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Mitchell ready for return to McMahon Stadium

Bo Levi Mitchell Hamilton Tiger-Cats Bo Levi Mitchell - Brent Just/Getty Images

Bo Levi Mitchell will kick off his 12th CFL season on Friday at McMahon Stadium, on the field he called home for nearly a decade, as a visitor for the first time.

On the other side will be Jake Maier, the Calgary Stampeders pivot he mentored and ultimately was replaced by.

Mitchell hasn’t visited Calgary in enemy colours since signing with Hamilton in 2023, missing last season’s visit by the Tiger-Cats due to injury, but was quick to downplay his return to face the quarterback who replaced him.

“That’s the job for you guys,” the 34-year-old veteran pivot said to media on Thursday with a smile when asked about the master versus apprentice narrative. “I don’t get to play against Jake. I want to score more points than he does…I’m just looking forward to getting this offence rolling.”

Mitchell holds several Stamps passing records, including most passing yards and completions, and is second in career passing touchdowns. He put together a Hall-of-Fame resume in Calgary, winning two Grey Cups (2014, 2018) and being named the game's MVP both times. Mitchell was also the league's Most Outstanding Player in 2016 and 2018, and was the fastest quarterback in CFL history to win 60 games. 

But Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson, a legendary Stamps quarterback himself, wasn't feeling particularly nostalgic Thursday when asked about Mitchell’s return.

“I love Bo and all that, but we’ve got to focus on our game,” he said. “For me, there’s no time to think about the past. Let’s move forward.”

It’s been two years since Mitchell last wore red and white, but his impact remains – particularly with the 27-year-old Maier.

Maier lived with Mitchell and his family when he first got two Calgary in 2021, and the two developed a tight bond on and off the field. Mitchell attended Maier’s wedding and their wives are friends as well.

“We were roommates on road trips, we spent time in each other’s houses, our families get along so well,” Maier said.

Maier, who came to the Stamps from University of California Davis of the NCAA, emphasized how much Mitchell taught him about the Canadian game.

“He showed me the ropes of this game and how it’s played at a high level and the style of play you need to have to win championships in this league,” Maier said. “He was a great role model for me. That wasn’t just watching games. That was day to day in the meeting room, how to operate it, how to talk to your teammates, how to be a leader. Bo was big for that.”

Mitchell said that he’s always wanted to form strong bonds with his fellow quarterbacks, which is why he invested in the relationship with Maier.

“I’ve never wanted to be a part of a quarterback room that wasn’t tight,” Mitchell said. “[Maier]'s not choosing to replace me and same with [Mitchell's backups last season] Taylor [Powell] and Matt Shiltz. I want us to all go to work together and love what we do…no matter what, when I was the starter or when I was backing him up, we were golfing the same and hanging out the same.”

Wide receiver Reggie Begelton, one of Mitchell’s favourite targets in Calgary over the years, called him a “model citizen.”

“Bo’s like a big brother to me,” he said. “I stayed with him a few times. He’s a model citizen…that’s kind of the way I want to be.”

Mitchell was at his peak on the sport’s biggest stages, but admitted he’s not sure what type of reception he’ll get on Friday night from the fans he played in front of so many times.

“I’m sure some will be excited, and some might not be,” he said. “And that’s okay.”

The Stamps have moved on from a disappointing 6-12 campaign in 2023, but there’s work to do to re-establish the standard their former star quarterback set. 

Calgary hasn’t won a playoff game since Mitchell hoisted the Grey Cup back in 2018 and has finished third in the West Division in each of the past three seasons. This year’s group, however, has turned the page and insists on looking ahead.

“My mom’s a history teacher,” Dickenson said with a chuckle. “If we don’t learn from the past, we’re going to basically make the same mistake. I do think you learn from it, but you’ve got to move forward.”

Maier, now in his fourth season in the CFL, faces plenty of pressure to play his part in the Stamps evolving and regaining their status among the elites of the league. On Friday, he’ll go against the quarterback he replaced and whose accomplishments he hopes to one day replicate.

“We have a good bond,” Maier said. “It’s all coming full circle, finally.”