A Run for the Border : Football in Canada May Lack Glamour of NFL, but Pringle Making Most of Opportunity

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's the Canadian Football League, not the NFL, and he's playing for a no-nickname team in Baltimore that the courts won't let be called "Colts" because of a suit filed by the team in Indianapolis.

Television coverage? Sure, there's an occasional appearance on ESPN2, where you can catch a CFL game now and then along with the calf roping and jet ski racing.

But former Kennedy High standout Mike Pringle doesn't care. At 27, he's still playing football, and that's the important thing.

He had a good college career at Cal State Fullerton a few years before the school suspended the program. And Pringle had his shot in the NFL too, but things just didn't work out. It's been too long now for Pringle to think much about the might-have-beens.

And frankly, he's starting to like this CFL thing anyway, especially the way this season has been going.

It might be only the CFL, but Pringle is the most successful running back in it this year. He finished the regular season with 1,972 yards in 308 carries, a league record for single-season rushing.

And getting that many yards is even more of an accomplishment because of the CFL's three-down rule.

"It's a little different, but it's still good football," Pringle said. "The only thing is that a lot of running backs in this league get turned off by having only the three downs. That makes it more difficult. You have to get most of your yardage on first down. There's more chance the quarterbacks will be throwing the ball on the other downs. But I've been getting the chance to run the ball 20 to 25 times a game, which is out of the ordinary for a running back in this league."

Pringle had a good shot at surpassing 2,000 yards. Had he done that, he would have been one of only a handful of players on the pro level to scale that mountain. Only two NFL runners have done it: Eric Dickerson, when he gained 2,105 with the Rams in 1984, and O.J. Simpson, who had 2,003 with Buffalo in 1973. Herschel Walker gained 2,411 in 1985 when he played in the USFL.

Pringle gained 71 yards in the regular-season finale against Sacramento, falling 28 yards short of 2,000. It was especially disappointing because he appeared to be home free with 62 yards in the first half. Baltimore, however, fell behind and went to an all-out passing game.

"I knew that I was capable of getting it, and that's the important thing to me," he said. "It turned out to be out of my control, and I hardly touched the ball in the second half. I'll just leave it at that. I'm not usually that much into stats, but I'll admit that bothered me a little."

But that doesn't diminish what Pringle did accomplish for a team that has advanced to Sunday's Grey Cup championship game. He also caught passes for 442 yards and set a CFL record for yards from scrimmage (2,414). He missed the league record for all-purpose running, including kickoff returns, by 72 yards.

"This is probably the best season I've had," Pringle said.

His final collegiate season in 1989 certainly wasn't shabby.

Pringle will be remembered at Fullerton for his 357-yard rushing effort in 31 carries against New Mexico State. It tied an NCAA single-game rushing record, but it was broken the next weekend. He finished the season with 1,727 yards, an average of 157 a game. That ranks as the 23rd-best effort in NCAA history. His 2,690 all-purpose yards that season is the fourth-best in Division I.

"He might have been the toughest player I ever coached," former Titan Coach Gene Murphy said.

Pringle was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, the second player chosen in the sixth round of the NFL draft. He made the team as a rookie in 1990, and led the Falcons in kick returns during the exhibition season, but cracked ribs forced him to sit out much of the season. He came off injured reserve for three games late in the season, but had little success. He failed to make the roster the next summer.

Pringle played the next two seasons in the World Football League for Sacramento, and led the team in rushing in 1992 when it won the league championship. The World League shut down, but the CFL expanded into Sacramento in 1993. That again gave Pringle new life in football.

He was traded to Baltimore when the CFL expanded there this season.

"They had been using Mike primarily as a blocking back, not a lead runner," said Jim Popp, Baltimore director of player personnel. "We knew we were getting a good running back, but it was a stroke of luck on our part for it to have turned out this well."

Pringle says he enjoys what he calls "the faster pace of CFL football," compared to the NFL.

"We only have 20 seconds between plays instead of 45," Pringle said. "I remember the first CFL game I played. I was wondering how I was going to play in this league at that pace. I thought I was in good shape, but everything happened so fast."

After this season, does Pringle think there's a chance an NFL team might be interested in him?

"I've had tryouts before, and it just didn't happen for one reason or another so I don't worry about it," he said. "It would be nice to have more options, but it's not something I think that much about. This season has been fun, and I'm just enjoying that."

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