Montreal Alouettes

Bryan Chiu - Center - 1996-2009 - Washington State

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Alouettes veteran Bryan Chiu retires - Herb Zurkowsky - Montreal Gazette - 07-06-2010

LENNOXVILLE - It was during the solitude of the drive from Montreal to the Eastern Townships, alone with his thoughts for nearly two hours, that Bryan Chiu came to the realization that his professional football career was over.

But the stark reality began to set in earlier Saturday, when Chiu reported for his physical at the Montreal General Hospital. Required to list the injuries he sustained during his career, it filled most of the page - between the six knee surgeries and other ailments sustained to his elbows and shoulders. At age 35, and after 13 Canadian Football League seasons - all with the Alouettes - Chiu realized only one conclusion could be taken.

“You never know if it’s the right decision,” Chiu told The Gazette - the first media outlet to which he spoke - early Sunday morning, after the organization announced his retirement on the opening day of training camp. “But I look at my kids and realize

I need a good quality of life. It’s time to stop thinking of myself and start a new chapter.

“The transition won’t be easy, but it has to be done at some point,” he added. “I’ll go back to just being a dad. This will be my first free summer in over 20 years; the summer I’ve never had. It’s time to get away from the game.”

Chiu’s announcement, made Saturday at Bishop’s University, caught the organization and his teammates by surprise. He had given no indication on Friday, during the presentation of Grey Cup rings to the players, that he was about to retire. But now that he has, Chiu walks away from the game on his terms - a luxury few athletes are accorded - as a champion, knowing his final game was November’s triumph over Saskatchewan.

Because he retired before the start of camp, Chiu could return any time this season, but said it’s unlikely.

“This is it,” he said. “I won’t be putting the pads on again. My last time on the field was hoisting the Grey Cup, and that means a lot. I started in 1997, when we had no fans. I was so happy to be a part of (the organization’s transformation). It’s a fitting end.”

At 6-foot-1 and 288 pounds, he was considered undersized. But Chiu proved to be a fixture in the middle of the offensive line, after being moved to centre from guard early in his career. Selected 18th overall in 1996, he played 218 career games, establishing a franchise record last season.

Chiu won a pair of Cups, was named the league’s outstanding lineman in 2002, was an East Division all-star nine times and made it to the CFL all-star team on seven occasions. It wouldn’t be surprising if he remains with the organization in a front-office capacity. Well-spoken, Chiu also would be a natural in the media.

He re-signed with Montreal in February, worked out during the winter and anticipated playing, although his role might have been diminished, according to assistant general manager Marcel Desjardins.

“I don’t have it anymore,” Chiu admitted. “My body has been beaten to s—t. I no longer can go out and play to the level I can. It’s one of those things. You know when your time’s up. My body’s beaten up. I’ve had so many injuries, it would be selfish for me to continue.”

Many of Chiu’s teammates were shocked by the sudden news. He left camp without speaking to many, if any, although he has texted his fellow offensive linemen, vowing to talk when he feels more comfortable.

“It’s just a shock not to see him,” guard Scott Flory said. “It’s tough. You spend 11 years next to the guy. I’m glad he did it on his terms, with his head high, as a champ.”

The game of football is intricate, especially on the offensive line, where continuity is so important. And even moreso when the quarterback, Anthony Calvillo, is 37 and hardly the most mobile guy on the field.

“I’m running out of friends as I get older and guys leave,” Calvillo said. “Now I’ll go to the cafeteria and have to think about whom I’m going to eat with. But that’s the nature of this profession.”

Chiu probably will be replaced at centre by Paul Lambert, who has been playing left guard, but filled in for Chiu whenever injuries dictated a switch. Lambert,

a 6-foot-2, 316-pounder, provides the line with a bigger body in the middle. Sophomore Luc Brodeur-Jourdain, for now, has the inside track to replace Lambert and will be pushed by second-year pro Andrew Woodruff. Woodruff expects to dress as the sixth lineman, regardless, because Brodeur-Jourdain will back up Lambert at centre.

“If I’m going to be the guy, I’ve got big shoes to fill,” said Lambert, entering his 10th CFL season. “I took the reps today, but that could all change by tomorrow.”

On the first day of the rest of his life, Chiu, a father of two, awoke early and changed his dauther’s diaper. He said he had difficulty sleeping Saturday night. He spent a portion of the day reading head coach Marc Trestman’s new book.

“It has been an emotional roller coaster, to be honest. It hasn’t set in that my career’s over,” Chiu said. “At the end of the day, I know it’s the right decision. My body can heal and start new. It’s sad, but I’ve got to move on. I’m not the first to retire. And I won’t be the last.”