Lookin' good

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

After just five months, the Calgary Stampeders need to be sold again -- to the fans.

And although that job began on Day 1 back in January, last night's 18-14 pre-season win over Saskatchewan at McMahon Stadium was the first opportunity for Stamps backers to kick the tires and take the team for a test drive.

They should have liked most of what they saw, if they could see at all, in the sloppiest weather conditions possible. Even a mallard duck was seen flying out of the stadium in the fourth quarter, although most of the hearty ticket-buyers stuck around until the final gun.

Come to think of it, if the Stampeders' new ownership group is so well-heeled, they should have slipped the weatherman a few bucks for a better night. Apparently money can't buy everything.

A surprisingly large gathering sat through pelting rain, joined by a healthy contingent of soggy 'Riders fans, to evaluate what both clubs have to offer this CFL season.

But what did we learn from this exercise in slip-sliding across the soggy turf?

The muddy track forces the Stampeders coaching staff into making critical cuts based on a strange and sloppy performance.

"It's difficult," said head coach Tom Higgins. "But when an athlete gets an opportunity to have to play as a unit, there's some things we can take out of it. Not as much as if it would have been a little bit better weather-wise but the guys lined up and played as well as they could."

A tough chore, indeed.

Are beaten defensive backs castaways or just victims of slippery footing?

Are receivers who couldn't tuck away the greasy pigskin still destined to be sent packing?

Are quarterbacks who couldn't find the target destined to slip down the depth chart?

From the opening play from scrimmage -- a lateral to Jeremaine Copeland who tossed downfield to Nik Lewis for a 74-yard touchdown -- the Stampeders' 2005 model looks like a winner.

The first warmup contest suggests the Stampeders will field a club with enough pizzazz to make even the most fickle fans buy into the new product.

After seasons of six, five and four wins, who wouldn't take a wait-and-see attitude?

Starting quarterback Henry Burris spent the first half working against a Roughriders defence littered with rookies and hardly looked sharp, completing just five of 16 passes in 30 minutes of work.

"The weather conditions made for a very difficult football game," Higgins said.

"We had the opportunity to have our starting defence play in the first quarter and we had Henry come back in because early he had success on that one play, then had a bunch of two-and-outs. He got sharp and we dropped some passes, then he had a couple of overthrows but all in all, for the first time out, we were pleased."

Despite a lack of consistency, Burris showed a strong arm and plenty of the promise but there's much work to be done before the season opener July 1.

It's the kind of promise that had management place a hefty contract and the team's fate in his hands when they signed him as a free agent back in February.

Burris and newcomer receivers Copeland and Ken Yon Rambo, along with sophomore Lewis, are already looking like a formidable group even though last night's production was meagre.

Copeland dropped a couple of sharp passes from Burris that hit him in the hands, although a steady rain pelting the field provided a built-in excuse for almost any miscue.

Backup QB Jason Gesser looked poised in his first CFL appearance, a possible first step to earning the backup role this season.

Don't start planning the Grey Cup parade but after three years of misery, this football season should be fun for Stampeders fans once again.


Photos