Johnson: Hufnagel reflects on a solid season
While Stamps fell short in the Grey Cup, what they accomplished this year was remarkable
The wounds are, naturally enough, still fresh. There is no balm or salve available on drugstore shelves, no prescription available, capable of soothing the burn. Absorbine Jr. won’t alleviate the dull, throbbing ache.
Two days aren’t nearly enough to process lost opportunity on this scale.
Still, what the passage of time bequeaths us all, besides deepening wrinkles and growing irritability, is perspective.
“I was asked this question at one point in the season,” reminded the man in charge, John Hufnagel, as his Calgary Stampeders gathered for the final time of this calendar year. ‘What is the definition of success?’
“I made the statement then that I’d hate to think there is only one successful team in the Canadian Football League.”
His opinion hasn’t changed any in the intervening months.
“We accomplished a lot,” Hufnagel continued. “We just didn’t accomplish enough.
“But I think we have a good core of players, both veterans and young players, that will put us in good stead for next year. As I told my football team this morning, whether we’d won the game or lost the game, starting June 1st we’re on the same level as the other seven teams in the Canadian Football League.”
The Grey Cup is over and done with. There is no retrieving it now. Silly, shrill local bleatings of officiating bias and Toronto-centric league conspiracy theories aside, the Stampeders simply were outplayed and outcoached. Full stop.
The better team on the day won out, as it should be when a championship is at stake.
One stinker (well, two, factoring in the 34-8 Moe Howard like rapid-fire face-slap the B.C. Lions laid on ’em July 28th at McMahon Stadium), doesn’t — or shouldn’t — irrevocably stain the whole, though. There’s no earthly reason to believe, after a 12-6 regular campaign and back-to-back stirring playoff victories over Saskatchewan and the reigning champion Lions, that the Horsemen won’t be at the front of the buffet line, ready to fill their plate, again next season.
“I’m proud of the players,” said Hufnagel on Tuesday. “Because we had so many young players. The injuries are one thing . . . every team gets injuries. But we had so many young players and new players step up and get themselves ready to play winning football. And that’s what they did.
“That’s what’s unique and special.”
There were low spots, naturally. Juvenile hijinks involving trousers and tweets and nightclub fracas.
Yet so much of what went on inside the lines here over the past few hockey-less months was captivating, even compelling. Jon Cornish’s record-shattering 1,457 yards to pass a legend. Nik Lewis’ career-best 100 snares. Kevin Glenn’s storybook resurrection. That high-beam Charleston Hughes smile after one of his 11 sacks. Rene Parades’ icy efficiency. Keon Raymond’s five heists. Quarterback Drew Tate’s fast-tracked (if cruelly brief) return from shoulder surgery. The giddy up of Maurice Price. The arrival of Uncle Stew.
On Grey Cup Sunday, to be blunt, the grandness of the occasion, the sudden, unavoidable proximity to their quest, seemed to overwhelm the Stamps.
They aren’t the first group to wilt under the lights.
“The things that we did to get on that six-game winning streak, we just didn’t do Sunday,” sighed Hufnagel. “It’s hard. There is parity. We just weren’t on top of our game. It happens. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you’re not at your best at the worst possible time. We didn’t make our breaks. We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities. And (the Argos) were a big part of why we didn’t: Let’s be clear about that. But you can’t win games by always kicking field goals. You just can’t.
“We talked about penalties and turnovers all year long. We were a team that had somehow survived turnovers. If you check, we had a poor turnover ratio — the only one in the minus category that even made the playoffs. So while we were able to overcome it through the season, we couldn’t do it Sunday. That kind of issue usually catches up with you.
“They scored 14 points off our turnovers and we didn’t score any off the one they gave us.
“It’s disappointing, certainly. But we have to learn from it and move on.
“We’ll get better and hopefully be in the same position, playing in the last game, again next year.”
Sixty minutes from the quest.
Today, with not enough time to process, it probably seems a long, long ways away.
Tomorrow or the next or the day after that, given the clarity of perspective that time bequeaths, it may actually seem closer than ever.
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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