How high can Stamps jump?

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

Last year, the Calgary Stampeders somehow managed to win four games without a legitimate quarterback, coach, owner or any semblance of team morale.

White knight ownership has since rescued the club, addressing all the team's needs in such spectacular fashion that optimism among players is at a five-year high. Ditto for the fans.

Given the off-season overhaul, it's as obvious as the gap in Henry Burris' teeth the Stamps will be better this year. The question is, how many more wins will the addition of Smilin' Hank bring? How about Jeremaine Copeland or coach Tom Higgins?

Linebacker Scott Coe said the difference should be obvious.

"Just adding some of the vets and the coaching staff alone should give us at least four or five more wins," said Coe, whose club opens the season at home tonight against Toronto.

"Anything sub-.500 is disappointing."

While most players are quietly aiming to triple the team's win total to 12 this year, Higgins said his club's goals revolve around being competitive every game, getting better every week and making the playoffs for the first time in four years. Pretty generic stuff.

"I don't believe it's based on wins and losses -- anything less than making a run for the playoffs is unacceptable," said Higgins, aware one of the club's biggest battles will be measuring up to the city's lofty expectations.

"The difference between winning and losing can be one player, two players, an attitude, or several things outside the dressing room. Ownership has done a good job to get the team to the point there are no distractions."

Every team in pro sports, no matter how big the rebuilding job is, sets its goal around making the playoffs. However, some figure that's easier said than done in the West Division, where Edmonton, B.C. and Saskatchewan are all Grey Cup contenders.

Jay McNeil said he doesn't blame the fans for their lofty hopes.

"People here are expecting us to win the Grey Cup," said McNeil of Calgary fans pumped about efforts to stitch together an offence that was the league's worst last year.

"I don't blame them -- as a fan, I'd be excited too."

Given the team's 23-49 record the last four years, it's obvious why 21 new faces will line up in Red & White tonight. How quickly they gel will dictate whether eastern pundits are right to predict the team will finish no better than fourth in the tough West.

Burris has a magic number in mind.

"Any team that wins 12 games in the west should win the Grey Cup," said Burris, whose consistency will largely dictate the magnitude of the team's turnaround.

"Hey, I've only had one year in my career where we missed the playoffs (2000 in Saskatchewan) and I know that won't be happening here this year. With all the changes we made, it's all about getting on the same page."

Despite the bevy of options Burris has both on the ground and in the air, critics suggest it will take time for the newcomers to meld together and have an impact on the playoff race. Others suggest the Stamps defence can carry the team until the offence finds is way.

Veteran running back Scott Deibert said the offence will need a little time.

"The defence is going to be strong, we know that, but the offence is going to take time -- from Game 1 to Game 18 there's going to be a big difference," said Deibert,

"Twelve is a big number and that says a lot about the competition in the West."

Thousands of Calgarians put off by the Feterik era are poised to return to McMahon Stadium tonight for one of the city's most anticipated unveilings in recent history.

How patient they'll be will likely revolve around just how good the team opens. That's a lot of pressure, which Coe said is what battling lofty expectations is all about.

"There've been no sports in this city so it basically comes down to us," said Coe.

Added Higgins: "The attitude now is right -- we expect to go out and win.

For the first time in years, it's an expectation shared by the entire city.


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