- FREE AGENCY
EDMONTON — A pair of gut-wrenching Grey Cup losses hasn’t taken the swagger out of the Calgary Stampeders.
Most of the players who stepped off a bus after a four-hour drive from Calgary Tuesday night where decked out in jeans, cowboy boots and Stetsons. They had the look of wranglers ready for the final roundup when the Stampeders play the Ottawa REDBLACKS in Sunday’s 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.
“The sheriff is in town,” said quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who wore a fringed leather jacket decorated with bright beadwork, topped by a Smithbilt hat.
Linebacker Alex Singleton said the Stampeders were just following custom.
“It’s Calgary,” said Singleton, who showed a little of his persona with a black cowboy hat and his long, raven hair tied up in a ponytail. “It’s a Calgary tradition.”
Head coach Dave Dickenson looked more the tenderfoot in a sports coat and open shirt.
“I don’t know if my wife would let me back in the house,” Dickenson answered when asked why he didn’t follow Mitchell’s fashion trend.
“Bo is living it up a little bit.”
The Stampeders have been one of the CFL’s best teams over the last several years but will be more remembered for some of the games they lost than those they won. Calgary has a 96-28-2 record over the last seven years, and reached the Western Final each of those seasons, but has won the Grey Cup just once.
In 2016, Calgary dominated the CFL with a 15-2-1 record and looked poised to roll over an upstart Ottawa team to win their second Grey Cup in three years.
Instead, they were ambushed 39-33 in overtime by a REDBLACKS franchise in just its third year of existence.
The Stampeders were looking for retribution last year. They led the CFL with a 13-4-1 record and promised things would be different against a 9-9 Toronto Argonaut team.
Instead, a late fumble snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a 27-24 loss.
Calgary it trying to avoid becoming the first team since Montreal Alouettes in 1954, 55 and 56 to lose three consecutive Grey Cups. Montreal’s Sam Etcheverry was the last quarterback to lose three consecutive CFL championships.
Mitchell, who is the West Division’s nominee for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player for the third time in four years, knows there will be plenty of talk about the Stampeder’s history this week. He wants to focus on the future.
“You have to go out there and win a football game,” said Mitchell, who throw for over 5,100 yards, a league-high 35 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this year. “Don’t make it bigger than it is.
“Don’t build it up to be redemption for the last two, because you are going to put too much pressure on yourself. To me, just go out there and finish your job, finish what you started . . . and make it all worth it.”
The Stampeders led the CFL with a 13-5 record in 2018 but at times during the season looked like a rodeo rider desperately trying to stay on a bucking bronco.
They burst out of the gate 7-0, then struggled to win some games and lost three straight down the stretch. The Stampeders needed a win in their final game against BC to secure first place in the West.
What didn’t break the Stampeders, just made them stronger.
“We still won more (games) than anybody else,” said Mitchell. “That’s what I care about.
“I think the adversity is good. I don’t want to shy away from it. I think the losing at the end of the season locked guys in, made guys compete harder for jobs and made guys realize we’re not invincible. That’s a good thing going into the playoffs.”
Calgary beat Ottawa 24-14 and 27-3 in their two meetings during the season, but the teams haven’t seen each other since the middle of July.
The REDBLACKS won six of their final eight games, including a 46-22 thrashing of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in last week’s Eastern Final. Calgary defeated Winnipeg 22-14 in the West Final.
Dickenson said he and his staff have some homework to do to prepare for Ottawa.
“What you are worried about a little bit is, are they going to play you like they played you, or are they going to play like they have played lately,” he said. “I do think you do a little bit more study.”
The Stampeders have been a very good team for a long time. Some people might wonder if their window of opportunity could be closing.
“We’re excited to be here,” said Singleton. “There is only 10 of us that have been on this team for the last three years. There’s a lot of guys, this is a new experience for them
“The window can only be open for so long they say. We have this week and it’s wide open.”