Former New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau's improbable football comeback has gotten off to a rather inauspicious start.
Gastineau signed a two-year contract with the Canadian Football League's British Columbia Lions, but the flamboyant defensive end is unable to participate in the team's training camp and may not even play in the season opener July 13 against the Calgary Stampeders.
Gastineau arrived at the team's training facility in Vancouver with a heavily taped right ankle, the result of a freakish accident. Gastineau was doing some 40-yard dashes near his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., when he fell over a sprinkler head.
"I was looking forward to training camp," Gastineau said. "I've been working real hard in the offseason. Now, it looks like I'll be delayed a couple of weeks."
The 33-year-old Gastineau, who walked out on the Jets after only seven games in 1988 to spend more time with his former girlfriend, Brigitte Nielsen, said he decided to return for a couple of reasons.
The first, he said, was because he missed playing. The second was because of his business association with Lions owner Murray Pezim. Pezim made Gastineau a member of the Lions' board of directors last year, and the 70-year-old owner is also interested in helping Gastineau pursue a boxing career.
Gastineau said his focus is strictly on football for the present, but he did not rule out boxing.
As of last week, Gastineau still hoped to juggle a football career with a boxing career, which he had begun training for six months ago at his home. According to a source, Pezim had wanted Gastineau to make his pro boxing debut in July at the Lions' B.C. Place Stadium. However, New York trainer Jimmy Glenn, who Gastineau had hired to prepare him for his boxing career, thought Gastineau needed more time.
"He's not ready yet," Glenn said. "I'd have to find somebody for him. I wouldn't put him in with no Golden Gloves champion or nothing.
"It takes years for a fighter to be developed. Sometimes a guy can look like a fighter in the gym, but once he gets in the ring everything falls different."
Gastineau and Glenn were also at odds over whether it was possible for Gastineau to box and play football at the same time. Glenn said he was told by Gastineau's father, Ernie, that Mark would shelve his boxing career until after the football season.
"He's still very much interested in it," Glenn said. "But for now, he's going to concentrate on playing football. The delay is going to make it that much more difficult for him. It's going to be hard to get him back to where we had him."
Gastineau, the Jets' career leader with 107 1/2 sacks, had seven sacks in the first seven games of 1988. The Jets retained his rights after he announced his sudden retirement, but new general manager Dick Steinberg said the Jets waived Gastineau two weeks ago after being contacted by the Lions.
"Frankly, he didn't fit into our plans and we knew that B.C. was interested in him, so we decided to give him a chance up there," Steinberg said. "All we did was get him off our reserve-retired list. Periodically, you clean off that list."
No NFL teams put a claim in for Gastineau, leaving him free to sign with the Lions. Terms of his deal were not announced, but Gastineau is believed to be making $100,000 this season. It is likely, however, that Pezim also signed Gastineau to a personal services contract that will significantly increase his salary.
Gastineau's salary is low by NFL standards, but CFL teams have a $3 million salary cap, and few players make more than $100,000.