Linebacker Willie Pless will finish his Canadian Football League career where he enjoyed many of his greatest moments -- running sideline to sideline at Commonwealth Stadium to make a tackle for the Edmonton Eskimos.
A year after being set adrift by the Eskimos, Pless re-signed with the CFL club yesterday, although his return will be short-lived.
The 14-year veteran will suit up tomorrow for Edmonton's first exhibition game, against the B.C. Lions in Edmonton. Pless, 36, who will wear his usual number, 39, will appear in one or two defensive series, then come out of the game and retire from football.
When Pless leaves the game, the Eskimos will feature a video tribute on the stadium's new scoreboard to honour one of the CFL's best defensive players ever.
"Willie Pless is one of the greatest linebackers in CFL and Eskimos' history," Edmonton general manager Tom Higgins said. "It is only fitting that he play his last game as an Edmonton Eskimo."
Pless certainly didn't fit the mould of a typical football player.
Small, even by CFL standards, the 5-foot-11, 209-pound player more than made up for his physical limitations with quickness and desire. He captured the CFL's top defensive player award an unprecedented five times and will leave as the league's career leader in tackles with 1,241.
Pless was an league all-star 11 times and appeared in three Grey Cup games, winning with Edmonton in 1993. Four times he led the CFL in tackles, and last year, playing for Saskatchewan, he finished second to Hamilton's Calvin Tiggle, the league's top defensive player award winner.
Pless also proved to be quite durable, playing all 18 regular-season games 10 times during his career.
Off the field, Pless was no ordinary athlete.
A devout Christian, Pless began singing as a boy in church. After joining the Toronto Argonauts in 1986, he sang lead vocals on a successful promotional song entitled The Argo Glide. A soft-spoken man, Pless listed his hobbies as needlepoint and looking after his aquarium back home in Kansas.
Pless began his CFL career with Toronto spent four seasons with the Argos before being traded to the B.C. Lions with four other players for quarterback Matt Dunigan. In 1991, Pless went to Edmonton as a free agent, remaining there for eight seasons and enjoying his best years. Pless won all five of his defensive honours while with the Eskimos.
But the Eskimos elected not to re-sign Pless after the 1998 campaign. The native of Anniston, Ala., then joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders as a free agent last year. But he was released on March 1 as part of the club's housecleaning after it posted a league-worst 3-15 record.