billy Ray Cyrus. Somehow, it all sounds the same.

"He does a version of reggae," nose tackle Jearld Baylis said.

"It could be rock and roll," said defensive tackle Scott Miller, "but it's still got a reggae beat."

Comic relief is the point. Matthews wants his team loose, not in frenetic overload, when the game starts. Igwebuike happily plays along.

"He shouldn't neglect his kicking skills to go into singing," Matthews said, grinning.

The CFLs, who play at Shreveport on Saturday night, may be the loosest team in the CFL.

Two big reasons are the team's kickers. If it isn't Igwebuike's mangled lyrics, it's punter Josh Miller taking a hit for the team. Miller is a target of much good humor with the CFLs.

When Alvin "Dirty" Walton accidentally knocked Miller down in a recent punting-blocking drill, Matthews plunged in with his needle.

"Dirty, you all right?" Matthews said. "Josh, don't hurt Dirty."

Miller was fine. "That's a comfort zone," he said. "Coach Matthews believes in being comfortable, relaxed. But at the same time, when you put the helmet on, you have to produce."

Both kickers do. Igwebuike has made 21 of 27 field-goal tries this season, a 77.8-percent success rate. His 91 points are fifth among kickers, and his kickoff average of 57.5 yards ranks third. The only time Igwebuike kicked and didn't at least get a point for the CFLs was last week in Hamilton when an extra point was blocked.

In each of the past four games, Miller has improved on his season's longest punt.

Last week he drilled a 64-yarder and had three other punts over 50. He ranks second in gross punting with a 43.7-yard average, third in net at 38.2.

Were it not for two touchdown returns in the first two weeks of the season, Miller would be leading the league in the latter category. That's a tribute to his getaway time -- under two seconds -- and his punt coverage team.

Igwebuike, 33, and Miller, 24, represent the CFL version of the Odd Couple. They room together on the road, and both have their eccentricities.

Miller's is superstition. Each week, for instance, he changes his Bic razors and sets out different soap. "I line the razors up each week," he said.

Until last week, when he rented a car, he got around Baltimore in a taxi or with friends. "I didn't want to buy a car because I didn't want to show anybody that I was comfortable and thought I'd be here," said Miller, who has a Jeep back home in Tucson, Ariz.

Miller has nothing on Igwebuike when it comes to paranoia, though. Despite his success this season, he says, frankly, "I don't think I'm doing very good this season.

"My job is to kick and make all my field goals, make all my extra points, and to kick off very well. Each time I don't come up to that level, I'm not doing a good job."

What would he consider a good job? "Ninety-nine percent," he said. "This is my job."

It's also his job to loosen up the troops. That ritual started on the team's trip to Shreveport, La., in the preseason. Matthews sensed the team was very tight at the pre-game meal and asked Igwebuike to sing, as he had done in training camp.

Iggy got up and sang "The Hokey Pokey."

"That put him to stardom," says Miller.

NOTES: Quarterback Tracy Ham took some snaps yesterday in practice, but Matthews said that he hopes to rest him this week. "If we could get by this game without Tracy Ham, that's what I'd like to do," Matthews said. . . . Matthews also said twins John and Guy Earle will start at guard, and that Malcolm Showell and Mike Kerr will be activated as backups in the defensive line. They will replace Baylis, out with a torn biceps, and Earnest Fields on the roster. . . . Former Philadelphia Eagles running back Robert Drummond was at yesterday's practice and said he will sign a contract Sunday.

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