August 17, 2007

Higgins doesn’t mind trash talk

By George Johnson,
Calgary Herald

Reformed bad boys Nik Lewis and Jeremaine Copeland will be shocked into speechlessness at the news: Straitlaced-to-the-point-of-being-prim Tom Higgins isn’t above talking trash.

Serious trash.

“Best job I ever had,” Higgins reminisced Thursday. “A great job. Being a garbage man. Stress-free. You got $25. Rode the truck. Great way to stay in shape for a university kid playing football.

“There were two of us. I was 19, 20, 21 at the time, living in New Jersey. You get up every morning at 4 o’clock, start at five, hauling garbage cans into the truck. Some of the stuff you find in there . . . you could make a meal.”

Small smile.

“And I’ll let your imagination answer your next question.

“I developed the garbage-man tan.

“People say garbage stinks.”

He waved a hand dismissively.

“Not true. After awhile, you don’t even notice it. After awhile, it’s like you become part of the garbage.”

Yes, Calgary Stampeders head coach Tom Higgins knows garbage.

Garbage, he doesn’t need to be reminded, would be a 3-5 record for a team this rich in talent. This upwardly mobile in aspiration. This far along in the process.

That stink would be hard to wash out of anyone’s clothes.

“We have to win (tonight),” declared defensive lineman Terrence Patrick. “Simple as that.”

For the good of their season.

For the safety of their jobs.

Should the Stamps falter again this evening against the apparently vulnerable B.C. Lions, the bye week coming up would gives Higgins, his staff, and GM Jim Barker plenty of time to meticulously pick apart the mess. And to be picked apart themselves.

No immunity granted.

“You don’t want them to have too much time to think,” is how Patrick put it.

And, in this case, it’d be 16 long, soul-searching days.

Since training camp opened hereabouts, the emphasis has been put on accountability, on competition, on implementing a no complacency/no exceptions rule. To a man, everyone up top in the Stampeders organization has praised this as the most gifted ensemble put together here in recent memory. They themselves kept repeating that there would be no room for excuses anymore.

Thus far, the sum hasn’t nearly caught up to its parts.

So, staring at a possible 3-5 by Saturday morning, with a manhood-testing doublebill against the Edmonton Eskimos looming down the road, any further pleas for patience would sound thin, hollow. It would be time to act.

Higgins has already tried rattling a few gilded cages. He’s begun rotating high-profile, highly paid receivers. He’s sitting out the incumbent punter tonight. Next up, you’d imagine, would have to be more drastic personnel decisions.

On the field. Maybe even down the sideline. But somewhere, surely. The worst thing they could do would be to stand pat and naively assume everything will come out right in the wash.

“I don’t know what they’re thinking but, if we lose, you’d have to think changes are a possibility,” conceded running back Joffrey Reynolds. “I look at our team, at the players we have here, the veteran presence, and 3-5 would be . . . unacceptable.

“In pro sports, if you don’t win, someone’s always going to take the fall.”

No one can work walking on eggshells. It’s certainly a delicate matter, then, keeping athletes honest, on edge, without having them seize up altogether.

“You’ve got to be careful not to pile on too much pressure,” Higgins cautioned. “It’s just not conducive to winning football games.

“The ideal atmosphere is a relaxed atmosphere that allows players to thrive. We’ve tried to implement that here this year, this week. I think the players understand the urgency involved. I think they’re cognizant of how important this game is, especially with the bye week coming up and two games against Edmonton on the horizon.

“You just don’t want them thinking that one drop and they’re done. Five drops, well, then . . . but we’ve had a great week of practice, and we fully expect to go out (tonight) and give a good account of ourselves.”

Which, translated, means: Beat B.C. And, if that fails to happen, well, the options appear to be dwindling.

“Thing is, you never know what’s going to happen,” acknowledged Copeland. “You’ve got to mind your Ps and Qs. There’s still a lot of season left. We can still finish first in this division. We still believe the group we have here now is good enough to win. We’ve believed that all along.

“But we have to start backing up our belief on the field. We can stand here all day long and say we’ve squandered a lot of chances and, it’s true, we have, but right now we’re in last place (in the Western Division). That’s the reality.”

The reality of a 3-5 record, of a loss heading into the bye week, is only too stark.

“Would they make changes?” Copeland shook his head. “I don’t know.

“We win (tonight), though, and it’s not even an issue. It’s up to us not to give them a reason to do anything.”

A lot of blood can be spilled in 16 days of unflinching reflection.

Sixteen days is more than enough time to back up the garbage truck to the rear of McMahon Stadium and take on a fresh load.