“I was never really that interested in football as a kid,” says Mike Bradwell.
It’s a surprising admission coming from the former Toronto Argonaut with a 2012 Grey Cup to his name, who was inducted this past month into the Leaside Sports Hall of Fame. “In fact,” he adds, “I didn’t even play football until my final year at Leaside High School.”
Bradwell, who grew up on Rykert Crescent in North Leaside, the youngest of three children to parents John and Anne Bradwell, was, like most Canadian kids at the time, more interested in hockey.
“I grew up playing hockey, took skating at the arena, played Leaside Flames house league and then Leaside Kings in the GTHL – the dream was to play in the NHL and win the Stanley Cup.” It was only in grade 12, Bradwell says, “around the age when people get drafted, that I began to think ‘this might not happen for me,’ and so I thought about trying something different.”
Since he was tall and fast, Mike’s friends suggested he try out for receiver on the Leaside High football team. He did and made the team, playing the 2003 season under head coach Jim Georgiadis and assistants Csaba Vegh and Mark Chambers. Georgiadis and Vegh were both in the William Lea Room at the Arena on November 18th to see their former player inducted in-to the Leaside Sports Hall of Fame.
Even when he went to McMaster University in Hamilton a year later, for Bradwell football might have taken a back seat: “I would have tried out for the hockey team,” he confesses, “but Mac didn’t have one.” The Marauders football team, however, was one of the better university football teams at the time, “so it was intimidating since I only had one year of playing experience. But I thought, why not just try this out?”
He did it, he says, “more for fun than anything else. Obviously the coaches saw some potential in me and they liked the fact that I had no bad habits – I hadn’t played long enough to develop them.”
Bradwell made the team and played for the Marauders for the next four seasons. Mac reached the playoffs each of those years but never won the Vanier Cup. In his fourth year at university, Bradwell was noticed by the CFL scouts and drafted by the Toronto Argonauts. A hamstring injury prevented him from making the team in 2008 so he played a fifth year at Mac before joining the Argos for the 2009 season. The highlight of Bradwell’s six seasons with the Argos, 2009-2014, was being part of the Grey Cup-winning squad in 2012.
In 2013 Mike suffered a concussion during a game late in the regular season. Although he returned in time for the Eastern Conference Final game, he admits now that he wasn’t 100 per cent recovered, and, in fact, the symptoms persisted for another five or six months afterwards. He played one more season, but the concussion was a factor in his decision to retire at the end of 2014.
“Playing longer felt like rolling the dice as to when I’d get another concussion and how much worse that second one could be, especially with all the research now on the long term effects,” he says. “I think every player knows when it’s their time and I was very ready to walk away from the game on my own terms. Having won the Grey Cup in 2012 was a big part of being satisfied with my career. Also playing receiver and special teams for six years had taken its toll on my body: I was 28 years old, but my body felt much older.”
And, having completed his civil engineering degree at McMaster, Bradwell had something solid to fall back on. “Playing in the CFL, we don’t retire with millions in the bank,” Bradwell notes, “which is really a blessing in disguise because you’re constantly thinking about what your career will be after football. The pressure I put on myself to be successful after football began to weigh on me near the end of my career. While leaving football was tough, it was also exciting to begin the next chapter of my life and attack that with the same determination and work ethic as I did with football.”
Since the summer of 2015, Bradwell has been living in Los Angeles where his girlfriend has a job in the TV industry and where he is putting his civil engineering degree to work in project management for a commercial construction firm.
While he says he’s finished with football – “it’s not one of those sports you play after you retire” – he is happy to be playing recreational hockey again. “There’s a fairly big ‘beer league’ in LA, with many of the players either ex-Canadians or from the northern or northeastern states.”
Bradwell’s team plays just once a week in part because ice time is at a premium. “Believe it or not, there’s only one rink for rec hockey in the entire city of Los Angeles.”