That's one quick fix

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

No matter how deep they dive into the CFL playoffs this autumn, the Calgary Stampeders have already authored a remarkable story in 2005.

After floundering with just six wins in 2002, five in '03 and four last season -- each under different coaching regimes but the same dysfunctional owner -- the Stamps are once again a franchise capable of making some noise in November.

As this new group has proven, real change starts at the top and trickles down to the water boy.

With Sunday's 29-21 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Stamps guaranteed themselves a playoff berth and possibly even a West semifinal home date at McMahon Stadium Nov. 13. Who could have imagined that last winter with a league-worst 4-14 season fresh in our minds?

Get into the Grey Cup tournament and anything can happen, as the club proved in 2001 by shocking everyone while hauling home the hardware despite a meagre 8-10 record.

With two games remaining, the 9-7 Stamps have compiled their most wins since the 2000 crew, quarterbacked by Dave Dickenson and coached by Wally Buono, claiming first place with a 12-5-1 record.

The total rebuild was initiated 10 months ago when local owners John Forzani, Ted Hellard and Doug Mitchell started the ball rolling by assuming control of the franchise.

After putting in place Tom Higgins as head coach and head of football operations, the abrupt turnaround entered Phase 1 but who knew the team could climb this far so fast?

"I think we tried to anticipate this from the first day when we put an ownership group together to the day we sat down to develop a one-, a three- and a five-year plan," said Higgins, who won his only Grey Cup in 2003 as head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos.

"Things have come together beautifully but there's still a lot to be done. We can't sit and dwell on what's been done so far. We can't reminisce too early about what the season was all about."

None of this happens, of course, without money. The Stamps have had the financial support under new ownership this season to attract free agents Henry Burris and Jeremaine Copeland -- cash and commitment not always available to other franchises.

While Burris and Copeland have stolen most of the headlines, the Stamps also have made sound moves that have slipped under the radar.

Solving the Stampeders' longstanding kicking problems by signing non-imports Sandro DeAngelis and Burke Dales has proven a brilliant piece of work by GM Jim Barker. Both rookies have been trouble-free performers.

Fast-tracking the Stamps back to respectability is a stark contrast to what's unfolded in Regina.

Now in the sixth season of the Roy Shivers-Danny Barrett regime, the 'Riders could slip into the playoffs through the back door with a wild-card crossover berth in the East.

The Roughies still seem to be one key component away from being a contender. Be that a proven QB or maybe a new coaching staff, there's plenty of grumbling from frustrated fans.

The faithful are still miffed that Henry Burris would leave for Calgary as a free agent in the off-season, with the offence now in the hands of Marcus Crandell, a Stampeders castoff.

That the Stampeders could earn a home playoff date this year after three miserable seasons in truly remarkable.

For playoff-starved Stamps fans, just getting back to the post-season should be rewarding enough.

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RAPID REBUILDERS

Other CFL teams that quickly turned their fortunes around:

* 1998 Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Won just two games in 1997. The following year, the Ticats posted a 12-5-1 record and lost the Grey Cup to Calgary, 26-24, on Mark McLoughlin's last-play field goal.

* 1970 Montreal Alouettes: Posted a dismal 2-10 record in 1969. The following year, the Als had a 7-6-1 record and thumped the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup 23-10.

* 1953 Montreal Alouettes: After winning just two games in 1952, the Als rocketed to first place in the CFL East with a 8-6 record. The upstart Als were beat in a two-game playoff series against the Tiger-Cats.


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