I'm not proud of it, but I'll admit it.
I told Toronto Argonauts punter Noel Prefontaine to... you know...'bleep off,' part way through my interview with him this week.
What would you do if you asked a guy what he shot on the golf course in the first game he'd played, six weeks after hip surgery and he said "82"?
"The hip didn't really affect my chipping and putting, which is really the strong part of my game," he smirked.
My athletic jealousies aside, there is a reason why golf was a topic of conversation between us just after the Argos had finished up the day's preparations for the Eastern Semi-Final against the Edmonton Eskimos.
That golf game got the 15-year veteran thinking about a quicker-than-anticipated return to booting the leather around CFL fields again. Which, in turn, has allowed him to start making third down contributions once again as he ramps it up for the post-season.
Prefontaine is back and in better punting form than he's been for the last two and a half years, if you ask him.
Although he pegs himself at just around 85 per cent healthy, he is confident enough and sturdy enough to play an important role in the field position battle on Sunday.
Originally, he'd hoped to be an option for the Boatmen only if they ran into critical kicking trouble in the post-season. Instead, he returned to game action on October 14th, against Montreal. That golf game was a catalyst.
"The first few weeks (of rehab) were quite discouraging, with the brace I had to wear, being on crutches and going through my rehab exercises," said
"I think the 'a-ha' moment was when I picked up a stick and started working on my golf swing and I started working on the rotation, you know, my hips and stuff which is what you do in your golf swing. Then I started to feel something there."
Within two weeks of that, he punted his first post-surgery ball. "I swung my leg through and I probably kicked the ball 20 or 30 yards," he said. "But, it was nice to feel it. Feel the impact again."
It's hard to know just how far back that leg of Prefontaine's will bounce, but the early comeback numbers are mostly encouraging. A 44.3 yard average
against Montreal, 42.8 against Winnipeg a week later and then a big drop to 35.7 in Regina.
The cold weather was a culprit that day, Prefontaine admitting that the prairie chill was felt in that surgically repaired hip. Last week, against Hamilton, he posted his best numbers, reeling off seven punts for an average of 44.6 yards.
"I can feel it getting stronger," he says, of the hip. "When you swing your leg and you feel like you don't really have anything on it when you're swinging it... that's how I felt the last 2, 2 and a half years punting. I felt like I was just swinging through the motions trying to make good contact."
"Now I feel like I'm really getting to the point where I can really try and hit it. Because it's getting stronger. It just feels like I can get after it a little more," said the man with 78,173 career regular season punting yards to his credit.
Check Prefontaine's pro numbers and you can see where that bum hip started to nag him, as he says, two and a half years, or so, ago. Most of his seasonal punting averages were in the 46 or 47 yard range and then - poof - he dropped to 42 or 43 the last three seasons. This year, in limited action, he's at 42.9 and hoping for playoff averages much higher based on confidence in that healing hip.
The Argos have their special teams captain back and his presence, beyond punting, is felt. Place kicker Swayze Waters, the CFL's special teams player of the week after going five-for-five against Hamilton in the regular season finale, has watched and learned.
"Just watching how he carries himself," said Waters, about what he's gleaned. "How he prepares. That's really the main thing I've gotten is being around him and watching how he does things. You can learn a lot."
Of course, the Argos would like to see as little of Prefontaine on Sunday as possible, preferring to see his young protegé kicking extra points, instead. But, the 38 year old punter will have occasion to be out there, as is the nature of Canadian football. He hopes his leg and hip will have a banner day.
As for another Prefontaine trademark, the odd down field punt coverage tackle? He's a little coy about that. Maybe that hip isn't up to that quite yet.
"I'm a veteran and I understand what I should and shouldn't be doing," he said.
A freelance broadcaster and writer, Don is also the in-stadium announcer for Toronto Argonauts home games. A familiar voice to Toronto sports fans, he hosted the morning show at The FAN for more than 10 years. Follow Don on Twitter @CFLLandry
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