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YOU'VE got to love guys like Tim Simpson.

He doesn't play football for the money or the headlines or anything that tangible.

He plays for the best reason of all: It's fun.

At the same time, you have to wonder about the wisdom of Simpson's most recent decision. And, in a roundabout way, he's sort of making arenafootball2 look bad.

Simpson decided last week to come back and play for the Peoria Pirates. He told the Peoria Journal-Star that he needed some sort of recreational outlet. Since he can't play slow-pitch softball, he'll play af2 instead.

"I need the game to vent," Simpson told the Journal-Star. "I can't shoot a basketball and I'm lousy at softball. I have fun doing this."

Did we mention that Simpson is 33 years old and that he retired in the middle of last season because of a congenital kidney defect?

Did we mention that he once earned a few paychecks in the NFL, has a perfectly good middle-management job with Caterpillar, and now will be risking life and limb (and God knows what else) for $200 a game?

It must be one heckuva lot of fun, huh?

Simpson had fun in football all the way back at East Peoria High School in the 1980s. He enjoyed an excellent career at the University of Illinois, at least as good as that of Moline's Brad Hopkins, who was just a year behind him in school.

Both were captains, both were first-team All-Big Ten offensive linemen, and both were selected in the NFL draft.

Hopkins, now entering his 10th season with the Tennessee Titans, was the 13th player chosen. Simpson was No. 329, going in the 12th round to the Cleveland Browns. He also spent some time with the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets before getting into arena football in Colorado several years ago.

He joined the Pirates in 2000 and has become a huge crowd favorite back in his hometown. He comes out for pregame warm-ups wearing a skeleton mask and exhorting the crowd. He makes it fun.

Even after retiring last season, Simpson continued to work out and recently said he can bench press 225 pounds 50 times. If true, that's extremely impressive. Most of the linemen picked in the first round of this year's NFL draft are in the 25-30 range.

Simpson finally called first-year Peoria coach Bruce Cowdrey last week and offered his services. Cowdrey, desperate for help at the center position, gladly agreed.

The timing of Simpson's return adds a little extra spice to Friday's first meeting of the season between the Pirates and the two-time af2 champion Quad-City Steamwheelers.

Simpson helped the Pirates to an undefeated season in the now defunct Indoor Football League in 2000 while the Wheelers also went undefeated in af2.

When the two teams were brought together in af2 and matched against one another in last year's season opener, Simpson was among the most vocal verbal combatants. Among other things, he said he and his teammates were "sick" of hearing about the Steamwheelers."

Of course, the Wheelers won that game 41-0 and won a second meeting between the two clubs, 45-7, after Simpson had hung up his turf shoes.

He had a decent game in a 45-18 victory over Wichita last Saturday and apparently hasn't lost his touch in the interview room either. That was evident when the Journal-Star asked him about a head-to-head confrontation with budding Steamwheelers star Frank Trentadue.

"I've played against some pretty good defensive players in my career," Simpson said. "They were named Michael Dean Perry, Kevin Greene, Junior Seau. I know (Trentadue) is having a big year. But I'm not going to go home and lose sleep over anyone in this league."

You've got to love guys like that.

Don Doxsie can be contacted at (563) 383-2289 or ddoxsie@qctimes.com.

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