It’s been a few years since the Calgary Stampeders were top contenders for the Grey Cup.
Remember that every-fall feeling of them being the ones with one hand already on the CFL championship trophy before the playoffs even start?
Yeah … that’s in the past.
Try five years in the rear-view — the same amount of time that’s passed since they actually last won a game in the post-season.
“I thought about it in the off-season a lot, actually,” admitted Stampeders GM/head coach Dave Dickenson. “Then when this year went the way it’s gone, you weren’t even thinking necessarily win a playoff game. Instead, you’re like, ‘Can you make it into the playoffs?’
“But you only get so many of these opportunities — especially as a player — you want to try to take advantage of them.”
So try the Stamps will when the CFL playoffs open for them Saturday against the BC Lions in Vancouver.
And they are undeniably the underdogs — after scuffling to just six wins on the 18-game regular season — for the West Division semifinal at BC Place (4:30 p.m., TSN, QR Calgary FM). Meanwhile, the host Lions come in as the 12-6 favourites.
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“The season standings really don’t matter now, except that you’re on the road,” said Dickenson, of the fact the Stamps’ losing record kept them from playing host at any time in these playoffs. “It’s still one-on-one battles — that’s what sports is, that’s what football is. It’s who’s going to win their share of those battles, who’s going to make the play, who’s not going to handle pressure or adversity …
“Those are the things, ultimately, to see which team can do that — and win.”
Unfortunately, winning hasn’t come easy for the Stampeders — not just on the current campaign but going all the way back to their last championship.
“Honestly, it’s not something that you want to put on the table and let it take your focus away of what your goal is,” said Stampeders veteran receiver Reggie Begelton, who was in his second year with the Stamps when they last won a playoff tilt. “Everybody is 0-0 right now. It’s 0-0, so you’re going in trying to win a game and not worry about the past. So I’m not going in worried about the past. I’m worried about this year.”
“Yeah … we’re going in from a different perspective,” agreed defensive star Mike Rose, another second-year Stampeders player back when they lifted the last Grey Cup. “Now, we’re the underdog. We have nothing to lose. We have everything to gain. So it’s kind of like being a thief — try to steal something if you can.
“Personally, the past is the past and the future is the future. But now it’s time to make some noise.”
If you were to look back, the last time they won a playoff game was when the 2018 pack hoisted the Grey Cup — that being a 27-16 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks on a cold day in Edmonton.
Since then, it’s been tough sledding — no matter the conditions.
One year later, the Stamps lost the West semifinal, 35-14, to the host Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Then, after the COVID-scrapped 2020 campaign, it was a 33-30 semi drop — in overtime — to the Saskatchewan Roughriders at McMahon Stadium.
And last year, the Red and White lost the division semi to the host Lions 30-16.
So it’s back indoors to BC Place they go this year — with the winner moving on to play the Bombers — the top team in the West Division after the regular season — next Saturday in Manitoba.
“We feel good about going back there, actually,” said Stampeders defensive back Brendan Dozier, of the return playoff trip to Vancouver. “When you lose at that stage, you wish that you had that moment back. So it’s good that we get to go back there and play them again.”
And don’t think they haven’t looked back on that loss from last year and tried to learn from it.
“We looked at how we did and how we practised and what mindset we came into the game with and watched the game, as well,” Dickenson said. “They had a week off, as well, last year (like they did to end this year). So you should expect some new stuff. You should expect trick plays and stuff they haven’t shown all year.
“And our team is so different with so many different players,” continued Dickenson in comparing last year’s with this year’s trip. “But we played those guys three times this year. It’s been back-and-forth game the last few times (including 41-16 pivotal triumph two weeks ago in BC Place). I believe it’s going to be a 60-minuter.”
That could be the biggest factor in what happens in trying to break this five-year win drought in the playoffs.
And the Stamps believe they’ve got that faith despite their struggles on the season.
“Everybody likes to be the underdog, because you get the chance to prove people wrong,” Dozier said. “The league and everybody might think we don’t have a chance, but we believe in this locker room. We have a chance to go out there and do something spectacular.
“Everybody is 0-0,” added Dickenson. “We gotta earn it. We’ve got to go play a great game on the road. Not that we can’t do that. We’ve shown we can. I’m excited to see which team shows up, and I’m excited for the opportunity that’s there.
“But I do want them to understand that it’s going to be difficult. We’ve got to show up with our best.”
To nobody’s surprise, after resting up through last week’s capper to the regular season — a 36-13 loss to the visiting Bombers — four veterans and stars return to the Stampeders lineup in Dozier, Begelton, LB Cam Judge and RB Ka’Deem Carey … Also in for the Red and White is LB Charlie Moore … Out for the Stamps are: RB Dedrick Mills, WR Rysen John, DL Damontre Moore, LB Brad Cowan and DL Toby Ndukwe.