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Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive tackle Joe Fleming, left, chats it up with receiver Milt Stegall at practice last year. Fleming announced his retirement Friday after nine seasons in the CFL. (Joe Bryksa/Canadian Press)

Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive tackle Joe Fleming announced his retirement from the Canadian Football League on Friday, saying he wants to spend more time with his family.

Fleming played 145 games over his nine-year CFL career with the B.C. Lions, Calgary Stampeders and Blue Bombers. In that time, he counted 273 defensive tackles, seven pass knockdowns and 70 quarterback sacks.

"It was a very hard decision to make," Fleming said in a statement. "I had the opportunity to play for three great organizations in the CFL, many great coaches, and have amazing teammates. Except for my wife Stacy and my kids Madelyn, who was born in Canada, Erin, Joe Jr., the CFL is the best thing that ever happened to me."

Fleming broke into the CFL with the Lions in 1996 and signed as a free agent with the Blue Bombers in 1998. He moved on to the Stampeders before a blockbuster trade brought him back to Winnipeg in the 2004 season.

Fleming was named a CFL all-star four times (1998, 2000, 2001 and 2003) and was a four-time West Division all-star (2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004). He was awarded the CFL's most outstanding defensive player in 2003 with Calgary. That year he registered 33 defensive tackles, 11 quarterback sacks and three tackles for losses.

Blue Bombers general manager Brendan Taman said a player of Fleming's calibre will be greatly missed.

"Joe Fleming is the epitome of what a professional football player should be," Taman said in a statement. "He worked tirelessly for this football club, both on and off the field.

"But there comes a time when a player has to move on with his life and the Blue Bombers organization wishes him the best of luck in the next phase of his life."