Believing in Barker

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:58 AM ET

CALGARY -- The Calgary Stampeders are the CFL's comeback story of the year.

From the league's worst record of 4-14 last year to being the hottest team in the loop down the stretch this fall, the Stamps will host the West Division semifinal if they beat the Edmonton Eskimos on Sunday afternoon at McMahon Stadium.

"Realistically, people thought it would be miraculous to bring a team into the playoffs," said Calgary head coach Tom Higgins after beating Winnipeg last weekend for the club's sixth win in its last seven games.

But this isn't the only remarkable turnaround happening in Cowtown. Jim Barker is also enjoying a startling comeback.

Fired as the Stamps' head coach two days before Christmas in 2003, Barker returned this winter to be the general manager - and has become a key player in the team's reversal of fortune, attracting and finding a boatload of talented players.

"The difference (in talent) is immense," said veteran offensive lineman Jay McNeil, comparing this year to last.

"Look at the playmakers we have on offence in terms of receivers, quarterbacks and running backs.

"We have got a lot of weapons. You can't say enough about the job (Barker) has done."

Exactly half of the current Calgary roster consists of players in their first year in a Stampeder uniform.

Barker doesn't take credit for getting star quarterback Henry Burris in a red/black uniform or getting defensive end Rahim Abdullah. But the acquisition of ace receiver Jermaine Copeland, who has nearly 1,200 yards this season, has Barker's fingerprints all over it.

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP

"Obviously (Barker) and Cope have a very special relationship from their Montreal days," said owner Ted Hellard, referring to Barker's time coaching with the Als. "He played an integral part in getting Cope here."

Then there is rookie kicker Sandro DeAngelis, who could lead the league in scoring. The kicking game was a major problem last year, but Barker and his connections solved that issue.

"He was on another team's negotiation list and I got a call about him," said Barker.

"He wasn't very successful at the University of Nebraska, kicking off the ground."

But Barker brought him to town, even though he made just three field goals within 39 yards in college in 2005, and it was a stroke of genius. Those are just two examples.

"How do you track down Ken-Yon Rambo, Martay Jenkins and David Allen?" said defensive tackle Sheldon Napastuk. "I don't know where they found them, but they can play and fit the system. It helps us out a lot and, as a player, that is all you want."

DEEP ROOTS DELIVERED

In Rambo's case, Barker's deep roots delivered.

"I knew of Ken-Yon Rambo, he's a Long Beach guy. He was one of the fastest high school kids coming out of Long Beach," said Barker, a 49-year-old California native.

Rambo has almost 800 yards receiving.

Barker also found Trey Young from Montana, the team leader in interceptions in his first year in pro ball.

"I believe the best players in this league come from (Division) 1-AA (in the U.S.)," said Barker. "I believe they come from smaller schools, where they are great, great players but maybe are a shade too small or shade too slow (for the NFL)."

These Barker Boys and the rest of their teammates are now just five days away from the biggest regular-season game in this organization in four years.

Two great comeback stories, indeed.


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