He's a member of the Edmonton Eskimos now, but Thomas Haskins has proudly displayed the Grey Cup ring he won last year - with the Alouettes - during the days leading up to tonight's championship game.


Haskins undoubtedly hopes the sight of the bauble will inspire the Eskimos, whom Montreal defeated last year.


"The ring means a lot to me, considering my condition," said Haskins, who didn't play this season after the removal of a benign brain tumour - the size of an orange - last March, only weeks after signing with Edmonton as a free agent.


"I'm trying to make a statement to this team," he continued. "They see it and get hungrier ... but don't touch it. Psychologically, it worked."

Haskins, a talented running back/slotback, spent his entire six-year CFL career with the Als before departing, without malice. He was seeking more opportunity to play in the backfield and signed before the Eskimos lured Mike Pringle west after his release by Montreal.


Although it was financially rewarding for Haskins, 30, to go to Edmonton - his contract, which expires after the 2006 season, starts at $130,000 annually - he could have earned more, perhaps as much as $200,000, had he accepted Calgary's offer. But he thought his chances of returning to the Cup were greater with the Eskimos.


Haskins had a limited role in last year's championship game, catching one pass for 2 yards.


Although no longer a member of the organization, Haskins remains in regular contact with Als head coach Don Matthews. He called him after last Sunday's division final victory over Toronto congratulate him. Matthews, in turn, telephoned Haskins last March after his operation.

"I was still under the medication, but I remember the doctor telling me Matthews had called and told me to be strong," Haskins said.

Said Matthews: "There are friendships and bonds that go beyond the playing field. When things are tough, you reach back and talk to friends about your problems. I've given him encouragement, as I would a friend."


Haskins said he's well on the road to recovery, told by one doctor already that he'll be cleared to play. However, the 30-year-old suffered seizures last month, when the Eskimos were in Montreal, after he attempted to limit his prescribed medication because he was feeling better.


He hasn't put a helmet on all season, nor has he taken any blows to the head. He will, of course, have to be cleared by a battery of doctors before being allowed back on the field, but vowed he'll play again in 2004. Haskins uses his teammate, defensive-end Rahim Abdullah, who recovered and returned to play after suffering a coronary blood clot, as his inspiration.


The Eskimos honoured Haskins's contract this season, but there's no guarantee their goodwill gesture will continue should he remain sidelined indefinitely.


"I feel great and I'm looking forward to returning," he said. "The (seizures) didn't put me back. This has been hard for me. It's been one of the toughest moments in my life. I'm using my mental state to think positive. A whole season of not playing, it's been hard to keep my sanity.


"If they tell me I can't play ... c'est la vie. But at least the last time I touched the ball I won the Grey Cup."


Thomas Haskins would not play in the CFL again. He concluded his career having compiled 6 solid seasons as a Montreal Alouette, equally adept at receiving and rushing the football.