Cam Cole: No shortage of believers in CFL playoffs

 

Every team still in it expects a shot at the Grey Cup. Most won’t get there — but try telling them that

 
 
 
 
B.C. Lions’ head coach Jeff Tedford watches from the sideline during the second half of a CFL football game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday October 23, 2015.
 
 

B.C. Lions’ head coach Jeff Tedford watches from the sideline during the second half of a CFL football game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday October 23, 2015.

Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Six teams make the playoffs in a nine-team league. And the B.C. Lions, who squeaked in with a 7-11 record, are No. 4 in this week’s TSN power rankings.

So let’s just declare up front that we understand there are some pretenders among the contenders for the Grey Cup.

The Canadian Football League’s Twitter account, for instance, released a playoff pick ’em poll that had 90 per cent of respondents guessing Calgary will beat B.C. in Sunday’s West semifinal at McMahon Stadium.

TSN panelist Jock Climie went further: “I don’t want to be disrespectful to the B.C. Lions or anyone in that organization,” he said on the air (respectfully, you understand), “but I think that if the Calgary Stampeders simply show up, they’re gonna win.”

There was a lot of harrumphing about that in the Lions’ quarters, but they are zero for three against Calgary this year: one pre-season, one mid-season and one meaningless regular season finale.

But every team that got into the playoffs, even if it rallied to make it or backed in for lack of a challenge, professes to believe that the championship is within reach.

Where does that belief come from?

Well, from a healthy athletic arrogance, for one thing, with a dose of necessary self-deception thrown in.

“It’s not about a sell job, that we have to become something we’re not,” Lions head coach Jeff Tedford said Wednesday.

“It’s not like we have to, all of a sudden, do something magical. It’s just about playing football and doing the right things. If we stay away from penalties and execute like we can, there’s no team on our schedule that we can’t beat.”

The belief comes from history, too, for if the 5-11 Ottawa Rough Riders could come within three seconds of upsetting the three-time defending champion, 14-1-1 Edmonton Eskimos in the ’81 Grey Cup, and if the 2000 Lions could win the cup with an 8-10 record and the Calgary Stampeders could do the same the following year, then anything is possible, right?

So why not believe?

Is the Toronto Argonauts’ belief that the limp-armed Ricky Ray we saw coming back from shoulder surgery — the guy throwing 15-yard swing passes that fell five yards short — is going to be a lot better than that when the fight is for real, on Sunday in Hamilton? It must be.

Do the Tiger-Cats believe that they are so good on defence and special teams that they don’t need an heroic performance from whichever down-the-depth-chart QB is in the game — they just need him not to screw it up?

Are the Stampeders confident in their belief that no matter whether it’s Bo Levi Mitchell or Drew Tate at quarterback, they are so fundamentally strong as a football club, they can take anyone’s best shot and not flinch?

Looks that way, and they may well be right. Who would bet against John Hufnagel’s final act as the Stamps’ head coach being just like that of his former boss, Wally Buono, who won the 2011 Grey Cup and retired from the sidelines?

Is the Eskimos’ first-place finish and stout defence enough to make them believe they can brush away the curse of West final hosts (18 of the last 30 have lost)?

One thing we know is true: the Ottawa Redblacks believe unequivocally in their 40-year-old superman, Henry Burris, who is not only en route to the CFL’s most outstanding player award but looks quite capable of playing and excelling as long as Damon Allen, who won a Grey Cup at 41 and passed for 5,000 yards at 42.

From a distance, the Lions and Ticats would seem to be leading in the self-deception category. Hamilton is down to its No. 3 or 3A quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, and probably ceased to be a true threat to win it all the minute Zach Collaros, to that point the CFL’s best player, went down with torn knee ligaments in mid-September.

The Lions, with rookie Jon Jennings lighting it up late in the season and 2011 league MVP Travis Lulay returning to play more than respectably in the regular season finale, don’t see themselves as that big a long shot.

“If you look at the regular season, we lost a lot of games in the fourth quarter, a lot of it from lack of experience and a lot of younger players,” Lions tackling machine Adam Bighill said. “It’s all about how you play in November. You get in, you got a shot, and we’re peaking at the right time.”

Well, not counting that 27-8 loss to Calgary last week, when both teams rested a lot of starters. This time, they’ll field their A teams.

Some, like Climie, like a lot of those voters in the poll, think adding the stars on both sides leaves the equation exactly the same.

“Fine with me,” Jennings said. “It’s a game that has to be played on Sunday. We believe in ourselves, and that’s all that really matters.”

ccole@vancouversun.comtwitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
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B.C. Lions’ head coach Jeff Tedford watches from the sideline during the second half of a CFL football game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday October 23, 2015.
 

B.C. Lions’ head coach Jeff Tedford watches from the sideline during the second half of a CFL football game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday October 23, 2015.

Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, THE CANADIAN PRESS

 
B.C. Lions’ head coach Jeff Tedford watches from the sideline during the second half of a CFL football game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday October 23, 2015.
B.C. Lions’ Boseko Lokombo, left, and Eric Fraser, centre, bring down Calgary Stampeders’ John Cornish during first quarter CFL football action in Calgary, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015.
The pundits aren’t expecting the B.C. Lions to have much of a chance against the Calgary Stampeders on Sunday, but quarterback Jon Jennings says that’s ‘fine with me.’
 
 
 
 
 
 
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