Mike Vanderjagt is returning to the Canadian Football League because of his love for the City of Toronto and the Argonauts, Sportsnet.ca learned in an exclusive interview with the high-profile punter/place kicker.
And he insisted he is not coming back hoping to use it to return to the National Football League, in which he played from 1998 to halfway through the 2006 and had would best be described as bittersweet success.
Vanderjagt, who starred for Toronto as a punter/place kicker in their Grey Cup-winning years in 1996-97, is scheduled to sign with the team on Sunday or Monday.
“The opportunity to play in Toronto was a major reason (for returning),” Vanderjagt said. “I’ve always loved Toronto and the Argos. I had a great time playing there and Toronto was the frontrunner over any NFL team.”
Vanderjagt has not punted full-time since leaving the CFL, but worked out in the off-season with a kicking coach in Arizona.
“Punting will be easy,” he said. “I’ve always kept up with it. I love punting.”
To accommodate Vanderjagt’s return, the Argos have dealt Noel Prefontaine to Edmonton for a first-round pick next year and a conditional pick in 2010. Prefontaine became Vanderjagt’s replacement and established himself as the pre-eminent punter in the CFL and one of the best dual-purpose kickers. He had an off year last season with his field goals because of a variety of injuries.
Vanderjagt, 38, said he is not treating his return to the CFL as a stepping stone back two the NFL. After leaving Toronto he enjoyed fame and financial success with the Indianapolis Colts, with whom he played seven seasons.
“If I play five more years in Toronto that would be great,” he said. “And I’m only young once, so I didn’t want to look back in 10 years and say two myself that I shoulda kept playing.
“And I don’t feel I need to prove anything to anybody (in the NFL). I’ve been very successful already, north and south of the border. I just wanna improve on what I do.”
Vanderjagt is the most accurate kicker in NFL history with a successful field-goal percentage of 86.5. In 2003 he connected on all of his 37 field-goal tries and extended it to 42 in a row — an NFL record — before missing.
He last played in a game midway in the 2006 season with Dallas before being released because of inconsistency, although he battled a leg injury that year.
The lanky Oakville native could not duplicate his regular-season successes in the playoffs. After one particular miss, a 46-yarder with 18 seconds remaining in 2005 against Pittsburgh, he took off his helmet and threw it in disgust. The miss prevented Indianapolis from tying the game and forcing overtime. He appeared later on Late Night With David Letterman and recreated the attempt, this time nailing it outside the studio and with Letterman as the holder.
Indianapolis let him go after that and he signed a three-year, $5.4 million deal with Dallas, which gave him a $2.5 million signing bonus.