Stampeders have chance to silence critics from Grey Cups past

Arash Madani and Travis Lulay discuss how the Calgary Stampeders will look to change the narrative after losing the last two Grey Cups and the run game of the Ottawa Red Blacks.

EDMONTON — The first sign of Grey Cup controversy came Friday night, in the midst of a Spirit of Edmonton party of 1,100.

As fans wearing jerseys and colourful paraphernalia of their favourite CFL teams revelled in the camaraderie of Canada’s Grand National Drunk, three pretty young ladies took to the stage.

Alas, seconds after the Calgary Stampede Queen and princesses were introduced the crowd responded with hearty boos, prompting the flustered trio to abort their goodwill showing.

A rare – and ugly – show of Grey Cup disrespect.

In an annual everyman’s celebration that has forever been known for bringing people together, the shocking message was clear: the ABC theory Edmonton has been operating under for eons has rubbed off on the rest of the league.

Anyone But Calgary.

People are tired of seeing the Stampeders in the CFL’s marquee matchup. After all, the Red & White are making their fourth Grey Cup appearance in the last five years.

“I’m hoping some of these fans are going to be cheering for us – we are a west team after all,” smiled Stampeders linebacker Alex Singleton, whose teammates relished the ability to house themselves in the Eskimos’ cushy locker room.

“But we’re prepared for the possibility they won’t.”

The stage has indeed been set for a gathering of over 50,000 football fans at Commonwealth Stadium tonight, where the clear crowd favourite will be the underdog Redblacks from Ottawa.

Despite a massive contingent of Cowboy-hat-toting Calgarians who drove three hours to try turning around two years of Grey Cup misadventures for their team, fans from every other part of the country are hoping for a repeat of the Redblacks’ shocking win over the Stampeders two years ago.

Despite being the CFL’s most dominant team the last decade, the Stamps have won just one of their last four championship games, losing the last two in spectacularly different fashions.

Both were chokes – something as synonymous with the Stamps the last 25 years as producing the league’s best quarterbacks.

“The biggest thing I’ve been telling the guys is you can’t win three Grey Cups this week, you can only win one,” said Stampeders quarterback and CFL MOP Bo Levi Mitchell – the clear focal point of the nation’s 106th title tilt.

“Don’t make this game bigger than it is. If you weren’t on those teams don’t try to answer the call for what’s happened in the past and try to redeem what’s happened the last two years for other teams you weren’t a part of.”

Lost in the rhetoric the Stampeders are on the verge of becoming the CFL’s Buffalo Bills is the fact a Calgary win would give the organization its second title in five years.

Yet, the Stamps find themselves facing a massive wave of disrespect Mitchell is clearly fueled and bothered by.

“To me there was a lot of disrespect the entire year as to who we are as an offence and who I was as a player,” said Mitchell.

“I heard multiple guys – (Argos linebacker) Marcus Ball – call me average. I heard (former Stampeder and Redblacks quarterback-turned broadcaster) Henry Burris call me average and that another quarterback could come into my system and play it better than me.

“They have to answer to those things at some point. So, I’ll go out and just keep proving people wrong. The disrespect can keep building up all at once too.”

In six career starts, Ottawa quarterback Trevor Harris has never beaten Calgary.

However, the man who led the Redblacks to an 11-7 record is coming off a CFL-record six touchdown passes in the east final, setting the stage for his team to be 4.5-point underdogs.

Singleton, who spearheads the league’s top defence in Calgary, is suggesting his club is the underdog given how unpopular they are this week.

Few are buying it.

As thousands lined Jasper Avenue in the heart of the Grey Cup Festival for Saturday’s Grey Cup parade, both teams went through their final walk-through, expressing concern over the rock-hard, frozen field at Commonwealth.

Unseasonably mild temperatures expected to be around 1 C will play a role in a game forever shaped by the elements.

Temperatures close to -7 C this week did little to deter tens of thousands of fans from bundling up and heading downtown to the family-friendly festival that also included parties run by almost every team, including Halifax’s Atlantic Schooners, who announced their name at the East Coast Kitchen Party.

The Stampeders Grey Cup committee continued their tradition of serving free pancake breakfasts all week to thousands of locals. They also arranged for Tuffy the horse to walk into the lobby of the Chateau Lacombe – a tip of the cap to the Stampeders fans who put the Grey Cup party on the map in 1948 when they brought a horse into the Royal York hotel.

For the first time in three years the Stamps will have support from Quick Six, their touchdown horse that so famously charges along the sideline at McMahon Stadium after every touchdown. Banned for two years due to safety concerns, he and rider Chelsea Drake will be on standby in the end zone at Commonwealth Stadium to whip fans into a frenzy with every Stamps major.

Contained in a small radius downtown, Grey Cup partygoers paraded from party to party Saturday night, which also saw a concert by Canadian legends Kim Mitchell, Trooper and Loverboy.

Country music star Brett Kissel, from Flat Lake, Alta., will sing the game’s national anthem and Alessia Cara will perform during halftime.

Can Harris and hotshot running back William Powell solve Calgary’s defence?

Can Stampeders receiver Eric Rogers continue his streak of playoff brilliance that saw him haul in three touchdowns last week?

Will the Stampeders silence critics, and the crowd, by returning to Grey Cup glory?

The nation will be watching, either way.


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