The annual pre-season opener presents two challenges for Calgary Stampeders broadcaster Mark Stephen.
The toughest one is about 150 players roam on the field and probably half have never played in the CFL before. The second problem is a player may look great enough to induce excitement and demand some rave reviews, only to get shipped out of town the next day.
Even as the QR77 play-by-play man enters his 10th season as the voice of the Stamps, the opening exhibition tilt never gets easier. The contest Tuesday at McMahon Stadium against the Saskatchewan Roughriders will require the most preparation time of any this season.
"This game itself is by far the most difficult to do because you've got so many guys out there," said Stephen, who will meet with Roughriders broadcaster Rod Peterson before the game to compare rosters and notes.
"It's the first and last time you will mention their names but I can't tell you which ones they are. Sometimes guys jump out of the pack and there's guys who makes plays. They're all on the field and you still have to broadcast it.
"The best example of that was in 1997, a pre-season game in Winnipeg. The great Kenyatta Sparks ran two kicks back for touchdowns. I had watched him the day before at practice but it was the first and last time I had ever heard of the guy."
So comparing a newcomer to Dave Dickenson or Allen Pitts can often be foolish in exhibition, no matter how good one might look. Regular season games are different story but, by then, anybody on the roster is probably known around Calgary.
The radio crew is getting to be pretty good at this gig. QR is entering its 14th year as the rightsholder and is signed on until 2007, which is a club record. Stephen and colourman Greg Peterson teamed up nine years ago while co-host Billy Powers started working Stampeders games before most of the players were born.
Program director Jay Donald joins Powers for the pre-game, half-time and 5th quarter shows for home games, while Stephen does all but the post-game segments for road contests. Conan Daly handles the stats.
The crew also welcomes a new member this season, as Sports Talk co-host Jock Wilson becomes the new sideline reporter. Stamps GM Jim Barker is also on the station doing Jim Barker's Football Insider Tuesday's at 9 p.m.
There's no shortage of analysis on game broadcasts but Stephen said the best pure football info comes from Peterson. As a former Stampeders safety, Peterson applies his experience to the broadcast, easily describing receiver routes and defensive coverage.
"There's an instinctive level of knowledge you or I couldn't possibly hope to have," Stephen said.