Kevin Eiben is going out on his own terms.
The 12-year veteran linebacker retired Wednesday, accepting a front-office job with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Eiben played 11 seasons with the Toronto Argonauts before spending the 2012 campaign with the Ticats.
Eiben, 33, considered returning to Hamilton to compete for a special-teams position with the CFL club. But he decided ending 2012 as a starter and finishing the season against Toronto at Rogers Centre were a fitting way to end his career and turn his attention to helping sell sponsorship and premium product at the Ticats’ new stadium that’s scheduled to open in 2014.
“I pondered all my choices and it helped when I was presented an opportunity to transfer over to the business side with the Ticats,” Eiben said. “That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I thought it would be a great experience to be able to grow with the organization.
“I loved the role I played last year on special teams as a captain, a lot of guys came to me for advice, and I also was the (players’ union) rep. The last five games, unfortunately JJ (veteran linebacker Jamall Johnson) was hurt but it gave me the opportunity to regain that feeling of starting and the energy of competing. Even better, I played my last game against the team I spent 11 years with and bled for back at Rogers Centre. I went out on a high note, I went out a starter and on my own accord. I have no regrets.”
The six-foot, 208-pound Eiben was selected in the fourth round of the 2001 draft out of Bucknell University by Toronto. Eiben played safety in college but wasted little time impressing Argos officials in training camp as a rookie.
“I came in as a free safety because that’s what I played at Bucknell and one of the first days in training camp I came downhill and just destroyed one of the running backs,” Eiben recollected. “The next day I was at linebacker, the first time I was at that position was at the pro level.”
Eiben excelled in his new position, registering 722 career tackles. That left him second only to former Toronto teammate Mike O’Shea (1,083) — now the club’s special-teams co-ordinator — for the most the tackles by a Canadian in CFL history.
Eiben, of Delta. B.C., was named a league all-star three times and an East Division all-star five times over his career. He also registered 92 special-teams tackles, 10 interceptions and 15 sacks while earning a Grey Cup ring with Toronto in 2004.
“My Grey Cup win in ‘04 will always be a high point of my career,” Eiben said. “At the time I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I thought we’d get back there again because the team we had was strong.
“Eight years later, unfortunately it didn’t happen but ask anyone who has played this game and they’ll tell you it’s not easy to get to. To have that one ring and to know what that feeling is like is something I’ll hang on to forever.”
Despite the demands of a linebacker in the CFL — the player must be able to step up and tackle a ball carrier head-on while also covering ground on passing plays — Eiben walks away from the game relatively unscathed physically. His worst injury was a torn pectoral muscle with Toronto in 2011.
“I’ve played football for a long, long time and was really blessed that my only major injury was 2011,” Eiben said. “My knees are great, I’ve never blown an Achilles, my back is fine, no problems with my neck and no concussions playing a game that’s fast-paced and played by people who weren’t getting any smaller.
“It’s a young man’s game . . . that’s just the reality of sports. You can’t play forever so that’s why it’s so important you prepare for life after football because you never know when your last game will be.”
Eiben has been preparing for that day the past four years, operating a Sports Specific Training franchise in Oakville, Ont. He plans to continue helping train aspiring athletes while also working with the Ticats.
“Every athlete knows when it’s their time and I’m comfortable with (retiring) because I see what the other opportunities I have are,” Eiben said. “I just got married last year and we’ll be starting a family soon so I have to start thinking long-term.
“The older you get, the harder it is to get jobs and this opportunity to stick with the CFL is fantastic. I’m always looking for that next adventure and challenge. I’m not a guy who likes to sit around. I need to be passionate about something, I need to stay competitive and this project with the Ticats allows me to do that.”