One game at a time

Calgary Stampeders head coach Tom Higgins is not worried about his team's start to the CFL season....

Calgary Stampeders head coach Tom Higgins is not worried about his team's start to the CFL season. (Calgary Sun File Photo)

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

WINNIPEG -- Tell Tom Higgins tonight's clash with the Blue Bombers is a 'must win' and his face twists like he's just been force-fed a lemon sandwich.

Lose and there's still a mountain of games piled up on the Stampeders CFL schedule, the boss quickly points out. That's plenty of time to begin achieving the high standards he's set for this season, he argues.

After all, only playoff games in November are laced with that kind of win-or-go-home pressure. Higgins insists Game 2 of the season is about building for autumn, when games really have that kind of finality attached.

"I'll tell you, you'll hear it, you'll get tired of hearing it and then you won't ask the question anymore," the Higgins preamble begins.

"The most important game you play is your next game. We sincerely thought we could get two points against Toronto, being at home and playing on Canada Day, having a bye ... maybe it was wishful thinking because there are a lot of questions that were unanswered and we're still trying to answer a whole bunch of questions.

"We feel the matchup (against Winnipeg) is in our favour. We have to go out and play to our level and we need to win the football game. You can't afford to go down early and then look back upon missed opportunities you might have had. All that said, the year we won the Grey Cup (2003 in Edmonton) we went into the season 0-3 and then it's a matter of getting on rolls. We'd like to get on a roll and create momentum."

Getting on a roll is what tonight's game is all about. Win and the Stampeders can begin building toward a winning season. Lose and suddenly they're rolling downhill, even if it's just two games into the year.

And while it's far too early to panic should the Stamps fall tonight, they could find themselves six points behind both Edmonton and Saskatchewan and four behind B.C. by week's end, albeit with a game in hand. It can happen that quickly. Winnipeg is already 0-2 and making multiple lineup changes in search of a winning combination.

Stampeders starting quarterback Henry Burris, expected to play a crucial role in turning around the club's fortunes this season, was less than brilliant in Game 1. It's something he expects to reverse against the Bombers.

"Every game's a must-win in our eyes but you never want to be 0-2," Burris says.

"This game is just like any other in that if you do what you've been coached to do, you'll win the game and not make any mistakes.

"We don't want to put ourselves further behind the eight-ball than we have to. It's important to get the win, mainly because the first one's the hardest to get and after you get that first one, it all becomes contagious. We want to get that first one and then ride the wave.

"We have a lot of confidence. Our practices this week were better than last week, we learned a lot about each other under the heat of fire. Each week for offence it's a growing process and we've developed a lot in practice."

While Higgins' Eskimos of two seasons ago were able to overcome an early season deficit, the rebuilding Stampeders would be hard-pressed to wiggle their way out of that kind of hole.

"When you talk about Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4 and we've only played one game, it's irrelevant," Higgins says.

"If you start looking that way you'll drive yourself crazy. Take care of yourself and don't worry about what the big picture is right now. You only care about the big picture when (the playoffs) get closer. Games 15, 16 and 17 when you start jockeying for position. Right now it's way too early."

Higgins says the crucial aspect to tonight's contest is how his team responds to last week's loss to Toronto and the mounting pressure to live up to very high expectations.

"The question itself can lend itself to creating pressure," Higgins says.

"Pressure's not a bad thing. Pressure can be a good thing, depending on how well you deal with it and I'm not sure how well we deal with it yet as a team.

"That's to be determined."

Tonight's game should provide some of those answers.


Photos