Big Red adds cred

Calgary Stampeders defensive tackle Joe Fleming was traded Sunday to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers...

Calgary Stampeders defensive tackle Joe Fleming was traded Sunday to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers after voicing concerns about the team's direction earlier this season. (Edmonton Sun/Preston Brownschlaigle)

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

The way Matt Dunigan saw it, only two men could add instant credibility to his Calgary Stampeders.

"Dave (Dickenson) and Khari (Jones)," said Dunigan yesterday, minutes before the latter was introduced as the club's new starting quarterback.

"We looked at everybody but those guys have set the bar way up here," he added, holding his left hand above his head.

With one simple trade, the Stamps coach-GM managed to save face and perhaps prevent thousands of season-ticket cancellations by adding the most important ingredient his team has been missing the last four years -- a proven CFL quarterback.

It doesn't matter he had to rip the heart out of his defence by trading Joe Fleming, or that he got little in return for solid Canadian starters Scott Regimbald and Wes Lysack. Truth is, the season is over and Dunigan knew both Regimbald and Fleming likely wouldn't have re-signed here next year anyway.

The most important thing is the players and the fans, who are starting to abandon the club, were finally given something they haven't had in years -- hope.

Hope that, by landing a legitimate starting quarterback, the Red & White will have a shot at finally turning the team's fortunes around. The move, combined with the possibility recent NFL castoff Joffrey Reynolds may be able to provide a legitimate rushing attack, gives Dunigan two major selling points he's sure to advertise heavily throughout the winter.

"The defence we built last winter won't miss a beat and certainly the potential on offence has improved over the last two weeks," said Dunigan, who can finally make suggestions the team is moving forward without being mocked by fans, the media and players alike.

"Hey, if you could have gone into the season with Dave Dickenson or Khari Jones, it would've created a huge amount of excitement.

"With four games left, acquiring Khari deserves that same type of response."

Despite Casey Printers' ascent to star status, Dickenson, bothered by knee problems, wasn't about to be made available by Lions boss Wally Buono for obvious reasons. Nor did Dickenson have any desire to come here under the current ownership.

Conversely, Jones said yesterday "it was time" to get out of a pressure-cooker in Winnipeg, where he transformed the club into a Grey Cup contender in each of the last three years when he won more games than any other CFL pivot.

A shoulder injury that limited Jones' play and effectiveness this season has caused a quarterback controversy in Winnipeg and made it easier to trade the two-time all-star, whom the Bombers signed last spring to a three-year deal worth around $1 million.

Jones, who has missed the last four games, started throwing again last week and is expecting to make his Stamps debut Oct. 16 at McMahon Stadium against Toronto.

Given the Stampeders' record with four games left, Jones' performance that night will be meaningless.

Dunigan should instead consider letting Michael Souza prove his relative worth to the club while Jones heals and familiarizes himself with the playbook and surroundings.

What matters most is next year.

While most of the Stampeders' free agents decided long ago they'll be leaving this circus for greener pastures, some of them may think again since the most important position on a CFL club has been filled by the 2001 CFL MVP.

The club's laughable offence has a radical new look thanks to a dependable pivot.

The irony of it all is the durable, versatile Jones was a prominent figure in the last moment of glory experienced by Calgary football fans, as he was the one Fleming sacked on the final play of the Stamps' 2001 Grey Cup victory over the Bombers in Montreal.

Make no mistake, Jones and the Stamps are a long way from returning to the big game. But suddenly the idea of challenging for a playoff berth a year or two down the road is not so far-fetched.

At least it's not as outrageous as thinking Marcus Crandell can get you there.


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