To be fondly forgotten

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI --

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

CALGARY -- Remember when Stamps owner Michael Feterik pressured the team into playing his son at quarterback?

That was priceless.

Or the time their punter became team president, then went back to punting, then became president, then got fired? Pure gold.

Or how about when Feterik sent game film to his buddies in the States, who'd call Wally Buono at all hours with coaching advice? You can't script that stuff.

And remember when they thought it would be a good idea to make their PR guy the new president, and raw rookie Matt Dunigan head coach and general manager, finished 4-14 and fired them both?

The Calgary Stampeders players will be first to tell you that from a material standpoint, their once-mighty franchise has spent most of this decade rivalling the old Shreveport Pirates.

"It's been pretty frustrating,'' said offensive lineman Jay McNeil, a 12-year-veteran. "It was just one thing after another ... and just when you thought you'd seen it all, something else happened.''

How do you think Scott Deibert felt, going from the sanity and stability of Edmonton to that train wreck?

"It was really (screwed up) around here,'' he said. "I just tried to tune it out because if you let all those distractions get to you, you're never going to survive.''

ENDING THE GONG SHOW

But now the fun is over, for Edmontonians and sportswriters, anyway. A new ownership group, headed up by John Forzani, Doug Mitchell and Ted Hellard, bought the Stamps with the sole intention of putting a stop to the gong show. And they have.

"Our goal was just to keep the focus as much as possible on the field, and get it off the front office,'' said Hellard, whose interactive marketing company has $40 million in revenues.

"We had a huge amount to do businesswise. It was a total mess when we came in, but so far we're way ahead of schedule.''

It's strictly a labour of love.

"There's no money in this,'' he laughed. "It is a business, and we're going to turn it around to a pretty solid franchise... as solid as a franchise can be in the CFL, which is really not that solid.

"But it's more a case of giving something to the community.''

One of the first orders of business was to hire Tom Higgins, who's taking all he learned in Edmonton and applying it to the rebuilding effort.

"I was here when Tom was here the last time,'' said 13-year-veteran Jamie Crysdale. "As soon as I heard he was coming back, it gave me a very big feeling of confidence and a feeling that we're finally going to be back to the days when Wally was here. We're going to have that structure that was missing.''

It was Higgins's first order of business.

"It was sad to hear some of the things that were happening here,'' said the new head coach and vice-president of football operations. "This was as good a football organization as there was, but it's amazing how quickly it can fall apart.''

Under Forzani, Mitchell, Hellard, Higgins and GM Jim Barker, the pieces are being slowly glued together.

Not only have they brought in high-priced talent like Jeremaine Copeland, QB Henry Burris, former Esk Rahim Abdullah and 23 other new faces, the off-field angles are drier than a cracker sandwich.

"That's the most significant thing,'' said Higgins. "The focus is on the field.''

"We're back to functioning the way a football team should,'' adds McNeil.

"There's a lot more confidence and a lot more hope. Guys are having fun, and in past years this wasn't a very fun place to be.''

CONCERNED ABOUT, NOT FOR

A 4-5 record isn't great, but it equals their win total for all of last year, and it would be a heck of a coming-out party if they beat Edmonton this afternoon.

"They've been having their way with us for the last few years,'' said McNeil.

"It would be nice to come out and get a win and show everybody that this is a team you have to be concerned about, instead of concerned for.''


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