Rudy Norman is a warrior. Always has been. Always will be. Soon to turn 35, the future hall of famer has nothing to prove to anyone.
Yet, after 16 seasons with St. Lawrence Labatt Laurentians, he finds himself something less than a hero in his hometown.
Such is life when you decide to play your last couple of season in the city where you live, work and are raising your family and are building a new house instead of the town were you were raised and played like a champion for more almost two decades.
Norman is a midfielder with a thundering shot and passing skills among the best who ever played the game in this province. He also possesses the sort of leadership that produced championship teams. He also had a knack for scoring crucial goals under pressure. With the Laurentians, in combination with striker Richard Kelly the duo was almost impossible to stop.
It was a devesting combination and Norman, like Kelly, was a hero in St. Lawrence where soccer is everything.
Norman played on a dozen provincial Molson Challenge Cup teams with the Laurentians.
Best of the decade
He was chosen Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association’s male player of the decade (2000-2009). A Challenge Cup all-star nine of the those 10 seasons, Norman captured two scoring titles, finishing with 97 goals for decade.
But as far as some Laurentian fans are concerned, it’s all about ‘what have you done for me lately?’
Norman, who switched to Mount Pearl That Pro Look/Molson this season after a long career with the Laurentians, got a “mixed” reaction when he played his first game against St. Lawrence against his former team Sunday.
“It was tough,” Norman said about playing at Centennial Field as a member of the opposition.
The teams had also played Saturday in St. lawrence, but Norman, who has scored seven goals this season, sat out that contest with a one-game suspension after picking up three yellow cards.
He said some fans are “set in their ways” and will never let him forget he’s switched teams, while he talked to some people Saturday who understood his situation “and were the best kind.”
“Some said they were disappointed they didn’t get to see me play Saturday or else they came to see me get beat up,” he added with a laugh.
“A lof them understand but don’t like it and I can live with that. But others…well, I heard the (last) weekend that everying I did (for St. Lawrence) is all for nothing now. I can’t believe that mentality,” said Norman who, for years, helped oganize practices for the Laurentian players living in St. John’s.
The school teacher and former Memorial Sea-Hawks star said deciding to play with Mount Pearl this season was “the hardest decision” he’s ever had to make, but he said there was no pressure from the community to play with the team in the city where he had been living the past 10 years.
“Absolutely not,” he added. “It’s not the same playing in Mount Pearl as it is in St. Lawrence. There’s no pressure here whatsoever.”
Norman said the option to play in Mount Pearl was the logical one.
“Either that or I would have retired,” said Norman.
Retiring would have been extremely tough on the veteran because he still loves the game and believes he can still contribute as long as he’s healthy.
“I’m not ready to walk away from the game yet. And playing in Mount Pearl allows me to keep playing the game I love.
“I gave everything I had to St. Lawrence. I can’t look back and I regret nothing.”
Well, almost nothing.
What may have turned some of the fans against Norman, he admitted, was the fact he had indicated to a few people prior to the start of the season that while he would play for Mount Pearl, he didn’t think he’d be able to suit up against the Laurentians.
Norman said Mount Pearl coach Walt Mavin was very understanding of his circumstances and even suggested he’d go along with an initital suggestion of holding the player out of games against St. Lawrence during the regular season.
“But as I began practising with the (Mount Pearl) guys, I realized it was soccer that I loved. I gave everything I had when I played with the Laurentians and I owed the same to my new teammates.”
In fact, Mavin asked Norman if he wanted to sit out last Sunday’s game knowing the pressure the player was under. The Mount Pearl coach said it wouldn’t be a big deal.
Norman said that while he initially felt he couldn’t play for any other team, he got to know the Mount Pearl players during the indoor season and found out “they weren’t as bad as I thought they were,” he said with a laugh.
Second-place Mount Pearl will meet third-place St. Lawrence in the semifinals and Norman has been thinking about that for some time.
And while he began the season wearing his former No.10 jersey he wore with the Laurentians, he soon switched to No. 24 and is now wearing No.9. His blue No. 10, it seems, is still special to him.
Norman appears to be torn by his decision to switch sides even now.
He said he still has friends on the Laurentians and the first time he played against them earlier this season in Mount Pearl was “kind of tough. But we got things out of the way.
“St. Lawrence made me what I am, but I’m wearing a different color now,” said Norman. “My true friends in St. Lawrence kind of understand. Some people think I left St. Lawrence because the team has gotten weaker in recent years, but that’s not true.
“There are times though,” he admitted, “when I wonder if I did the right thing.
“I love St. Lawrence and I’ll always be a Laurentian in my heart.”