EDMONTON — Leaving the champagne showers in his locker room for a post-game chat with the media, Bo Levi Mitchell exhaled deeply as he sat.
After two years of Grey Cup heartache and the endless questions about it, the 28-year-old slapped the table in celebration.
“Damn, this feels good,” said the Calgary Stampeders quarterback following a 27-16 Grey Cup win over the Ottawa Redblacks at Commonwealth Stadium Sunday. “Each time you realize how hard it is, and after what’s happened the last couple years, this is the sweetest feeling I’ve ever had.
“It wasn’t about redemption against anybody else or against the league or fans, but it felt like as an organization we’ve been on top too much not to finish the job. It feels amazing to get this done for the city of Calgary.”
Unlike Calgary’s last two championship appearances, the red and white started — and finished — this one in control.
This wasn’t so much a win as it was a relief. This was a game the Stampeders not only deserved to win, it was a game they needed to win. For a struggling city, for a frustrated franchise, and, most importantly, for one another.
They wanted to win it for Kamar Jorden, who fumbled last year’s Grey Cup away. They wanted it for their laundry list of injured players, their head coach, Dave Dickenson, and the quarterback who used the constant questioning of his and his team’s greatness as fuel.
And by the end of the night, a sold out crowd of 55,819 — largely hoping the Stampeders would lose for the third time in a row — could only stand and applaud as red and white confetti rained down on the champs.
They danced, they sang, they drank, they smoked cigars, they hugged, they cried and they relished a moment some wondered if they’d ever experience.
“We didn’t want to be the Buffalo Bills of the CFL,” said offensive lineman Derek Dennis. “You didn’t want to lose for three years in a row because of boneheaded mistakes when you’re clearly the best team every year and deserve to win it. We played the perfect game you needed to play in all three phases of the game.”
It was evident minutes in that nothing would be perfect on this night, given the horrifically slick artificial turf that had players slipping every play.
“I felt like I was ice-skating out there,” said Calgary receiver Lemar Durant, clutching his top Canadian award earned largely because of his 17-yard touchdown catch to put the Stamps up 14-3 in the second quarter.
“Being a Canadian, I should probably be a better skater.”
Stampeders receiver Eric Rogers, who made several clutch grabs early, revealed after the game he played with a torn meniscus suffered in the West Final. It was part of the reason he was disgusted with field conditions that jeopardized the health of all players.
No one negotiated the elements better than Terry Williams when he put the Stamps up 21-11 with a Grey Cup record 97-yard punt return for a major with one second left in the half. It was one of two special-teams plays chiefly responsible for the Stampeders’ eighth franchise title.
The second came early in the fourth quarter with the Stampeders holding a 24-14 lead.
As Ottawa’s Diontae Spencer appeared oh-so-close to rounding the corner on a Redblacks punt return, Calgary’s Riley Jones reached out to make a crucial tackle that dislodged the ball. It was recovered on Ottawa’s 25-yard line by Wynton McManis. Three plays later, Rene Parades’ second field goal of the game put them up 27-14, forcing Ottawa quarterback Trevor Harris to push the envelope, leading to one turnover on downs and two of his three interceptions.
“To me, that play by Riley Jones won the game,” said Mitchell as Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley joined in the on-field celebration.
“(Spencer) made a couple guys miss and it was one-on-one, and if he breaks that tackle and gets by him it’s a touchdown. Instead, Riley causes a fumble and we get three points — that’s a 10-point swing right there.”
Making his fifth Grey Cup appearance, Mitchell was 24-for-36 for 253 yards, two interceptions and two majors. Given the slick field, he deserves full marks for the tremendous ball management that kept the Stamps in control of a game played in temperatures hovering around 1 C most of the night.
After all, it was so icy on the field the Stampeders touchdown horse, Quick Six, was reduced to a slow trot following Stampeders majors. That same horse was ridden by Alex Singleton and Ja’Gared Davis during the post-game celebrations Calgarians have waited to see for years.
His defence, which did most of the heavy lifting in a season that saw the Stamps go 13-5, was a big part of a win that saw Harris complete just 20-of-38 passes for 288 yards and three pickoffs.
Ciante Evans, Jamar Wall and Tre Roberson all made timely interceptions for the first-place Stampeders, who lost in the dying minutes last year to Toronto, and in overtime to Ottawa in 2016.
“I was driving a box truck all last year — full-time — and now I’m on this stage … it’s exciting,” said Roberson, a rookie whose grandfather, Larry Highbaugh, was a CFL legend who won six Grey Cups with the Eskimos.
“All the hard work is paying off, and if you work hard good things happen.”
They certainly did for the Stampeders.