Adriano Belli sealed his return to the Toronto Argonauts with a kiss.
Belli, dubbed “The Kissing Bandit” because he routinely kisses people he meets on the cheek, returned to the CFL on Wednesday, joining the Argos practice roster. The six-foot-five, 289-pound defensive tackle retired prior to the 2011 campaign after 10 seasons, spending his final four years with the Argos, and upon his return appropriately gave first-year head coach Scott Milanovich a peck on the cheek.
More than one, actually.
“He has given me multiple kisses,” Milanovich said with a chuckle following the Argos practice Wednesday in Oakville, Ont. “He just brings something, he brings an energy and a vibe and just a winning spirit, I guess, to the guys you have here.
“He’s definitely going to bring something from that standpoint.”
In his prime Belli was a force on the defensive line, often requiring two offensive linemen to block him that freed up another defensive lineman. And Belli was a Canadian in a position usually reserved for an American, giving his coach the luxury of playing a U.S. player elsewhere in the lineup.
Belli was a tenacious player who went all-out and did whatever he had to — literally — to be effective. He was an expert in verbal warfare, using his tongue to get under the skin of his opponent and get them off their game.
A fact not lost upon Milanovich, who spent five seasons as an assistant coach with the Montreal Alouettes prior to becoming the Argos head coach.
“Belli is the kind of guy that you don’t love when you’re coaching against him but you would always wish he was on your team,” Milanovich said. “He always played well against Montreal, he had some of his best games against us and I was more than aware of what Adriano was capable of doing.
“I’m glad to finally be on the same side as him.”
Belli’s gregarious, fun-loving approach has always made him a popular teammate and leader in the locker-room. It’s that leadership Belli hopes to bring to the Argos this time around.
“Football is a game of enthusiasm and whether you like it or not the little men follow the big men and if you have a big guy out there causing trouble and stirring the pot the little men will follow suit,” he said. “I’m here to pick a fight.
“I had a long CFL career, I still consider myself a retired guy but I’m here to help the team and help these young guys in any way I can. I’m a home-town boy and want to win the Grey Cup for Toronto and the Toronto Argonauts.”
The 35-year-old Belli was a CFL all-star in ‘05 and twice an East Division all-star (2005, ‘07) and won a Grey Cup in 2002 with Montreal. He appeared in 140 career games, registering 209 tackles and 28 sacks.’
In 2011, Belli helped Canada win a silver medal at the senior world football championship in Austria.
And in keeping with his fun-loving persona, when the colourful Belli decided to retire from the CFL, he the announcement aboard a tall ship dressed as a sailor.
“We searched the CFL for a Canadian defensive lineman that would fit our system,” Argos GM Jim Barker said in a statement. “We felt that if Adriano wanted to play and was in good shape, then he could be that guy for us.
“We’re happy to have him join our practice roster and be back in Double Blue.”
The Argos also signed linebacker Jerome Boyd and receiver Chansi Stuckey while releasing offensive lineman Jake Anderson, kicker-punter Josh Jasper and defensive linemen Ayanga Okpokowuruk from the practice roster.
Milanovich said there is no timetable regarding when Belli will make his 2012 debut with Toronto. But if Belli decides to suit up Friday against Winnipeg, it could be a heated return.
Buck Pierce will start at quarterback for the Bombers. It will be his first appearance since suffering a mild concussion after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from Toronto’s Brandon Isaac in a 29-10 home loss to the Argos on Sept. 29.
Isaac was penalized on the play and later fined an undisclosed amount by the CFL. Winnipeg offensive linemen Steve Morley and Justin Sorensen were also fined for separate, retaliatory hits on Isaac.
Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson later tweeted he had been fined $300 by the league for post-game comments about the incident.
“I love nasty,” Belli said. “Buck Pierce is known for having a soft melon.
“I think he’s a great quarterback but if you can’t take hits, get out of the game.”