Last year was this close to being a historically successful season for the Calgary Stampeders. Right up until the time it turned into a bad nightmare.
The team had a chance to tie the league’s all-time record for wins in a regular season – and finish with the most points by virtue of the tie on their record – before falling to the Montreal Alouettes in their final game of the season. But that wasn’t near the gut punch they suffered a month later, falling to the Ottawa Redblacks – a team with only slightly more than half the Stamps’ regular season win total – in the Grey Cup.
Now the Stamps return to try it all over again. But this time with a fire in their belly, determined to finish the job this time around.
“It hurts because it’s something you work so long for, you had a great season, and I think sometimes you just expect it,” quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell told TSN. “And that’s just not how it is. And that’s a good learning moment for everybody in here.”
The concern with teams that made it all the way up the mountain only to see another team plant their flag at the summit, is they return the next year flat, hungover from last year’s disappointment. Mitchell said it’s his job to make sure the team stays strong throughout the process, even though the ultimate goal can’t be reached until late November.
“I was here in 2012 when the same thing happened.” The 12-6 Stamps fell to the 9-9 Toronto Argonauts in the Grey Cup that year, with Mitchell going 6 for 9 with a touchdown playing behind Kevin Glenn in the championship game.
“For me that was the moment when I said ‘Hey, nothing’s ever given in this league, I have to make sure I’m always ready. I have to be that guy. I’m going to be that guy to lead us to that spot. That’s something that motivated me at a young age to kind of take over. So now I’m hoping the young guys all see that and we all take that to heart.”
Like Mitchell, Stamps running back Jerome Messam believes last year’s disappointing ending can be a motivating factor for the team this season.
“I think the sky is the limit for us this year. We’ve got a lot of guys that were here last year, and a lot of guys that still have that bad taste in their mouth,” Messam told TSN. “So I know guys are motivated and we’re just going to continue to work for success.”
Head coach Dave Dickenson had a decidedly more authoritarian reason for guys to get over last year’s frustration and start new building something special this year.
“We have good vets,” Dickenson told TSN. “But I’m not going to give anyone too much benefit of the doubt.”
“Seriously, you have to compete. Don’t come here if you’re not in the mood to compete ... I think most of the best athletes and best players enjoy competition.”
One player for sure that shares that mentality is Dickenson’s QB. While Mitchell is probably the most secure starter on the roster, the 27-year-old leader can be counted on to set a good example for the rest of the team.
“I’ve always motivated myself,” Mitchell said. “What Dave always talks about is my competition is the guy in the mirror. I’m looking to get better every single day, every single season. I’m never going to get complacent because of awards or Cups or anything like that. I’ve still got a lot of things in my career that I’m looking to chase.”
Mitchell and the Stampeders start their chase Friday in a Grey Cup rematch with the Redblacks.