Popular pose returns Iggy to big picture

October 09, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Taped to his locker are two team photographs, one above the other.

The first shows the Baltimore CFLs with former kicker Charlie Baumann.

The second shows Baumann's face mysteriously blacked out, with "Igwebuike 00" scrawled alongside.

Poor Iggy.

The most popular player in Baltimore, and he's not even in the team picture.

It was taken after his shocking release, and before his triumphant return, and now it's cause celebre among the CFLs.

"I can't find myself," reads the inscription on the piece of athletic tape holding the two photographs together.

Who wrote it?

"I'm not going to tell you," Donald Igwebuike said after kicking two field goals Friday night in the CFLs' 22-16 victory over Las Vegas.

He was smiling. He's always smiling. It's not only the fans who love him. His teammates love him, too.

"Iggy's got an asylum, an insane asylum," quarterback Tracy Ham said, referring to Iggy's hold on Memorial Stadium. "How can you not like a crazy man?"

Yes, the CFLs without Iggy is like a day without sunshine, like a kicker without a tee -- like Baltimore without the Colts.

Yet, for 17 days last month, our hero sat in exile at his suburban apartment. His eyes would leave the TV only when punter Josh Miller drove past on his way to practice.

"He'd pass in front of my apartment, the bum, and blow his horn," Iggy said.

He was smiling again. Indeed, his comeback is such a success, maybe the CFLs will take a new team picture.

Iggy, 33, is 6-for-6 in field goals since rejoining the CFLs. He even

handled kickoffs Friday night, with Miller limited to punting duties because of a hip injury.

Kickoffs are what got Iggy into trouble in the first place -- poor kickoffs and a botched 21-yard field-goal try late in the fourth quarter of a 30-29 loss to Sacramento.

That was Sept. 10, and the CFLs (10-4) haven't lost since. Friday night's victory was their fourth straight. The playoffs are coming, and the fans can't wait.

Bet you never thought you'd see Leonard "Big Wheel" Burrier holding this sign: "Pump it up, we're heading to the Grey Cup."

Bet you never thought you'd see crowds chanting a Nigerian kicker's name at Memorial Stadium every time he appeared in a Canadian game.

"Believe me, I feel like something special," Iggy said. "Every time it happens, it's like a dream. It's unbelievable. You can't ask for anything better in life."

Maybe he was meant to play in Baltimore -- his middle name is Amechi. Alas, it's not a tribute to "The Horse," but a word that means "you can't predict tomorrow."

Which is fitting.

For Iggy, getting released by the CFLs was nothing. He kicked Clemson to the 1981 national championship, then became a top kicker in the NFL, only to see his entire world crumble.

Halfway through the '90 season, he was charged with being an accomplice to smuggling heroin. He was acquitted in April 1991, but never returned to the NFL.

So, when coach Don Matthews released him, it wasn't exactly the worst thing that ever happened to Iggy. Yet, for a time, it looked like his career might be over.

"You can never tell in this business -- it can end any day," Iggy said. "All I could do is keep trying, and let the chips fall where they may. I wasn't going to give up."

And his teammates weren't going to forget him.

"Every time the field-goal kicker missed in practice or in a game, we were calling Iggy's name, going, 'Bring Iggy back!' " wide receiver Walter Wilson said. "We missed him."

They missed his kicking, and they missed his singing. Iggy is no Iggy Pop, but just before the CFLs take the field, he bursts into song.

Matthews cries, "For your entertainment, live from the locker room of the CFLs, it's the Iggy show."

And then Iggy does his thing.

On Friday night, he dedicated a song in honor of Wilson's 28th birthday. Of course, Wilson couldn't remember what the song was.

Iggy sings everything from Marvin Gaye to the "Hokey Pokey." Baumann kept up the tradition in the two weeks that he was the kicker, but it just wasn't the same.

None of this figured into Matthews' decision -- "I'm running a business," he said -- but the players were delighted when Iggy returned.

He's not some goofy kicker, he's part of the team. He thanks the linemen who block for him. He congratulates teammates as they leave the field. He even doubles as a running back in practice.

"When he came back, it was like a big party," offensive tackle Shar Pourdanesh said. "He'd line up to kick, and every time he made one, we went crazy."

Indeed, nose tackle Jearld Baylis said the team became closer and more confident in the coaching staff after seeing that Matthews was willing to give a player a second chance.

Still, Matthews might do the same thing if Iggy again stops working. Evidently, he learned his lesson. Matthews said he has worked hard since rejoining the team.

"He's so lovable," Pourdanesh said. "Everyone should have an Iggy doll."

Take a new team picture.

Iggy is back.

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