CFLs put Igwebuike in his place

September 30, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

They welcomed Donald Igwebuike back yesterday with open arms, a round of cheers and a warning.

"He has to play to stay," coach Don Matthews said after the Baltimore CFLs reinstated Igwebuike as their place-kicker. "I'll judge him on performance, as I do with everybody."

Released two weeks ago in the wake of a 30-29 loss to the Sacramento Gold Miners, Igwebuike, 33, emerged as the winner of a kicking competition he had entered at the 11th hour.

It was the latest twist in the team's strange kicking saga this season.

"I'm just glad Coach Matthews gave me a second chance," Igwebuike said. "In this business, you can never tell what will happen. All you do is go day by day. This is what I like doing. I don't like giving up."

The CFLs cut Igwebuike's successor, Charlie Baumann, on Monday after his two-game trial featured two missed 22-yard field goals.

That afternoon, Igwebuike called Matthews asking for a second chance. Call back Wednesday, Igwebuike was told.

In the meantime, Matthews staged a three-man competition for the job, bringing in Don Silvestri and Daron Alcorn to battle Josh Miller, the team's punter.

Matthews eliminated Alcorn on Tuesday, Miller a day later. On Wednesday, personnel director Jim Popp invited Igwebuike to a kick-off against Silvestri. And though Silvestri kicked slightly better yesterday, Matthews reached for his comfort zone.

"Silvestri kicked two kicks better [than Igwebuike], but I chose Donald on a gut feeling," Matthews said. "I know more about Donald kicking in game conditions."

Silvestri, who has attended two NFL camps since kicking for Pittsburgh, remains on the CFLs' practice roster. He did not attend yesterday's practice, though.

Miller will handle kickoffs tomorrow night against the Ottawa Rough Riders at Memorial Stadium. Matthews criticized Igwebuike's kickoffs when he fired him Sept. 13. The six-year NFL veteran also missed field-goal attempts of 32 and 21 yards in his last two games for the CFLs, the two shortest misses of his pro career.

Igwebuike acknowledged a touch of nerves during yesterday's kick-off.

"I've been kicking since 1985 on the professional level," he said, "and this was the closest I've been to being nervous kicking."

He said he will attempt to block out the past two weeks when he lines up to kick against Ottawa.

"I'm only human," Igwebuike said. "If I tell you it's not in the back of my mind, I'd be lying to you. All I can do is try to wipe it out of my mind and do the best I can."

His teammates cheered him when he returned to practice at Kirk Field. Igwebuike hit two of three attempts from 42 yards, and one of three from 32 yards -- those into a stiff wind.

"You hate to see bad things happen to one of your teammates," tackle Shar Pourdanesh said. "So when something good happens, it makes you feel good."

Still, Matthews said sentiment played no role in the decision.

"I'm not running a popularity contest," he said. "I'm running a business. Hey, I like Iggy, too."

This wasn't the first time Matthews had reversed a personnel decision. Last year in Saskatchewan he cut punter Brent Matich, then brought him back two games later.

NOTES: Defensive tackle Robert Presbury returned to practice yesterday, suffering from strep throat. He said he'll play tomorrow. . . . The Baltimore CFLs' wives will hold a canned food drive before tomorrow's game against Ottawa to benefit the Maryland Food Bank. Fans donating a canned good or nonperishable food item will receive a coupon for $5 off CFL merchandise at the stadium store.

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