EDMONTON - Sean Fleming always wanted to retire before his expiry date, before the dreaded cringe factor overshadowed his 16-year CFL career.
The Edmonton Eskimos kicker officially retired Thursday, confident in the knowledge he could still nail those skyscraping punts and field goals for at least one more year, perhaps even longer.
Fleming, 37, leaves with Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia wanting him to stay. The Burnaby, B.C., native leaves before crossing that fateful point when fans yearn for the athlete they once knew and cringe when they see an imposter in the jersey made famous by a younger man.
That said, Fleming said his motives have everything to do with his career outside of football.
"He's leaving them wanting more," said Eskimos scout Ed Hervey, a former teammate of Fleming and close friend. "I think he could kick another five years. But it's best to leave when you're ahead.
"He will always be remembered as a guy who could have continued to kick as opposed to a guy people wished would have stopped kicking."
Fleming is a business consultant for the Edmonton branch of Price Waterhouse Coopers. He has juggled two lives for many years, but finally came to the realization that his suit and tie had to come before shoulder pads and cleats.
"If I didn't have my job, I probably would play a bit longer," Fleming said Thursday at Commonwealth Stadium. "That's a big factor, and that certainly is a motivation
"I can't afford to play another year or couple of years. If I do, that job won't be there for me. I had to make a business decision."
A two-time CFL all-star, Fleming retires as the Eskimos' all-time leader in points (2,571), field goals (553), converts (713), punts (1,264), punt yardage (52,957) and kickoff yardage (69,973).
Fleming was the epitome of class Thursday in saying goodbye. He thanked everybody from his mother, to his college coach, to former Eskimos president Hugh Campbell, who flew in from Idaho for the occasion.
"I think it's a sad day for Edmonton Eskimo football," Hervey said. "This is football. All good things must come to an end, but at least there's closure for him. He will get a chance to reflect on it and realize how great a kicker he really was."
Fleming touched down in Edmonton in 1992 as a first-round (sixth overall) pick in the Canadian college draft, a hotshot kicker from the University of Wyoming.
Fleming raised a few eyebrows at first, said retired Eskimos lineman Jed Roberts.
"I can remember how young he was and how much Larry Wruck hated him," Roberts said. "They had lockers next to each other,and Sean was late every day. He didn't take it seriously. He drove a Porshe. It took him maybe two years to undo that first impression.
"I watched Sean grow and mature into a fine young man. He's not young any more, but to see the distance he has come since he first arrived here out of college? To see him as that polished man who gave such an eloquent speech today, it's emotional for me to see that."
Fleming promised himself he wouldn't break down Thursday, and he kept his composure through his retirement announcement. He even took time to ask the fans to stick with the Eskimos after the team missed the playoffs for the second straight year.
"We don't have fair-weather fans here," he said. "At least I don't think we do. Once you have a little bit of adversity, I don't believe we have the type of fans who will run for the exits. Other cities do.