Stampeders hope to reverse history in Sunday’s playoff tilt against Roughriders
CALGARY — The numbers aren’t very flattering to the Calgary Stampeders, it goes without saying.
Three straight playoff losses.
Five in succession to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, going back to the mid-1990s.
History, suffice to say, is not on the side of the Calgary Stampeders going into Sunday’s Canadian Football League West Division semifinal against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (2:30 p.m. MST, TSN, QR77 Radio).
Good thing Stamps defensive end Charleston Hughes studied business management at Northwood University in Michigan, and not history.
Does he know much about the current post-season losing streak?
What about the run of futility against the Riders that goes all the way back to Calgary’s last win, in 1994?
For Hughes and the rest of the Stampeders — 12-6 and second-place finishers in the West Division (the Riders finished third at 8-10) — Sunday represents a new beginning and a chance to start writing some history of their own.
“It’s a fresh start, a new year,” said Hughes after the Stamps’ final full practice in preparation for Sunday’s game. “I don’t care what happened in the past — those are different players, it was a different team. We’re a new team now, and I’m prepared to play them.”
Ancient history would be on the Riders’ side, but recent history would have to favour the Stampeders. While the Riders staggered into the playoffs with four straight losses (in fairness, they sat some significant starters in their regular-season finale in Vancouver), Calgary won four straight and had a 7-2 record over the second half of the season, matching the B.C. Lions, who’ll host Sunday’s winner in the West final on Nov. 18 with a trip to the Grey Cup on the line.
“I think we’re confident,” said Stamps coach and GM John Hufnagel. “The fact we have put some back-to-back-to-back wins together and the way we played some games that really didn’t mean a lot but still went out and played hard and tried to win football games — they’ve done an excellent job all year long of putting themselves in position to have a chance to win, and I expect that again on Sunday.”
It hasn’t just been the Stamps’ performance on the field of late that has them confident; there’s a growing belief in the locker-room that this team is destined for big things in the playoffs. It has been more successful at overcoming injuries than any other team in the CFL, and that ability to overcome adversity is crucial in a playoff setting.
“I just feel like there’s a lot of hungry guys in there and chips on a lot of the guys’ shoulders,” said Stamps quarterback Drew Tate. “We’ve had the bad weather, we still have injuries — there’s just a lot of adversity and guys are finding ways to prevail and come through. It’s a good thing going into the locker-room and everyone is on the same page.
“I just feel like this is what you want at this time of year; it’s a lot different than it was last year. Now, I’m sitting her saying this but it could go completely the opposite way on Sunday. But I feel like that’s where we’re at as a team.”
A cynic would point out that most teams would have similar beliefs going into the playoffs; that’s just what the prospect of playing post-season football brings out of a pro player. So why should a Stampeder fan believe this team can break those losing streaks on Sunday?
“One, I just think that we’re a team that proved we’re on a mission by winning those last two games (of the regular season),” said slotback Nik Lewis. “And two, I just believe that we’re the better team. I think we proved that when we played them (Calgary won the season series 2-1, losing the last game 30-25 on Sept. 23 in Regina). I feel very confident in what’s going to happen.
“I mean, there’s no saying that we can’t win because we didn’t beat them before. I might as well retire if that’s the reason we can’t win this game. (History) doesn’t matter to me. I’m ready to play. And I plan on winning.”
Lewis is one of just eight Stamps who’ll play on Sunday left on the team who dressed in the 2008 Grey Cup victory over the Montreal Alouettes at Olympic Stadium (the others are Hughes, Jon Cornish, Jabari Arthur, Dimitri Tsoumpas, Randy Chevrier, Juwan Simpson and Brandon Smith; Keon Raymond was on the team but didn’t play in the game). He’ll be playing his 10th post-season game on Sunday, and he never gets tired of them.
“Of course. I mean, this is not something you can do every day,” he said. “It’s not every day I can say, ‘I’m going to play a playoff game. Or have another chance to win a Grey Cup.’ I look to guys like Milt Stegall who never won one. I’ve got one.
“But,” he added with a smile, “I want more.”
NOTES: Unlike many of his contemporaries, Drew Tate doesn’t feel compelled to join the herd and become a social-media butterfly.
“I’m not on Twitter or Facebook,” confessed the Calgary Stampeders’ quarterback as the final countdown to Sunday’s West Division semifinal versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders began in earnest. “That helps. The first time I got on Facebook in 2004, when it first came out, in college, my performance went down as a football player.
“I’m not blaming that on Facebook. But I think Facebook got the better of me. That’s a distraction, so I’ve got to get away from that because anything you want comes at the end of your finger. Imagine that.
“It’s pretty dangerous.”
That doesn’t make Tate a stick in the mud, mind. Only extra careful at this most crucial time of any CFL season.
“There’s more media now than there was at any time of the year so it’s just a bigger story. But I KNOW the story, I’m involved in it every day so I don’t need to hear what people say about it or think about it and read what they wrote or tweeted. That’s for the birds. That’s not going to help me get better.
“I have tunnel vision on my job. Keep it simple. I always try to keep everything simple. We live in such a complex world, just to simplify is genius to me.”
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