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'94 walkout Culver will walk back in

In a league built on second chances, wide receiver Shannon Culver will write his unique chapter this spring when he reports for his second Canadian Football League training camp in Baltimore.

The first chapter ended last Sept. 12 when he stalked off the practice field after an argument with coach Don Matthews. Told he would have to fight for his place on the active roster, Culver opted for the door. He was suspended and ultimately cut.

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Now, he's coming back. That curious turn of events was precipitated by a visit last month to Matthews' office at Memorial Stadium. When Culver, 24, again expressed regret over his impetuous decision, Matthews extended an olive branch and an opportunity.

"I told him, 'I'll start you with a clean slate,' " Matthews said. "He showed he had the athletic talent to be here. Now he has to show consistent maturity to turn that talent into a productive player."

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Baltimore must upgrade its receiving corps to reach the Grey Cup again next season. Culver figures to make a difference. He made a strong impression when he returned a missed field goal 91 yards against Toronto in the season opener.

"I respect the decision [Matthews] made," Culver said. "I'm broke because of it. But it made me a better man. I want to prove I should have been there. I told him it was the turning point in my life."

Culver coached receivers at his high school in suburban Los Angeles last fall and played quarterback with the semipro Antelope Valley Crusaders. He said he had tryouts with the B.C. Lions in the CFL and the Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers in the NFL. Yet, when Matthews threw the first offer his way, Culver leaped.

"I know I'll go in and handle it this time," he said.

Bad news Benson

Baltimore led the CFL in fewest disabling injuries last season, with 47 man-games missed. Linebacker Ken Benson missed 13 of those with a broken right ankle but returned to play in the final eight.

Now comes news that Benson may need to repeat his surgery and lengthy rehabilitation because the ankle has not healed properly. He wonders if the problem was returning too soon.

"I think it was too much, too soon," he said from Fayetteville, Ark., where he is finishing work on a teaching degree. "I thought it was ready."

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Benson will return to Baltimore later this month to have the ankle examined and most likely operated on again. If he has surgery, he will probably miss at least half of training camp.

Taking a shortcut

Memphis has more than a small problem trying to squeeze a 110-yard CFL field into the Liberty Bowl. That's with or without the 20-yard end zones.

Because time is running late and the cost of renovation is high, Memphis has asked the league to waive standard requirements. The expansion team wants to play on a 100-yard field with end zones of 13 to 15 yards. The league wants a 110-yard field and will settle for 10-yard end zones. Either way, the rule on singles (returning kicks from the end zone) will be affected, not to mention the league's credibility.

"The integrity of the field will be protected," promised commissioner Larry Smith.

But shorter end zones don't seem to bother the CFL.

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"Memphis is such a good potential site for us, that's a concession we're willing to make," said John Lipp, president of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

John Hyman, director of marketing for Memphis, said the team plans to renovate the stadium after the season. One wonders if 20-yard end zones might get lost in the shuffle of fiscal paperwork by next year, though.

Audibles

The CFL management council's first proposal on the import rule is to reduce Canadian content from 20 players to 10 the next two seasons and to five the two seasons after that. The CFLPA voted unanimously to keep the number at 20. . . . Despite B.C.'s Grey Cup victory, Lions owner Bill Comrie says he won't extend the contract of coach Dave Ritchie, who has one year left. Ritchie, understandably, isn't happy. "Wouldn't anybody else in the world like to feel like they're wanted when you feel like you've done something up and above the ordinary?" he said. "We brought home the big apple." . . . Edmonton's ultimatum for 7,000 additional season tickets to be sold by March 1 apparently is being met with indifference. The Eskimos were stalled at 1,521 last week. . . . Calgary's John Hufnagel and Edmonton's Joe Paopao weren't interested in the Toronto coaching job after Argos GM Bob O'Billovich said he planned to have 10 a.m. briefings with his coach every day. . . . If Shreveport can't land quarterback Matt Dunigan, the Pirates will go after Sacramento's David Archer.


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