September 13, 2006

Players, coach still pine for quirky QB

Maas back to face ex-teammates for first time since being traded to Ticats

By Vicki Hall,
Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON – Danny Maciocia sounds like a long-distance lover — with the better part of a continent separating him from the object of his affection — any time the conversation turns to Jason Maas.

The Edmonton Eskimos head coach can’t hide his feelings when it comes to the (struggling) starting quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

“I miss him. I care for him. I love him a lot,” Maciocia said Tuesday. ” I try to talk to him only once a week. There’s days where I think about him. I want to call and then I tell myself, ‘No, I just talked to him yesterday. Just don’t bother him.’ “

The love affair must die for the next two weeks as the Eskimos take on Maas and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a home-and-home series. Two wins are necessary for the Eskimos (4-7) to continue their improbable quest for a playoff spot.

So, for now, Maas is public enemy No. 1 among his former teammates. He’s also an outcast in Hamilton, having thrown six touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his first season with the Tiger-Cats.

But Maas has reached folk hero status in the Edmonton Eskimos dressing room. To anyone who will listen, the veterans tell stories about Maas the hunter, Maas the entrepreneur, Maas the rageaholic and Maas the playoff hero who led the Eskimos to three key wins last year in the drive for the Grey Cup.

To relieve his stress, Maas liked to hunt. He would often arrive at Commonwealth Stadium still dressed in camouflage clothing from head to toe. He also made a business out of selling jerky.

“He’d come in here like a crack dealer with his deer jerky,” said linebacker A.J. Gass. “He’d give out some pieces to some guys, and the next thing you know, he’s selling it like wildfire because it’s so delicious. He claims he was just making his money back, but I don’t know. It was expensive jerky.”

Maas’s temper became legendary at Commonwealth Stadium the night he threw a Gatorade jug before launching into a profanity-laden television interview after fans booed him in a 23-22 win over Toronto back in 2001. Over the years, Maas learned to tame his fury, but his helmet took the brunt of his rage.

“You know how Sean Fleming has a little kid run and get the tee for him after every kickoff?” asked quarterback Ricky Ray. “Well, we were going to have to get a little kid to go out there and pick up all the earpieces that came out of Maas’s helmet every time he threw it.”

Maas could get just as fired up about his latest get-rich-quick scheme. One day he showed up with a business plan to sell cowbells to Eskimos fans in hopes of increasing the noise in the stadium.

“Maas had researched it on the Internet and brought in samples of bells that he wanted to put our logo and his number on,” said communications director Dave Jamieson.

Speaking of the bizarre, Maas was obsessed with saving his per diem — about $110– on the road. He despised costly restaurant meals cutting into his budget, so he brought food with him across the country.

“I just remember he’d open up a big Ziploc baggie full of spaghetti,” said Ray, his former roommate on the road.

The very thought disgusted his Italian head coach.

“He would bring his own pasta, can you believe that?” Maciocia said.

He also became quite resourceful at taking advantage of team meals.

“He would take fruit at the buffets and squirrel them away,” Jamieson said. “You’d be walking with him, and out of nowhere, he’d have an apple.

In the end — no matter what happens in Hamilton — Maas should make out OK. Maciocia plans to hire his former quarterback as an assistant coach. Or perhaps even as a backup quarterback-assistant coach, depending on what happens in Steeltown.

“I think he’s got a lot of football left,” Maciocia said. “I think he’s going to turn that program around. If they can give him a supporting cast, he’ll be damn good.

“We’re going to be together again. Whether I coach him again or we coach together, that’s going to happen.

“It’s funny, because probably every second or third conversation, that comes up, so I know it’s going to happen.”